Hot chocolate: A love affair

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Hot chocolate
Hot chocolate (jenifoto/ iStock / Getty Images Plus/Getty Images via JTA)

By Linda Morel

Hot chocolate, also known as cocoa or drinking chocolate, is a heated beverage consisting of melted chocolate, shaved chocolate or cocoa powder, stirred into heated milk or water. Often topped with whipped cream or marshmallows, this drink is sweetened by sugar.


Bringing back the best childhood memories, cocoa conjures up winter and the four S’: sledding, skiing, snowball fights and sitting by a fireplace.

The first hot chocolate was enjoyed by the Mayans about 2,000 years ago. It was prepared as a savory drink with chili peppers. Today in Mexico, sweetened cocoa is spiced with cayenne pepper and chili powder.

The French dress up hot chocolate with cinnamon sticks and vanilla. At breakfast, they often dip brioche into this silky rich elixir. While Italian hot chocolate is so thick it’s as filling as a meal, the American version is a lighter cocoa-kissed drink, topped by slowly melting marshmallows.

Cocoa Americano

Serves 4

  • 4 tablespoons, plus 4 cups whole milk
  • 4 heaping tablespoons fine-quality unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 8 heaping tablespoons sugar
  • ⅛ teaspoon of salt
  • 8 standard-size marshmallows (JET-PUFFED brand is kosher)

In a medium-large pot, briefly heat 4 tablespoons of milk to warm. Sprinkle in the cocoa. Remove the pot from the flame. Stir until the mixture forms a chocolate paste.

Add 4 cups of milk, sugar and salt. Return the pot to a medium flame. Whisk vigorously until the chocolate paste dissolves and the ingredients are well combined. Bring the cocoa to a fast simmer for 2 minutes. Pour into 4 cups or mugs. Top with 2 marshmallows apiece and serve immediately.

Spicy Mexican hot chocolate

Serves 4

  • 4 cups whole milk
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 (12-ounce) bags of semisweet chocolate chips
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper, or more if you like it hot
  • ½ teaspoon chili powder
  • Optional topping: fine-quality unsweetened cocoa for dusting

Place the milk, cinnamon, vanilla, nutmeg, sugar and salt in a medium-large sized pot. Heat it over a medium flame, whisking until the sugar dissolves. Add the chocolate chips, cayenne pepper and chili powder. Stir until the chocolate dissolves. Cover the pot and simmer on low for 5 minutes until the hot chocolate thickens. Pour it into four cups and serve immediately with a dusting of cocoa, if desired.

French hot chocolate

Serves 4

  • 4 tablespoons, plus 4 cups whole milk
  • 8 teaspoons fine-quality unsweetened cocoa
  • 4 drops vanilla
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • 8 ounces fine-quality semisweet chocolate
  • Optional accompaniment: brioche or challah slices

In a medium-large pot, briefly heat 4 tablespoons of milk over a medium flame until warm. Sprinkle in the cocoa. Remove it from the flame. Stir well until the mixture forms a chocolate paste. Add 4 cups milk, vanilla, cinnamon sticks, salt and sugar. Return the pot to a medium flame and stir to combine. Briefly bring it to a boil. Reduce the flame to low.

Add the chocolate. Stir it until it melts. Simmer for 5 minutes. Discard the cinnamon sticks. Pour it into four cups and serve immediately. Dip brioche or challah slices into the hot chocolate, if desired.

Linda Morel is a food columnist.

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