Here in Boston, the snow days have been coming fast and furious. With each one, the kids bundle up and shuffle off into the backyard to revel in the white stuff. When they get cold, they come back inside, peel off their wet clothing and ask for hot cocoa.
There are a lot of ways to make hot cocoa (and, being something of a connoisseur myself, I’ve tried them all), and as we’re facing down our fourth significant snowstorm in less than a month, I thought I’d do a round-up of my favorites.
The easy way
Store-bought hot cocoa mixes (like Swiss Miss or Nestle) are designed to be mixed with hot water (because they already contain powdered milk), but are absolutely delicious when mixed with hot milk instead. I also like mixing Ovaltine and warm milk, especially for the kids.
The gourmet way
You can buy any number of fancy hot cocoa mixes at Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods, but it’s also pretty easy to make your own. Once you’ve got a saucepan of milk heating up on the stove, it’s not such a big deal to add a couple of other ingredients. There are two essential types of home-made recipes — cocoa-based and chocolate-based.
This type of hot cocoa is made by mixing hot milk with unsweetened cocoa (usually Dutch-process is recommended), sugar and a touch of vanilla extract. There’s a nice recipe for this method on the Food Network web site.
Sometimes called “drinking chocolate”, this decadent treat is made by whisking chopped up chocolate into hot milk until the chocolate melts into the milk. It’s more work than the cocoa-based method because you need to weigh and chop the chocolate, and then it takes more time to mix. But it’s also incredibly delicious. Recipes vary wildly on the ratio of chocolate to milk, but it’s safe to say the more chocolate you use, the richer the drink. I found two recipes that have both gotten rave reviews, one from David Lebovitz and the other from Chow.com. You can experiment with using milk chocolate, semi-sweet chocolate and dark chocolate and see which one you like best.
You can drink your cocoa straight up, but a pouf of whipped cream or a handful of mini marshmallows will never hurt. Also, after the kids are in bed, a shot of Bailey’s Irish Cream is always good.
In general, if you’re looking for the best possible taste, use good quality chocolate and whole milk or even half & half (or some combination of the two). With that said, we almost always make our cocoa with 1% milk and it’s still really good.
My favorite hot chocolate in the world (pictured above) comes from L.A Burdick in Harvard Square. When I was pregnant with Audrey, Eli and I used to go there every Sunday on our way home from childbirth classes. They make their hot chocolate in three varieties – dark, milk and white – and all three are just incredible. Burdick just recently opened an outpost in New York City, too.