Chef Daddy Makes Hot Chocolate

January 11, 2014

Hot chocolateOn cool winter days, everyone loves a steaming cup of hot chocolate. It's a comforting way to warm up, and a nice treat for kids and grownups alike. Did you run out of those little packets of Swiss Miss hot chocolate that usually hang out in the back of your pantry? Don't worry—making hot chocolate from scratch is far easier than it sounds, and uses only a few simple ingredients. Here in the Marin Mommies test kitchen we tried out a few different recipes as we searched for the best hot chocolate ever.

Did you know that chocolate, in its first form, was consumed as a drink? Spanish conquistador Cortés found chocolate being consumed at the court of Aztec emperor Moctezuma, and the Aztecs in turn adopted the custom of drinking chocoloate from their Maya neighbors to the south. The big difference was that the native Mexicans drank their chocolate cold, mixed with cornmeal and flavored with herbs and chili peppers.

At some point after chocolate arrived in Europe in the 1500s, some enterprising soul decided to ditch the chili pepper and mix this new food with milk and sugar, creating what we know today as hot chocolate. In fact, hot chocolate was quite a craze in 17th- and 18th-century Europe, with chocolate shops popping up all over, not unlike Starbucks and other coffee shops today.

So what turned out to be our favorite hot chocolate recipe? We ended up with a tie, actually!

The first recipe is for our version of classic hot cocoa. The terms "hot cocoa" and "hot chocolate" are used pretty much interchangeably, but technically, hot cocoa refers to a drink made with cocoa powder, and hot chocolate is made with actual chocolate with the cocoa butter intact.

To make hot cocoa from scratch, start with the following ingredients, which you probably have in your pantry already:

  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cocoa powder
  • a pinch of kosher salt
  • a couple drops of vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 cup (8 ounces) milk (whole or 2% work fine)

In a small saucepan, combine sugar, cocoa powder, salt, vanilla, and water. Heat over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture combines into a chocolate-syrup-like liquid. Add milk to the pan and increase the heat to medium-high. Heat until milk is hot. (Don't boil it, of course.) Serves one. Feel free to top with mini marshmallows or whipped cream.

You can also make this pretty successfully in the microwave: combine all ingredients but milk in a microwave-safe mug and heat for 10 seconds. Stir until ingredients are combined and cocoa and sugar dissolved, then add milk and heat for one minute or until hot (heating time may vary depending on microwave power). Stir thoroughly and enjoy!

Our other favorite recipe is probably the simplest: Mexican hot chocolate. Since Mexico is the original home of chocolate, it stands to reason that its citizens know a thing or two about how to make really good hot chocolate. Mexican hot chocolate can be purchased in pretty much any grocery store. It comes in a little hexagonal yellow box, and is in the form of flat disks of dark chocolate. The chocolate itself resembles a chocolate bar but with a rough grainy texture. What makes Mexican hot chocolate really special is the addition of cinnamon, and a frothy texture that's more a question of technique than ingredients.

There are two readily available brands in the US: Abuelita (which is made by international chocolate comglomerate Nestlé) and Ibarra, and they both do pretty much the same thing, although Ibarra is our favorite. You can fiind them at most grocery stores in the Hispanic foods aisle.

To make traditional Mexican hot chocolate, heat one cup of milk and combine with two wedges of chocolate in a blender. Blend until all the chocolate is dissolved and the resultant mixture has a frothy consistency. Traditionally, it's frothed with a wooden whisk-like tool called a molinillo, but since you probably don't have one in your gadget drawer, a blender will do just fine.

Now go forth and make yourself some hot chocolate!