There’s not much about cold weather that can’t be made better with hot cocoa. Invite friends and family in for a mug, take a thermos on a winter outing, or curl up with a cozy cup anytime for a dose of winter sustenance. Kids love it, of course, but it’s also very grown-up (and extra warming!) with everything from a pinch of spice to a splash of liqueur. From simple to celebratory, here’s the lowdown on this uplifting beverage:
Hot Cocoa 101
Whether you opt for an easy mix or make it from scratch, keep these basics in mind:
Preventing lumps is key. Avoid them by first placing dry ingredients (cocoa and sugar, or premade mix) in the pot or mug, then adding a very small amount of hot milk or other liquid and stirring until you have a paste. Gradually stir in more and more milk (it doesn’t need to be warmed now), making sure you scrape the corners and bottom to release stuck bits. You should have a smooth, lump-free mixture, ready for heating. If you missed any clumps, switch to a whisk to break them up.
Use just about any milk-like beverage you like, dairy or nondairy. Whole cow’s milk or 2% milk are classic for smooth flavor, but almond, cashew, and coconut milk also produce wonderfully rich results.
Never let your milk actually boil. A few bubbles around the edge of the pan is as far as you want to go. This will preserve peak chocolate flavor and avoid scalding or curdling the milk. Soymilk and skim milk should be heated particularly gently as heat combined with the natural acidity in cocoa make them susceptible to curdling.
Should you use Dutch-process (alkalized) or natural cocoa powder? It’s a matter of taste. Natural cocoa is lighter and slightly more astringent, with almost citrusy notes. Dutch-process is smoother, earthier and slightly darker. If you’re using soy or skim milk, however, Dutch process may minimize the chance of curdling.
You can deepen the flavor and up the perceived sweetness of any cocoa by adding a pinch of salt or a few drops of vanilla.
If your idea of indulgence involves nothing more than heating water, you can’t beat a quality cocoa mix. Put on the kettle or start the microwave, and you can enjoy a delicious mug in minutes. 365 Everyday Value® Organic Hot Cocoa Mix ingredients derived from milk, cane sugar, and cocoa, then adds a touch of vanilla and sea salt for a wonderfully balanced brew. Keep a can at home, or get it in packets to tote to school or office.
Another almost-instant option is 365 Everyday Value® Organic Chocolate Syrup, made with cane sugar and cocoa powder. A splash of this in hot milk or your favorite non-dairy beverage gives you super-easy indulgence.
Cocoa from Scratch
At its very simplest, hot cocoa requires just unsweetened cocoa powder, sugar and milk. You can customize the amounts to your preference for sweetness and depth of flavor, plus switch out sugar for other sweeteners like agave syrup, honey, maple syrup, stevia and more. Non-dairy beverages also work terrifically, with the caveat that some require particularly gentle heat.
Foolproof recipes? Here are four worth savoring.
Homemade Hot Chocolate Mix is an easy recipe to keep on hand, requiring just hot water (great for taking to the office or on camping trips). Makes agreat gift too.
Mexican Style Hot Chocolate uses a fantastic spice combo, plus both cocoa powder and solid bittersweet chocolate for a thick, rich, delectable brew.
Spiced Hot Chocolate with Orange, made with solid dark chocolate, is a generously spiced and ultimately chocolatey.
Finally, Hot Spiced Carob is a unique alternative to non-chocolate cocoa alternative.
10 Great Upgrades
Ready to take your hot cocoa to the next level? Try out these easy, decadent additions.
Classic whipped cream. Dollop on homemade cream, or swirl on a handy premade cream like 365 Everyday Value® Organic Whipped Topping.
Grown-ups only. Thrill the adults in your crowd by giving each mug a hit of whisky, brandy, Kahlua, amaretto, ginger liqueur or other spirits.
Spicy heat. Add a subtle amount of cayenne or ground chipotle and cinnamon for extra tongue-tingling warmth. Garnish each with a cinnamon stick stirrer if you like.
Fantastic froth. Just before serving, transfer the cocoa to a blender and blend it briefly; reheat quickly in the microwave if necessary. You’ll find it exceptionally smooth and light!
Marshmallow madness. Spoon some mini marshmallows on top of each serving, or go all out with one or two full-size, pillowy, artisan marshmallows.
Sweet and salty. Sprinkle the top of each cup with a generous pinch of coarse sea salt, or squirt on a squiggle of 365 Everyday Value® Organic Salted Caramel Syrup.
Candy cane cred. Stick a festive candy cane into each mug for a colorful stirrer, or sprinkle crushed peppermints on top of a dollop of whipped cream.
S’mores style. Top mugs of cocoa with mini marshmallows, crushed gingerbread crumbs, and a drizzle of chocolate syrup.
Tropical dream. Make your cocoa with a coconut beverage, then sprinkle with toasted coconut flakes and a pinch of nutmeg.
Chai spice. Heat your cocoa with a mix of cinnamon stick, whole cloves, cardamom pods, and a thin slice of fresh ginger root; strain out the spices before serving.
For even more holiday inspiration, including menu ideas, cookie recipes and a handy servings calculator, check out our holiday guide.