Here is how I’ve made hot chocolate for most of my life: heat some milk in a saucepan, add a bit of unsweetened cocoa and sugar and whisk. Form lumps. Be unable to break up lumps. Get frustrated, try again, this time slowly slowly slowly whisking milk into cocoa and sugar, hoping to form something of a cocoa roux. Heat mixture until steamy and drink merrily, trying to ignore faint background of chalkiness. Hooray for cocoa?
Until this week, that is. This week, I saw a recipe for a homemade hot chocolate mix in this month’s Cook’s Illustrated that had my undivided attention because it wasn’t just cocoa and sugar but ground chocolate and vanilla and salt and and and… I mean, how bad could it be? What was the worst that could happen — we’d have to warm up with several cups of hot cocoa in a single week in the name of recipe testing? I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: sometimes, this job is the worst.
Shockingly, because given that the source is basically perfect, it wasn’t for me. Even more surprising, because I love bittersweet chocolate so much, I actually found it too bitter. But this just gave me the excuse to make more. I nixed the milk powder because I’m rather eh on it, especially when a) there’s real milk around or b) it would keep the recipe dairy-free so you could instead use steamed coconut, almond or soy milk. I switched out the unsweetened chocolate for semisweet/bittersweet, reduced the salt and vanilla a little and bumped up the cornstarch ever-so-slightly to encourage the mixture to dissolve perfectly, even without the powdered milk.
And then, well, I probably should pretend this heaping pile of miniature marshmallows was for the kindergartener. Because only a kindergartener would so shamelessly use a cup of decadent, gloriously rich hot cocoa as a vehicle for marshmallow consumption, right? I really should. But we all know the truth. Kindergarteners are at kindergarten during the day, giving adults an excuse to not act their age for a while. I regret nothing.
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One year ago: Sugared Pretzel Cookies
Two years ago: Cauliflower-Feta Fritters with Pomegranate
Three years ago: Nutmeg Maple Butter Cookies
Four years ago: Roasted Chestnut Cookies
Five years ago: Cream Biscuits
Six years ago: Dark Chocolate Tart with Gingersnap Crust and Veselka’s Cabbage Soup
Seven years ago: Rugelach Pinwheels, Fennel Ice Cream and a Ratatouille Tart
Eight years ago: Fettucine with Porcini, Potato Salad with Sherry-Mustard Vinaigrette and Salted Chocolate Caramels
And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Coconut Brown Butter Cookies
1.5 Years Ago: Rhubarb Cream Cheese Handpies
2.5 Years Ago: Strawberries and Cream Biscuits
3.5 Years Ago: Roasted Red Peppers with Capers and Mozzarella
Decadent Hot Chocolate Mix
Adapted a little from Cook’s Illustrated
This is the ideal homemade December gift to pack up for friends and family, if I do say so myself. It’s both rich and deeply chocolaty, without being excessively sweet. Add some homemade springy fluffy marshmallows or the my new favorite thing to dunk in hot chocolate (next up!) if you want to do it up further.
Yield: Just under 1 3/4 cups mix, enough for 9 cups; packs up well in a 2-cup jar
Prep time: Seriously like 10 minutes
1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
1 tablespoon (8 grams) cornstarch
3 ounces (85 grams) semi- or bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped
1/2 cup (40 grams) cocoa powder, any kind you like
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract or the seeds from a tiny segment of fresh vanilla bean
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt or 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until powdery. Don’t have a food processor? Chop or grate the chocolate until it is as fine as you can get it, and stir it into the remaining ingredients. Mixture keeps in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 months.
To use: Heat one cup of milk (coconut, almond or others would work here too) in a saucepan over medium heat until steamy. Add 3 tablespoons hot cocoa mix. Whisk over heat for another minute or two, until it begins to simmer and mix is completely dissolved. Pour into mug, top with mini-marshmallows or a dollop of whipped cream and
hide somewhere nobody will make you share give it to someone you love.
Other flavors: CI walks you through how to make variations including Mexican Hot Chocolate (with some chile powder, cayenne and cinnamon), Mint Hot Chocolate (with mint extract instead of vanilla), Mocha Hot Chocolate (with a couple tablespoons of espresso powder) and usually I’d say “have fun with it!” I mean, you can and should. But I have to admit to being a bit of a traditionalist with my cocoa, and would take the pure chocolate flavor of the above recipe over anything that would clutter my tastebuds. Then again, maybe you shouldn’t listen to someone who needs a minimum of two dozen mini-marshmallows on a single cup of hot chocolate?
Packaging ideas: Had I more time, I might have picked up some charming Weck Juice Jars or Tulip Jars (.5 liter size, which will give you some space at the top — perfect for a handful of marshmallows?), either of which can be used later for pickling or storage. I used Mason jar-ish mugs with lids (1, 2), which could be used later for hot chocolate consumption. You could tie a a tablespoon measure on as well with ribbon, to make their end of the work even easier.