On a cold day, a cup of hot chocolate is about as good as it gets -- well, as far as food and beverages go. More often than not, people get their hot chocolate fix from Starbucks or another coffee shop, spending about $3.00 a cup. For a family of four, this can add up -- especially if your kids are prone to dropping their to-go cups inches from the front door of the cafe, as mine are. The other problem with buying cups of hot chocolate is that the paper cups and plastic lids sabotage any attempt to really enjoy the full flavor and aroma of the drink. Worst of all, you either need to drink your tasty beverage on the go, or get it back home in the cold, only to find it’s lukewarm when you finally sit down to drink it. No. I have a primal need to warm up on a cold day with a steaming cup of hot chocolate -- in a real cup, in my favorite chair -- and so I need to make it at home.
When I was in college, I was misinformed and poor, so we used Swiss Miss packets of cocoa. After dumping each pack in a cup of microwave warmed water, we would all settle down for what we hoped would be a delicious treat (which often included Peppermint Schnapps). I didn’t realize at the time that I was a foodie, but I did know one thing: those cups of cocoa were awful. If it weren’t for the Schnapps, I would have passed on the whole affair.
It was only when I was an adult that I started to make real hot chocolate. I learned that there is a difference between hot cocoa and hot chocolate, and experimented with different cocoa powders and bittersweet bars, enjoying the results from both, but preferring hot chocolate. In case you’re curious, hot cocoa is made using cocoa powder, sugar, and milk, while hot chocolate is made with melted chocolate, sugar, and milk. For me, there’s just something about drizzling hot bittersweet chocolate into warmed milk that really satisfies both my hot beverage and chocolate cravings.
For years I topped my hot chocolate with either warm milk foam or whipped cream, which at the time seemed perfect. But, a few weeks ago, my mother created the ultimate topping for our steaming chocolate beverages: homemade marshmallow whip. She initially made a batch of All-Around Frosting from Cooks.com to frost my daughters' gingerbread house, but we soon realized that this lovely confection had a far greater purpose in our lives.
Although the recipe is supposedly for frosting, the ingredients are everything you would need to make marshmallows, minus the gelatin, and the result is the lightest marshmallow whip you could ever hope for. My only recommendation is to half the recipe if you don't want a ton of it.
One of the things I love about using the homemade marshmallow whip is that it has a luscious creamy texture that melts beautifully into your hot chocolate. It is also rich and full enough to add body to your drink if you want to use low-fat or nonfat milk. And, you can always frost a cake or stick a gingerbread house together with it if afterward.
So the next time you crave a cup of hot chocolate, go for a version that doesn’t come in a paper cup and isn't made from a packet. Adding Schnapps, however, is completely up to you.
Makes: 2 servings
• 2 1/2 cups whole or low-fat milk
• 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
• 2 tablespoons sugar
• 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1. Chop chocolate into small pieces.
2. Heat milk in a sauce pan on medium-low heat, being sure not to let it boil over.
3. There are two ways to melt the chocolate:
A. Place the chocolate pieces in a metal bowl that will fit securely over your sauce pan. Reduce the heat for the milk to a low simmer and then place the bowl on top of the pan. Stir until the chocolate is melted.
B. Place chocolate pieces in a microwavable bowl and microwave for 30 seconds. Stir chocolate to help distribute the heat. If chocolate has not thoroughly melted, heat for another 20 seconds and repeat until chocolate is melted through.
4. Add chocolate to the heated milk along with the sugar and vanilla extract and stir thoroughly to incorporate everything together. I like to use a whisk, which creates some froth.