There are many approaches to hot cocoa and drinking chocolate, and most of them suck. A little effort and planning produces a result far superior to anything from a tin or bag. My goal here, if nothing else, is to encourage folks to start experimenting. Making great cocoa is only slightly more complicated than dumping a packet of who knows what into some hot water.
My approach is pretty straightforward, and is based on Cook’s Illustrated’s decadent hot chocolate recipe (subscription required, highly recommended). It requires six ingredients:
- Cocoa powder
- Vanilla extract
There are a lot of things that can be added to doctor the recipe, including:
- Espresso (fresh or powder)
The basic idea is to combine all the ingredients except the chocolate and vanilla in a pot and bring to a boil. This is not rocket science, but there are two tricky bits. The first is that the ingredients are going to need some coaxing to combine; cocoa powder really wants to hang out on top of the milk mixture instead of in it. The good news is that a healthy amount of whisking and some heat make this process a lot easier.
The second problem is that when this mixture actually starts to boil, it’s going to expand in volume; make it in a pot with plenty of room or watch it like a hawk.
Otherwise, it’s pretty simple: Combine the ingredients, bring to a boil (stirring occasionally), remove from heat. Add chocolate and vanilla, let rest, and serve.
My favorite combination involves Callebaut’s cocoa powder and Valrhona bittersweet chocolate. This produces a rich cocoa with good complexity and moderate sweetness.