Food Scoop: Hot chocolate – the way it’s meant to be

When gray autumn skies and wet leaves have me shivering as I step outside, and the weeks hurry on towards Thanksgiving, I crave the thick, heavy warmth of hot chocolate.

I know hot chocolate sounds really simple. So simple, in fact, that it seems impossible to screw it up.

True, when standing outside on a cold, wet day it’s hard to say no to hot chocolate mix stirred into hot water. The heat of the hot water warms up fingers and makes a welcome curl of warmth in tummies. In other situations, I find myself entirely unsatisfied with the thinness of the drink.

Sometimes I stop at a coffee shop and order hot chocolate. Typically, it will be made with milk instead of water, which results in a thicker drink. The neat mound of whipped cream melting into the chocolate makes it even thicker. The syrup used at many places, though, gives a lot of hot chocolate a gritty edge.

If these are your drinks of choice, your life must be easier than mine when it comes to a hot chocolate craving. For me, it’s not perfect enough.

When I make hot chocolate I want hot chocolate that is thick, creamy and unmistakably flavored with chocolate. I don’t want it covered up with caramel or coffee or mint, unless it’s December and I have a candy cane to use as a hot chocolate stirring rod while watching “White Christmas” for the 15th time. I don’t want a single hint of graininess.

There are a couple things that make my hot chocolate a little different from most hot chocolate I’ve come across at coffee shops and cafes. Instead of syrup, I use cocoa. Right now, I love Ghirardelli cocoa powder, but Hershey’s is also quite good (although I tend to avoid the dark chocolate cocoa).
I like to add a touch of cinnamon and vanilla for an increased depth of flavor. For extra thickness, I like to add a dollop of heavy whipping cream – that’s whipping cream, not whipped cream, although I admit that sometimes I do both.

Cocoa does present a few problems, most of them relating to the way cocoa powder are difficult to mix into milk. Heating milk on a stove helps, because then the cocoa can be whisked in, which helps avoid leaving lumps of dry cocoa. As for the way cocoa tends to settle like sediment at the bottom of a cup, I like to add just a few chocolate chips. Remarkably, it tends to smooth out the last few swallows of hot chocolate.

It may seem like my approach is persnickety, and it is. Every time I sit down to a smooth, creamy, luscious cup of hot chocolate though, I close my eyes and enjoy that chocolate warmth as it spreads a feeling of contentment throughout my body.

Heavenly Hot Chocolate

1 ½ cup milk

3 tbsp. sugar

2 heaping tbsp. cocoa powder

Dash of cinnamon

½ tsp. vanilla

Chocolate chips

Heavy whipping cream and/or whipped cream

Heat milk over medium-low heat until it just begins to steam. Add vanilla, cinnamon, sugar and cocoa powder. Whisk until mixture is smooth and lumps of cocoa have disappeared.

Add the chocolate chips to the bottom of a cup. Pour in hot chocolate. Add heavy whipping cream for a heavier drink. Stir. Top with whipped cream as desired.

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