Hugs, Kisses and Hot Chocolate
Warm, comforting, delicious, creamy, soothing, consoling, calming, heartening, relaxing. Hot chocolate. The perfect Valentine’s concoction for your beloved. Chocolate: food for the gods, from long ago on the banks of the Amazon River where cocoa beans grew. That’s why store shelves are stocked full of heart shaped boxes of chocolate confectionaries. Chocolate speaks love on February 14.
Olé. Invading Spanish conquerors took cocoa beans back to Spain where they blended crushed cocoa powder with sugar to create a drinkable chocolate. And the love affair with hot cocoa began. Yes, hot cocoa mixes are available and are really not so bad for their convenience, but for a truly delicious…dare I say romantic…hot cocoa you’ll want to start with unsweetened cocoa powder, sugar and fresh liquid milk. When only the best will do for love.
Why not? For this Valentines, consider a box of good quality unsweetened cocoa instead of a box of chocolates. And make it with love. For every cup of cocoa: in a small heavy saucepan stir together 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa, 1 teaspoon sugar; slowly start whisking in a slow, steady stream of ¾ cup milk (whole is the creamiest, half-and-half is the richest, but low fat is fine). Continue stirring, slowly heating over medium heat, being sure to scrape the bottom of the pan. Do not boil, but continue until bubbles appear on the sides of the pan. Now, remove from heat, and stir in ½ teaspoon real vanilla extract.
Lots of love. Toppings make it personal: crushed peppermint, chopped chocolate mint candies (like Andes), mini dark chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, chocolate kisses, chopped caramel candies, mini marshmallows, even pink heart shaped marshmallows, ground cinnamon or nutmeg to sprinkle on, real whipped cream to dollop on, and maraschino cherries for the very top. What a sweet way to say I love you.
More and slow. Double or triple this recipe to serve all of your loves. Place ¼ cup cocoa, 4 cups cold low-fat milk, one 14-ounce can sweetened-condensed milk, 1 teaspoon vanilla flavoring, and 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt in crock pot. Whisk until blended. Cook on high for 2 hours or 4 for 3 hours, or until piping hot but not boiling. Serve with all the trimmings to make everyone happy.
Amoré. Italians like it thicker and creamier. Mix ½ cup unsweetened cocoa, 1/3 cup sugar, and 1 teaspoon cornstarch in a saucepan. Stir in ½ cup cold water, stir or whisk until cocoa mixture is dissolved. Then stir in another ½ cup cold water and 1 cup cold milk. (Always start with cold liquids, hot liquids will make cornstarch clump.) Mix well and cook slowly over low heat until the mixture thickens and coats a spoon. Stir in about 1/8– ¼ teaspoon vanilla flavoring. If you prefer, thin with more milk or half and half. Always serve in a warmed ceramic cup with unlimited toppings. This recipe makes 2 ½ cups of decadent hot cocoa.
Spirited. Chocolate, cherry, and rum flavors blend to take this hot chocolate to another level. Heat 2 cups pitted cherries over medium heat in a heavy saucepan until soft. Mash cherries with a fork, then add ½ cup powdered sugar and ¼ cup rum (optional, 1 teaspoon rum flavoring plus 2 ounces of water can be substituted.) Continue cooking for 5 – 8 minutes. Next strain cherry mixture through a sieve and refrigerate cherry sauce for about 10 minutes. Discard pulp. Bring 3 cups milk to a simmer in a heavy saucepan. Whisk in 8 ounces of chopped bittersweet chocolate bars, stirring until chocolate is dissolved and smooth. Stir in all but 2 tablespoons cherry sauce for the top. This makes 6 tempting servings that are perfect with sweetened whipped cream and a pretty little spoonful of cherry sauce on top.
Sweet endings. And why not end with a dessert-worthy-hot chocolate for your Valentine’s dinner. Serve this one in a frosty cup for your Valentine, by the fire or wrapped up with a soft warm throw. Pure love.
Recipe of the Week
3 cups milk, low fat or whole
1 cup heavy cream or half and half
2 tablespoons firmly packed
light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
4 ounces chopped bittersweet chocolate
½ cup milk chocolate chips
2 pints vanilla ice cream
For 8 servings: In a large saucepan bring milk, cream, brown sugar, vanilla and salt to a low simmer over medium heat. Whisk occasionally. Whisk in chocolates until smooth. Cool slightly. Fill each frosty mug ¾ full and top with 1 small scoop of ice cream. Also makes a delicious hot chocolate if served without the ice cream. Add favorite toppings as your heart desires.