Without even setting a goal for it, I just happened to follow a morning routine from the 1st of January: ramble through my stash of craft chocolate bars or hot chocolate flakes, choose one, decide whether I’ll use milk or water, grab my frother and after a few minutes I’d cozy up with my hot chocolate before starting the day.
Think about for a second, what comes into your mind when you think about hot chocolate? My earliest memory is from my childhood when my grandmother used to prepare a traditional hot cocoa drink using unsweetened cocoa powder, then there was the rise of the instant cocoa powder (‘blame the bunny’) that even I could mix up with cold or hot milk. For a long time, hot chocolate meant a cocoa powder based drink, although I sometimes sacrificed a leftover Easter bunny or chocolate Santa, only issue being that they never mixed well and were way too sweet.
An interesting language fact is that in Hungarian we have two separate words for hot cocoa drink and hot chocolate. The former is referring to the cocoa powder-based drink, the latter to the drink made with hot chocolate mix or real chocolate. So when travelling abroad, I had many disappointing experiences of ordering hot chocolate or chocolat chaud, and instead of a creamy, thick hot chocolate I ended up with a hot cocoa drink. The situation is further complicated by the use of ‘sipping chocolate’ and ‘drinking chocolate’ in English, these are both used to describe the chocolate-based drinks and not hot cocoa drink.
When you realise how endless are the possibilities with using real chocolate to make your hot chocolate instead of using cocoa powder it’s a real game changer. Of course, the craft chocolate bars that you collected during chocolate shows are more expensive than a tin of cocoa powder or hot cocoa mix, I was also quite reluctant at first to melt them down into a drink. Let me share with you a few tips and basic recipes that will certainly give you a delicious chocolate drink that you won’t regret.
‘Frankencocoa’ – recycled chocolates
The term “Frankencocoa” popped up on Instagram coined by Jess (@seattledessertgeek) referring to hot chocolate made with a mix of different pieces of chocolates, basically a “house blend” of your own. It’s a great way to use up odd ends and small bits of chocolates or bloomed pieces that just linger around in your cupboard or box and wouldn’t give you a great satisfaction if you’d decide to just eat them on their own. Bloomed chocolate especially has a very dry, chalky texture due to fat migration (cocoa butter separates and moves to the surface of the chocolate creating white spots). These pieces can get a second chance of revival in the form of a hot chocolate. You can also play around with different types, percentages and origins and see how the overall flavour changes from one recipe to the other. For example, instead of adding sugar, you can sweeten your drink by mixing in some white chocolate, that will also make it creamier.
Taking it one step further, my friend Patricia from Eating the Chocolate Alphabet started to create what she calls a Chocolate Solera. Basically she collects a piece of all the unflavoured chocolates she tries throughout the year, and on 1st January 2019 she’ll whip up a gigantic Frankencocoa. I can’t wait to see the final mix and the resulting drink!
Thick or thin?
It’s all a personal preference whether you like your drink to be light, like a hot cocoa drink or thicker and creamier, more like a pudding. I personally prefer the thicker versions, but if the flavour is right, I don’t mind a lighter version either. Thickness and creaminess are easier to achieve with a milk-based drink due to the higher fat content. For extra creaminess, try adding some double cream to your recipe. Playing around with chocolate to liquid ratios, you can even do a ganache-based hot chocolate using only double cream and chocolate, this creates a decadent version and less is probably more, so opt for a smaller mug or teacup when serving as it can be particularly filling.
I firmly recommend you to use a mini-whisk or even better a milk frother to mix your hot chocolate as you need to create a perfect emulsion for a delicious result. A simple spoon is unlikely to do the job (I know this from my failed attempts as a child to melt down my Santa-army) as you need friction. Just like making a mayonnaise or vinaigrette, you’re mixing water with fat, so the whisk helps to break down each element’s molecular structure and help them bind together into an emulsion. The result is a homogenous, creamy liquid instead of tiny chocolate particles floating in milk (which happened to me as a child). Also, the frother just makes it so much fun to prepare the hot chocolate. I love how it swirls the liquid and I could watch for hours the foam that forms on top. I also noticed that the fresher the milk, the thicker and more stable your milk froth will be. Once I frothed for so long, and incorporated so much air into the milk that the entire mug of hot chocolate (a more liquid version) became a chocolate milk foam and more than doubled in size. I also use this little gadget when making water-based hot chocolate. In fact, I think it is even more important in this case. Funny to compare the difference of foam bubbles on top:
Looking back to the traditional Mayan and Aztec versions of hot chocolate or recipes that are used up to now in Central and South America, the addition of cornflour/cornstarch is an easy way of thickening up your recipe without it becoming heavy. Depending on your recipe, you can end up with a very thick, pudding-like hot chocolate, that is even delicious as a treat when cold.
Choose your base
Then, there’s the big question: what base to use dairy or water? Of course, again, it is a personal choice. The main difference here is that because water has no fat content compared to milk (or milk alternatives such as rice/almond/hazelnut/coconut milk), in order to get a creamier hot chocolate, you need to increase the amount of chocolate and decrease the amount of liquid. The advantage of water-based hot chocolates is that you don’t compromise on the flavour, so make sure that you choose a very good quality chocolate. The nuances and unique flavour profile come through beautifully, but so do the flaws. Consequently, if you want to hide off-flavours, bitterness or unpleasant notes, using milk will help you to achieve a nicer result.
If you’re using milk, the consistency and creaminess depends on the kind of milk you use. I always go for full-fat cow’s milk, because I prefer the flavour, but you can use semi-skimmed milk too. Fat-free milk would almost fall in the same category as water in this regard. Milk alternatives such as rice milk, nut milks, soy milk, coconut milk tend to give less creamy results than full-fat milk, but slightly creamier than water. Important reminder here is that these alternative milks have their own unique flavour (whether sweetened or unsweetened), so this will also influence the final flavour of your hot chocolate (same goes for goat’s or sheep’s milk, if you choose those).
Of course, the possibilities are truly endless already, but you can go even further by adding some extras to your hot chocolate. I’m no maths person, but I’m sure you could easily have a different kind of hot chocolate for a whole year by trying all the possible combinations (and maybe even more!). Challenge accepted?
Depending whether you use any extra sweetener, you can play around with different sugars, honey varieties, sugar syrups (those coffee-syrup things), maple syrup, agave, coconut sugar, or any other alternative you have on hand. Just bear in mind again, these will alter the final flavour of your drink.
Spices are another great way to customise your hot chocolate. Cinnamon, vanilla, gingerbread spice mix, nutmeg, chilli, cardamom, star anise, chai spices are some of the easiest options. You can also be a bit more adventurous and try a version of golden milk using turmeric and ginger or add matcha powder. If you can find freeze-dried fruit powders, you can make fruity hot chocolates. Strawberry and raspberry go well with dark, milk and white chocolate equally. Another option is using flavour drops (you can get them in the baking aisle of supermarkets or specialist shops like Lakeland) and make orange, lemon, mint or marzipan flavoured (if using almond extract) hot chocolates.
Although I’m personally not a big fan of marshmallows, it’s fun when they melt into your hot chocolate. I was converted by Pump Street Bakery who put a giant vanilla marshmallow on top of their single origin hot chocolate, and I was just blown away how creamy, frothy the drink was because of this. (I’m not sure I’d say the same about those pink and white mini mallows you can get in supermarkets and that smell like plastic bags… ouch.)
A splash of rum, Irish cream or Cointreau? Again, whatever your heart desires. Just make sure no kids go near your mug. And while we’re here, have you ever thought about mulled wine hot chocolate? Sounds crazy right? I saw this recipe in one of my favourite chocolate books, Adventures with Chocolate by Paul A. Young. Now, he is the one known for his truly adventurous and unique flavour combinations (think his Marmite truffle or the more recent Beef dripping caramel), so I knew this will be phenomenal. The recipe calls for a water-based hot chocolate with added cocoa powder, mulling spices, sugar, clementines and of course red wine. The result? Mind-blowingly delicious. I’ll share it with you in my next post along with other hot chocolate recipes that I love.
Hot chocolate is not just for kids, I hope this post made you realise that. With creativity and good ingredients, you can create delicious hot chocolates that will delight you and give you a boost of energy and happy feelings (chocolate triggers endorphin release in your brain, like when you’re in love). “It’s like a warm hug from the inside” we tend to say, and it’s true. Use the best ingredients you can find and you’ll be rewarded with not just a hot drink, but with all the benefits it will bring to your day and life.
In a follow-up post, I’ll share with you my experience of having a hot chocolate each day as well as my favourite recipes. Until then, please share your hot chocolate thoughts in the comments below.
Disclaimer: This post reflects my true and honest opinion and I wasn’t paid or recompensed in any way to write it or to include the above-mentioned brands or products.