It was the ancient Aztecs who first appreciated the virtues of a cup of cocoa, but the version they enjoyed would be barely recognizable to people who relish a hot cup of sweetened cocoa on a cold winter’s day. The Aztec version was prepared using finely ground roasted cacao beans that were combined with chile pepper-infused water to produce a fiery, bitter drink that was used for ceremonial purposes and during celebrations. There is some debate as to whether the drink was intoxicating, as some early Europeans claimed. Some culinary historians speculated that fermented cacao pulp or Aztec spirits were also added.
Cortez was the first to bring cacao beans back to Spain in the 16th century. The Spanish added sugar to their new beverage that they heated before serving. The nation went wild for the highly coveted drink and guarded it jealously from the rest of Europe until the English got wind of it in the 17th century.
The British swapped out water for milk and it become a luxurious beverage associated with the British aristocracy. Chocolate houses emerged a few decades later throughout the nation’s cities where patrons convened to discuss the day’s politics over a warm cup of cocoa.
In the early 19th century, a Dutch chocolate maker was the first to develop a process that removed the fat from the cacao beans, enabling them to be transformed into powder, ushering in the chocolate bar and the term “Dutch-processed chocolate.”
Preparing your own hot chocolate from scratch is easy and rewarding, especially on a chilly fall or winter’s day beside a cozy fire. Consider adding flavoring agents to your hot cocoa such as ground cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, or even flaked sea salt which adds a pleasing crunch. Freshly made whipped cream (or even that derived from a can) is also a welcome dancing partner as are baby marshmallows and a cinnamon or peppermint swizzle stick.
- Select your chocolate. Hot chocolate is at its richest and most flavorful when it’s prepared using high quality chocolate instead of cocoa powder. Pick your favorite and experiment. While milk chocolate is wonderful, dark chocolate gives your favorite cold weather drink a sophisticated edge.
- Use approximately one 4-ounce piece of chocolate for each cup of cocoa. Chop it as finely as possible and add it to a metal bowl. Bring a saucepan of water to a vigorous simmer and place the bowl of chocolate on top. Whisk the chocolate as it begins to melt and continue to do so until it is glossy and smooth. Hold the side of the bowl with a side towel or hot pad because it will become hot. Remove the bowl from the heat.
- In a second saucepan, add one cup of whole milk for every cup of cocoa you will be making. Don’t reuse the first saucepan because it will be too hot for the cold milk. Over medium-low heat while stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, heat up the milk. Do not let it boil or it could bubble over or scorch.
- Once the milk is heated, add the warm melted chocolate along with a pinch of salt and whisk until combined. At this stage, add anything else you will be using to flavor your cocoa such as ground cinnamon, nutmeg or ginger.
- Pour the cocoa into mugs, top with freshly whipped cream or baby marshmallows and add a cinnamon or peppermint stick, if desired. Garnish with sea salt, powdered cinnamon or leftover chocolate shavings and enjoy.
Not only is this hot chocolate recipe coziness in a cup, it also contains pumpkin and a flash of heat from chile pepper which makes it seasonal and spicy all at once. Mexican hot chocolate tends to run on the thicker side and pumpkin puree is what makes that happen in this recipe that is made all the more interesting with the addition of allspice and a dash of vanilla. Get the recipe.
Mexican cooks figured out long ago that cocoa is made even more irresistible when it’s given the time required to really come into its own. Iconic mole sauce exemplifies this fact in a way that few other recipes do and once you’ve prepared it and discovered how beautifully it pairs with proteins like pork, squab and chicken, you will quickly hop on the mole bandwagon that Mexicans have been deliciously enjoying for centuries. This recipe cleverly combines a host of other herbs and spices like cloves, oregano, chile, and cinnamon to make it even more enticing. Get the recipe.
This recipe proves that cocoa isn’t just for desserts. It’s also the perfect complement to hearty meat dishes because its flavor holds up to long cooking times and cocoa’s inherent sweetness coaxes out the natural sugars of meat cuts like this pork shoulder that is made all the more tantalizing with the addition of cumin, cinnamon, ginger, and chile peppers. Get the recipe.
Chili aficionados know that its flavor can be heightened and its spicy virtues deepened with the addition of cocoa. This recipe has all of the requisite ingredients that will make a pot of chili sing like bell peppers, smoky chipotle, garlic and oregano but it also includes a generous amount of cocoa powder along with a side of coconut for two unexpected flavors that somehow mingle together brilliantly. Get the recipe.
Noone can resist these pretty little hot chocolate brownie cups with their gooey ganache filling and festive sprinkle of tiny marshmallows. Kids and adults alike won’t be able to get enough of them and while the splash of bourbon transforms this dessert into a strictly adult treat, it ratchets up the flavor and the undeniable fun. Get the recipe.
Hot chocolate takes a leap into chilly territory with this frozen hot chocolate recipe that is perfect for a warmer fall day. Sea salt is recommended as a way to coax out the cocoa flavor and add a pleasing crunch and whipped cream gives it a velvety texture and a tempting color contrast. Get the recipe.