What’s Hot Right Now: Chocolate

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Learn how to make different types of chocolate for the holidays.

I’m infatuated with cocoa, that magical elixir of steaming milk, dark chocolate and sugar crystals. I have passed my passion to my granddaughters. When they see me take out a certain battered heavy pot, they race to the stove with their stepstools.
“I get to measure the cocoa!” says the 9-year-old.
“I get to stir first!” says the 6-year-old.
They know I never use cocoa mixes. Rendering only faint chocolate flavor, mixes overwhelm the palate with marshmallows and sweetness. I have nothing against a mountain of marshmallows atop cocoa, as long as it rises atop high-quality chocolate. Homemade cocoa is so superior, it’s a pity to settle for powders from a packet.
Cocoa recipes abound. France, Italy and Mexico are famous for their contributions to the genre. Mexican cocoa is spicy, while French and Italian varieties are nearly as thick as pudding. But my granddaughters prefer American cocoa, which is milkier than their foreign counterparts. Some recipes are topped with marshmallows or whipped cream; others come with a dusting of unsweetened cocoa.
Cocoa must be presented in porcelain, never paper. I serve it in pastel cups and saucers dedicated to this delightful ritual. We never consume cocoa on the run. It’s impossible to appreciate its intoxicating scent and flavor, unless seated at a table.
We often indulge in cocoa in the afternoon, although it’s a treat for breakfast. I love watching the girls blowing the heat from their pastel cups and spooning cocoa and marshmallows into their mouths. Invariably they dot the tablecloth with chocolate.
But I’ve taught them a valuable lesson: savoring cocoa is an art, and drinking it takes time.
Classic Hot Cocoa — American Style
DAIRY
2 cups 2% milk
2 Tbsps. sugar
2 Tbsps. maple syrup, preferably Grade A amber
Dash of salt
2 Tbsps. unsweetened cocoa
Topping: ½ cup mini- marshmallows, or more if desired
Into a medium-size saucepan, place the milk, sugar, maple syrup and salt. Stir to combine. Cover the pan and bring to warm on a medium flame, about 1 to 2 minutes.
Remove from flame. Sprinkle in cocoa and vigorously whisk to remove lumps. Return to a medium flame and continue whisking, until cocoa comes to a gentle boil and thickens slightly.
Carefully pour into four teacups. Top each with marshmallows. Serve immediately.
Serves 4
Mexican-Style Hot Chocolate, Champurrado
DAIRY
Special Equipment: double boiler
2 cups 2% milk
4 Tbsps. sugar
4 cinnamon sticks
8 oz. of semi-sweet mini chocolate morsels
¼ tsp. vanilla
3 pinches of cayenne pepper
¼ tsp. chili powder
dash of salt
½ cup hot water
¼ cup cornstarch
Topping: 1 tsp. unsweetened cocoa for dusting
Place 1-1½ inches of cold water in the bottom portion of a double boiler. Fit the upper portion over it. Into the upper portion, place the milk, sugar, 1 cinnamon stick, chocolate morsels, vanilla, cayenne pepper, chili powder and salt. Cover with the lid. Place the double boiler on a medium flame. Stir occasionally, until the chocolate melts and the ingredients are well combined, about 10-15 minutes.
While that simmers, place 1/2 cup of hot water in a small bowl. Sprinkle the cornstarch over the water. Mix with a spoon.
With a slotted spoon, remove the cinnamon stick from the cocoa. Rinse it under water and pat dry with a paper towel. Reserve.
Once the cocoa is hot, add half of the cornstarch mixture, stirring constantly. Then add a tablespoon at a time and stir. You may not need the entire cornstarch mixture. When the cocoa is syrupy enough to thickly coat the back of a spoon, pour into 4 teacups. Pass unsweetened cocoa through a sieve and dust the surface of each cup lightly. Place a cinnamon stick in each cup, including the one dried in the paper towel. Serve immediately.
Serves 4
Whipped Cream for Cocoa (for the recipes below)
DAIRY
½ pint of heavy cream
½ tsp. sugar
½ tsp. vanilla
Place all ingredients in a large mixing bowl. With an electric mixer, beat on medium speed until mixture thickens, then pulse on and off. While off, lift the beaters. When peaks form, the whipped cream is ready. Be careful not to over-beat or you will make butter. Serve immediately with hot cocoa.
Chanukah Gelt Cocoa
DAIRY
8 pieces of Chanukah gelt, gold foil removed
2 cups 2% milk
4 Tbsps. sugar
Dash of salt
2 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa
Topping: whipped cream
Place 4 pieces of Chanukah gelt in the freezer.
Into a medium-sized saucepan, place the milk, sugar, and salt. Break the remaining 4 pieces of Chanukah gelt into pieces and add. Stir ingredients to combine. Cover the pan and bring to warm on a medium flame, about 1 to 2 minutes.
Remove from the flame. Sprinkle in the cocoa and vigorously whisk to remove lumps. Return the pan to a medium flame and whisk until the mixture comes to a gentle boil and thickens slightly.
Carefully pour into 4 teacups. Top with dollops of whipped cream. As a garnish, slide a piece of frozen Chanukah gelt into the edge of the whipped cream in each cup. Serve immediately.
Serves 4
Italian Hot Chocolate, Cioccolata Calda
DAIRY
4 Tbsps. 2% milk, plus 2 cups
2 Tbsps. corn starch
6 Tbsps. unsweetened cocoa
3 Tbsps. sugar
Topping: whipped cream
In a small bowl, heat 4 tablespoons of milk in a microwave on high power for 15 seconds. Sprinkle in the cornstarch. Whisk briskly until well combined. Reserve.
In a medium-sized saucepan, pour 2 cups of milk and heat briefly on a medium flame, until warm. Sprinkle in the cocoa and sugar. Whisk briskly to get rid of the lumps.
When the cocoa mixture comes to a slow boil, stir the cornstarch mixture and drizzle into the cocoa with a spoon a little at a time. Continue to whisk. When the cocoa turns syrupy and thickly coats the back of a spoon, it is ready. You may need only half of the cornstarch mixture.
Pour into 4 teacups. Spoon in dollops of whipped cream and serve immediately.
Serves 4
French Hot Cocoa, Chocolat Chaud
DAIRY
Equipment: a double boiler
2 cups 2% milk
6 oz. of semi-sweet chocolate bits
¼ tsp. vanilla
4 Tbsps. sugar
Topping: whipped cream and unsweetened cocoa for dusting
Place 1-1½ inches of water in the bottom portion of a double boiler. Fit the upper portion over it. Pour the milk into the upper portion and add the chocolate bits and vanilla. Cover with the lid.
Place the double boiler on a medium flame, until the water boils. Stir occasionally, until the chocolate melts.
Sprinkle in the sugar. Stir until well combined. Continue simmering, until the cocoa becomes piping hot and reaches a thickened consistency, about 15 minutes.
Carefully pour into teacups. Dollop with whipped cream. Place a teaspoon of unsweetened cocoa into a sieve and lightly dust the whipped cream with it. Serve immediately.
Serves 4

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