When it comes to making a cup of hot chocolate, most people probably think of pre-mixed packets, not the tins of cocoa in the baking aisle. But that baking cocoa also makes a deep, dark chocolate drink that is delicious, inexpensive and all-natural, with no added ingredients. With a few tips and some imagination, you can create warm, comforting, homemade chocolate beverages spiced up just the way you like.
Types of Cocoa
Pre-mixed commercial cocoa packets contain cocoa powder, milk powder, sweeteners, salt, flavorings, chemical preservatives and other ingredients. The packets are designed only for drinking, not for baking. Plain cocoa powder comes in two types: natural, also called unsweetened, and Dutch-processed, which is treated with alkali to cut down on its acidity. Both are bitter, but natural has a lighter, slightly fruity flavor, while Dutch cocoa is darker and nuttier. Which type of cocoa you use to make your chocolate drink will depend upon personal preference.
Choosing What to Add
Plain cocoa is low fat and needs a liquid other than water to mix with. Good choices are cow's milk or cream, goat's milk, almond milk, rice milk or soy milk. Spanish style cocoa drinks are thickened with a pinch of cornstarch. In Mexico, cinnamon and vanilla often are added. You can add some malted milk powder or candy canes crushed into a fine powder. You'll need a sweetener, too, due to the naturally bitter taste of cocoa, such as sugar, brown sugar, agave, honey or artificial sweeteners such as sucralose. Just a pinch of salt helps to bring out the chocolate flavor.
Putting It All Together
If the cocoa powder looks lumpy, run it though a sifter before adding it to the liquid. For a single serving, a typical basic recipe calls for warm milk, cocoa powder and granulated white sugar. Generally, there is a one-to-one measure of cocoa to the sugar. To avoid all the powder floating to the top, combine the sugar and cocoa and just enough heated milk to make a smooth paste, then add the rest of the hot milk and stir thoroughly. If desired, run the mixture through a blender to add foam. Top with marshmallows or a dusting of grated nutmeg.
Great for Coffee, Too
Cocoa powder also combines with coffee to make a tasty mocha beverage. Simply add cocoa powder and sugar to fresh hot coffee. As with hot cocoa, it may help to make a paste with the sugar and cocoa and a little bit of coffee first. To make an iced mocha, cool the chocolate coffee mixture and pour over ice or crush with ice in a blender. If using the blender method, try adding a banana or other fruit such as orange for a different taste.
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Bonnie Singleton has been writing professionally since 1996. She has written for various newspapers and magazines including "The Washington Times" and "Woman's World." She also wrote for the BBC-TV news magazine "From Washington" and worked for Discovery Channel online for more than a decade. Singleton holds a master's degree in musicology from Florida State University and is a member of the American Independent Writers.