For warm memories and warm innards

Keith Tsuji Photography /
Keith Tsuji Photography /

Hot chocolate or cocoa, it's a cup of comfort.

Posted: January 13, 2011

Put concerns about climate change aside for the moment and think back to winter days when you played outside so long the snow penetrated your rubber boots, bulky leggings, even the woolen mittens clipped to your coat sleeves.

Nothing could pierce that chill like hot cocoa.

And even now, when commuting to work in winter has you hunching your neck and shoulders against the wind, you can probably recall the warmth of the steaming cup in your hands, the heady scent, the dark taste. Such is the power of a food memory.

Today, leggings are fashionable tights worn by lanky young women and hot cocoa is most often seen in individual serving-size envelopes meant to be mixed with boiling tap water. Think Swiss Miss or Nestle.

The creamy hot cocoa you remember can be re-created at home. But first, let's clarify some terms.

"I suppose for many people, there's a fine line between hot chocolate and hot cocoa," says Tom Block, an owner of Naked Chocolate Cafe at 13th and Walnut.

Hot chocolate is made by melting chocolate. The resulting liquid is less creamy than cocoa but decadently rich. This is the stuff of the Aztecs, a purported aphrodisiac.

And really, it's for sipping, not drinking.

"You definitely don't want to chug drinking chocolate," says Block. "It's a real indulgence."

And it is Naked's signature drink, served hot in winter and chilled in summer. In addition to a classic blend, Naked offers Bittersweet; Aztec (with cinnamon, cardamom, and nutmeg); Spicy (with cayenne and chile); and Caramel Hawaiian Salt Hot Chocolate, made with lava salt.

"We make ours by melting varietal chocolates," fair-traded from growers in Central and South America, "so it's like drinking pieces of chocolate instead of chewing them."

Naked sells its classic hot chocolate blend by the pound for home use, at $15 a pound. And a number of quality chocolatiers (Lake Champlain, Valrhona) sell their drinking chocolate in tins, too.

On its website, Lindt explains how to make hot drinking chocolate at home, using two bars of Lindt Excellence, 70 percent cocoa, Madagascar vanilla, cinnamon, and black peppercorns. The recipe (featured here) was inspired by the 1988 movie steamer Chocolat.

Hot cocoa is made from cocoa powder, which is what remains after the naturally occurring cocoa butter is extracted from shelled and roasted cacao beans.

The powder, mixed with milk, sugar, and a touch of salt, makes the kind of hot cocoa you probably recall from snow days of yore.

Martha Stewart recommends making your own hot cocoa mix and keeping it on hand to serve a cup or a crowd without becoming frazzled. (See recipe.)

Sure, there are only three dry ingredients (cocoa, sugar, and salt). But measuring and mixing them in advance (with help from the kids) allows for spontaneity, savings, and a chance to control the amount of sugar (or natural sugar substitute) in the blend. And it will be preservative-free.

Stewart, who is devoting much of the February issue of Martha Stewart Living magazine to the glories of old-fashioned hot cocoa, suggests using whole milk, but your cardiologist may prefer that you stick with fat-free.

In either case, heat the milk gently over a medium-low flame, stirring from time to time until it is scalding but not boiling. Milk is considered scalded at 180 degrees. If you don't use a thermometer, look for tiny bubbles around the edges of the pan.

Of course, for every simple solution, Stewart can offer three more complicated opportunities, such as an even creamier dark hot cocoa (see recipe).

If you can't bear to serve hot cocoa without marshmallows, Vermont-based Lake Champlain Chocolates offers instructions on making those at home, too (see recipe).

Or make your own meringue, using one large egg white and 3 tablespoons of superfine sugar. Beat the egg white using a mixer on medium speed until it begins to foam, about one minute. Add the sugar one tablespoon at a time as the mixer is running. Beat five more minutes, until the egg white stiffens to soft peaks and is shiny.

Dollop onto cups of hot cocoa or hot chocolate.

Homemade Hot Cocoa

Makes 92 8-ounce servings   

31/2 cups sugar (or substitute    of your choice)

21/4 cups cocoa (best

quality you can afford)

1 tablespoon table salt

Whole milk for serving (or fat free)


1. In a large bowl, combine sugar, cocoa, and salt and whisk to combine well. Store the mixture in an airtight container until you are ready to use.

2. For individual servings, pour 1 cup milk into a microwave-safe mug. Microwave on high just until hot. Add 2 tablespoons of cocoa mix and stir to dissolve.

3. For a larger batch of cocoa, warm the milk in a saucepan set over medium-low heat, taking care not to let the milk boil; as it warms, stir in 2 tablespoons of mix for each cup of milk.

- From

Per serving: 182 calories, 8 grams protein, 20 grams carbohydrates, 20 grams sugar, 8 grams fat, 24 milligrams cholesterol, 173 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber.

Dark-Chocolate Hot Cocoa

Makes 2-3 servings

2 cups whole milk

1 cup heavy cream

5 ounces bittersweet

   chocolate, chopped

   (about 1 cup)

2 tablespoons light-brown


1/4 teaspoon freshly grated



1. Warm milk and cream in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Add chocolate. Whisk until melted and combined. Add sugar, and whisk until dissolved.

2. Continue to warm mixture until thick, about 5 minutes. Whisk in nutmeg.

Note: Hot cocoa can be refrigerated for up to 1 week. Rewarm in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Thin with milk if needed.

- From Martha Stewart Living, February 2011

Per serving (based on 3): 628 calories, 10 grams protein, 42 grams carbohydrates, 34 grams sugar, 51 grams fat, 126 milligrams cholesterol, 101 milligrams sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber.

Classic Hot Chocolate

Makes 4 to 6 servings

1 quart milk

1 vanilla bean, split

1 stick cinnamon

3/4 teaspoon whole black

   peppercorns (optional)

7 ounces chopped 70 percent


Optional garnishes:

Whipped cream

Chocolate shavings


1. Heat the milk with the spices in a saucepan over medium heat until it reaches boiling point, but do not let the milk boil. Add the chopped chocolate and whisk until smooth.

2. Remove from heat and let rest for 25 minutes to release the spices' aroma.

3. Strain the liquid and reheat before serving.

- From Lindt Chocolates

Per serving (based on 6): 166 calories, 13 grams protein, 13 grams carbohydrates, 10 grams sugar, 9 grams fat, 16 milligrams cholesterol, 78 milligrams sodium, no dietary fiber.

Homemade Marshmallows

About 100 to 120 marshmallows

3 packages unflavored


1 cup ice-cold water, divided 12 ounces granulated sugar,

   approximately 11/2 cups

1 cup light corn syrup

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup confectioners' sugar

1/4 cup cornstarch

Nonstick spray


1. Place the gelatin into the bowl of a stand mixer along with 1/2 cup of the cold water. Have the whisk attachment standing by.

2. In a small saucepan, combine the remaining 1/2 cup water, granulated sugar, corn syrup, and salt. Place over medium high heat, and bring to a boil. Once boiling, clip a candy thermometer to the side and cook to 240 degrees F. Once the mixture reaches this temperature, immediately remove from the heat.

3. Turn the mixer on low speed and, while running, slowly pour the sugar syrup down the side of the bowl into the gelatin mixture. Once you have added all of the syrup, increase the speed to high. Continue to whip until the mixture becomes very thick and is lukewarm, approximately 12 to 15 minutes. Add the vanilla during the last minute of whipping. While the mixture is whipping, prepare the pans as follows.

4. Combine the confectioners' sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl. Lightly spray a 13-by-9-inch metal baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Add the sugar and cornstarch mixture and move around to completely coat the bottom and sides of the pan. Return the remaining mixture to the bowl for later use.

5. When ready, pour the mixture into the prepared pan, using a lightly oiled spatula for spreading evenly into the pan. Dust the top with enough of the remaining sugar and cornstarch mixture to lightly cover. Reserve the rest for later. Allow the marshmallows to sit uncovered for at least 4 hours and up to overnight.

6. Turn the marshmallows out onto a cutting board and cut into 1-inch squares using a pizza wheel dusted with the confectioners' sugar mixture. Once cut, lightly dust all sides of each marshmallow with the remaining mixture, using additional if necessary. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks.

- From Lauren Deitsch, research & development


Lake Champlain Chocolates

Per marshmallow: 15 calories, 1 gram protein, 3 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram sugar, trace fat, trace cholesterol, 9 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber.

Contact staff writer Dianna Marder at 215-854-4211 or Read her recent work at


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