Having kindled the perfect fire in the fireplace, it’s time for the perfect cup of hot cocoa.
The basic recipe for hot cocoa on a box of Hershey’s Natural Unsweetened Cocoa calls for ingredients in amounts to make six servings. All fine and delicious, but the dedicated cocoa devotee often prefers to prepare hot cocoa one wonderful cup at a time, at a time, at a time. Fortunately, organizing and preparing a single cuppa cocoa takes little time and minimal effort.
Step 1: If you do not have a water heating tap that provides hot filtered water, start by bringing a kettle of water to the boiling point. Keep the water at the simmering stage; use this for the start of each cup of cocoa. Powdered cocoa emulsifies quicker in hot water than in cold. If the tap water available has a strong taste of its own, heat bottled or filtered water so as not to compromise the flavor of the cocoa.
Step 2: Assemble the ingredients needed for one cup of cocoa (hopefully, this will not require a trip to the local market should the fireplace already beckon): unsweetened cocoa powder, sugar, salt, milk, vanilla extract, half-and-half or cream. (For a touch of class, substitute whipping cream for the H&H.)
Step 3: Prepare to measure out the ingredients as follows, in these amounts:
2 tablespoons cocoa
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
Tiny pinch of salt
2 tablespoons boiling water
3/4 cup milk
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons half-and-half or cream
Step 4 (Directions): In a heavy mug, combine cocoa, sugar and the salt. (Note: Though not strictly vital, the salt enhances the cocoa flavor; try with and without and compare the taste.) Stir in the hot water to create a smooth, emulsified paste. Now stir in the milk the vanilla and the H&H or cream, blending the whole to produce a thick mixture having the consistency of chocolate milk.
Step 5: Place the mug of cocoa in the microwave and heat for about 90 seconds, depending on the heating efficiency of the oven. Avoid bringing the mixture to a full boil; just heat it so it produces an aromatic steam and needs blowing for that first savory sip.
Step 6: Remove cocoa from oven, place on salver, take before the fireplace, enjoy.
This recipe for hot cocoa (with its three secret ingredients: salt, vanilla extract and H&H or cream) produces a full-bodied flavor with a hint of spice and a rich, almost decadent experience in soul-warming pleasure.