Insert yourself into the following picture. Do you feel warm and cozy? Who is sitting with you? How long before you reach out and grab a mug of hot cocoa? Will you dip that biscotti or nibble on it between sips?
I had the great pleasure of collaborating with some amazing people to create this fireplace scene, featured on the cover of the December 2019 issue of the Des Moines Home Builders Association Blueprint Magazine. When our leader, Rebecca of This New Old House, said she was envisioning two people enjoying some hot cocoa in front of a fireplace, I knew just where to start.
Hot cocoa? or Hot chocolate?
Do you prefer hot cocoa or hot chocolate?
Are you like me and, up to this point, would say … Is there a difference? Just hand me a mug!
Turns out there is a difference and it’s pretty obvious. Hot Cocoa is made with cocoa powder and hot chocolate is made … you guessed it … with melted chocolate.
So yes, there is a difference, and no, I won’t refuse either one!
hot cocoa station
What’s your favorite accompaniment to a mug of hot cocoa? Peppermint? Marshmallows? Caramel Sauce?
Who wouldn’t feel warm and welcomed in a home that sets up a hot cocoa station? The photo above comes from the home of Rebecca Zoet (owner of This New Old House). Doesn’t it just make you want to grab a mug and ask her to share more of her great ideas?
Here are a few more ideas for your display:
- cinnamon sticks for stirring
- toffee bits
- flavored syrups
- instant coffee granules
- candied orange peel
- whipped cream
- biscotti (click here for my Cranberry Pistachio Biscotti recipe)
Learn from my mistakes
In preparation for writing this blog, I wondered if I could make the recipe “richer” by replacing some of the cocoa with dark chocolate. (Would that make it Hot Cocoalate?) A bag of Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate Melting Wafers was hanging out in my pantry and seemed like an obvious choice … should melt easy and give yummy dark chocolate flavor to the cocoa. Realizing these wafers were sweetened, I reduced the amount of sugar called for by the recipe. Failing to check the ingredients, I missed the fact that palm oil is used to make these wafers. Upon completion of this batch of Hot Chocolate, a thin layer of oil beads collected at the top. Don’t get me wrong … it wasn’t ruined. In fact, I’m drinking a cup of it right now and its delicious. It just doesn’t have the creamy appearance it should have … or would have had if I hadn’t played with the recipe.
Next time I want dark chocolate hot cocoa, I will buy the dark chocolate cocoa!
Notice in the recipe that the vanilla is not added until the very end. Does it matter? Only if you want to taste (and smell) the vanilla. Typically, we are using vanilla extract, which contains a small amount of alcohol. Alcohol evaporates as it heats and it takes a lot of the vanilla flavors with it.
cozy cocoa recipe
So here’s my favorite recipe, adapted from one in my Southern Living Christmas Cookbook. Whether you enjoy it with friends and family, cuddled up in front of the fire with someone special or during some much-needed personal time, I hope it makes you feel warm and cozy!
If you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a couple of perfectly-melted, chocolate-coated marshmallows to savor!
- 1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup cocoa powder
- 1/8 teaspoon Salt
- 1/4-1/2 teaspoon instant coffee/espresso granules optional, see note
- 5 cups water
- 1 12-ounce can evaporated milk
- 2 cups 2% or whole milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- whipped cream optional
- crushed peppermint sticks optional
- marshmallows optional
- Whisk together sugar, cocoa powder, salt and coffee granules (if desired) in a dutch oven or heavy saucepan.
- Add water and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat, whisking frequently. Simmer for 3-5 minutes to ensure the dry ingredients have dissolved completely.
- Add evaporated milk and milk. Continue whisking until mixture begins to steam.
- Reduce heat to low and whisk in the vanilla.
- Pour into mugs and top with whipped cream, marshmallows and/or peppermint candy.