Ways to Make Hot Chocolate Special

Hot chocolate has been a winter favorite for the world ever since the first explorers brought cocoa beans back from South America to Europe.  It was all the rage at first, but has remained a stand-by warm-up drink for generations since.  The original Mayan and Aztec cultures that made chocolate drinks continue to do so, though they now usually make warm drinks while the first ones were cold. South Americans use the traditional wooden paddle or whisk called a molinillo mixing the drink into a froth, while adding spices like vanilla and cayenne. Hot cocoa is a real treat, and easy to make.

While it was special all by itself as a novelty drink to the colonial Europeans, human nature likes to continue to explore and get creative with foods and drink.  So, hot chocolate has evolved.  Children will always like theirs “straight up” with perhaps a bit of extra milk to make it cool enough to drink immediately.  It warms and comforts with both its taste and smell.  Once considered medicinal, cocoa actually does have antioxidants, but our modern additions of milk powder and sugar in the mixes has added calories and questions to that theory.  Hot chocolate remains a popular drink, nevertheless.

Yet, for the adventurous, there are many ways to make hot chocolate special:

Spice it up – The addition of a peppermint stick or a cinnamon stick, swirled into the chocolate drink, will add flavor and complement the taste.  You can also try a dash of nutmeg, or allspice, or even a bit of vanilla extract to make it seem extra creamy.

Float or dip things in it – All sizes of marshmallows are fun to watch melt into the chocolate.  You can add sprinkles of colored sugars, or even those strange marshmallow animals which appear at Easter.  Children enjoy the extra sugar, of course.  Try dipping graham crackers or soft cookies or shortbreads into the warm drink.  This is more instant comfort-food.

The crème de la crème – Naturally, whipped cream will make this a more festive drink, and smoothes out the chocolate flavor.  The darker the chocolate used, or the less sugar in the mix or the powder, the more bitter the drink, so cream in any form will blend in and soften the taste.  You might try flavored coffee-creams, like Hazelnut or Irish Cream .

Super-charge it – Speaking of coffee, you can add coffee or expresso, or even chai-tea for a blended drink that is comforting, decadent, and extra-caffeinated.  Add that cream and the spices, and you have a posh cappuccino or latte to rival even the fanciest vendors.  The powdered instant coffee-drinks are easy to spoon right into the hot chocolate.

Spike it – And, for the truly self-indulgent or self-medicating, the addition of a nice shot of liqueur such as Kahlua or Peppermint Schnapps or something more potent like brandy can make this a drink to really unwind and relax with.  Get out the whipped cream and it feels like a holiday.

Whether you like your hot chocolate thick and rich, as many European versions, or thinner and sweeter, to which North Americans are accustomed, this delicious drink has been a gift to the world from indigenous South America.  Enjoy by a fireplace, and you have true bliss.

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