Cold weather makes me crave hot chocolate. It is a warm and soothing drink. But, where does it come from and what is the difference between hot chocolate and cocoa? I did some investigating.
Hot chocolate has its origins in Latin America. A bitter chocolate drink was consumed by the Mayans as early as 500 BC and introduced to Spanish explorer, Hernán Cortés, by the Aztecs some 2,000 years later. It was not warm or soothing. The drink has gone through multiple changes since then and many regional variations. As for terminology, the difference between hot chocolate and cocoa is the type of chocolate used – hot chocolate is made from a grated chocolate bar and cocoa from the powder of ground cocoa beans. Cocoa also does not contain cocoa butter. Both are mixed with hot milk or water and sugar to make similarly tasting hot drinks.
The recipe below is for an American-style chocolatey drink (by contrast, Italian hot chocolate is so thick it can be eaten with a spoon). It combines hot chocolate and cocoa into one recipe. I came across it on the Smitten Kitchen website. It makes a great gift for friends and family and an even better treat for yourself.
½ teaspoon vanilla extract or the seeds from a tiny segment of fresh vanilla bean
¼ teaspoon salt
Water or milk of choice
Marshmallows or whipped cream, for toppings
Measure all of the ingredients.
Combine ingredients in a medium bowl and stir together until blended.
Mix keeps in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 months. If giving as a gift, pour contents into a small jar that fits about 250 grams / 8.8 ounces. Close with a tight-fitting lid.
To use, heat one cup of water or milk (or coconut, almond or other plant-based milk) per person in a saucepan over medium heat until steamy. Add 3 tablespoons (about 30 grams) of hot chocolate mix and stir over medium heat for another minute or two, until it begins to simmer and the mix is completely dissolved.
Pour the mixture into a mug. Add marshmallows or whipped cream on top if you want to make it fancy.
The original Smitten Kitchen recipe can be found here.