Sunday, January 23, 2011

Hot cocoa, hot chocolate are not the same but are both delicious

There is something about cupping your hands around a steamy mug of
hot chocolate that is soothing before a sip is ever taken. Maybe it's
the heady fragrance or the fact that it promotes solitude and quiet.
Maybe it's the fact that it requires sipping that tends to slow us
down and chase away the blahs.

For some reason, a good cup of hot chocolate is frequently hard to
find. Too many people confuse hot chocolate with hot cocoa and you
often see the terms erroneously used interchangeably. They are
equally delicious when prepared correctly, but are two very different

Hot cocoa made from scratch is delightful and a marvelous cup of
comfort. In the simplest form, it is mixture of sugar, cocoa,
occasionally a tiny bit of salt and milk. It is wonderfully void of a
long list of unwelcome additives. Hot cocoa is frequently enhanced
with a few miniature marshmallows or one large one.

Hot chocolate, by definition, is made with melted chocolate and milk.
It has a rich, extravagant taste that is thick and satisfying. It
doesn't need any embellishments, although some like to add peppermint
sticks, grated nutmeg, ground cinnamon, citrus zest or whipped cream.

Always use milk

I have a serious problem with any recipe for either that is made with
water as opposed to milk. You have instantly taken this treat down to
an ordinary, generic warm liquid rather than a deeply drenched in
chocolate sensation. A comparison would be to brew coffee or make
instant, with one being preferred over the other.

Start by scalding milk, which is easier than it sounds. Select a
heavy saucepan and place the milk over low heat. Milk is considered
scalded at 180 degrees. I don't use a thermometer, but instead, use
visual clues to tell me it's ready. You'll notice the formation of
tiny bubbles around the edge of the pan. Watch it carefully because
it can quickly become a scorching boil.

Powder vs. mix

In shopping for cocoa powder, you'll soon discover that many brands
are labeled "Dutch-processed." This means an alkaline agent has been
added to darken the powder and make it more soluble. It really
doesn't do a thing to the flavor of the cocoa, so don't expect to
taste differences.

Cocoa powder is most often used as a baking ingredient, and it is not
sweetened. In fact, it is just chocolate liquor with the fat removed.
This makes it a stable product that requires no preservatives.
Because it doesn't contain any sugar, you must always add sugar when
making hot cocoa or it will be very bitter.

The instant cocoa mixes you see on the market have cocoa powder
combined with sugar, starches and powdered milk. These products have
to contain preservatives because while the cocoa powder itself is
stable, the other ingredients are not.

Mexican hot chocolate is made with Mexican chocolate, which can be
found in specialty stores. While it is not good for eating purposes,
it is excellent in hot chocolate. It is almost gritty and contains
cinnamon, ground almonds, sugar and vanilla. After melting, you beat
the mixture vigorously with a whisk until it is thick with foam.

Cocoa powder may be used in almost any recipe that calls for baking
chocolate. The substitution is three tablespoons cocoa powder and one
tablespoon of shortening for one square (or one ounce) of baking

The Tennessean
January 13, 2010