Sipping a mug of hot chocolate after sledding and snowman building is one of the great joys of the season. But an envelope of powdered hot chocolate zapped in the microwave isn’t what we’re talking about. Sure the instant version is simple, but the list of ingredients generally includes hydrogenated oil, corn syrup, artificial flavors, preservatives, and mono- and diglycerides — none of which are necessary to make a great-tasting hot chocolate. Real cocoa powder contains copper, potassium and iron. In addition, it’s rich in fiber, riboflavin, niacin and thiamine, which helps manage stress. So ditch the packets and try these from-scratch versions with festive peppermint, healing ginger and soothing cardamom.
Basic Classic Cocoa
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch processed)
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons hot water
1 cup reduced-fat milk
2 teaspoons sugar, agave or maple syrup
Microwave: In a microwave-safe mug, combine cocoa, salt and vanilla. Add 2 tablespoons hot water and combine until it forms a paste. Add the milk, leaving an inch from the rim. Microwave on high for 1 minute, being careful the milk does not boil over. Stir in sweetener and serve.
Stovetop: Heat milk, salt, vanilla and sugar in a small saucepan over medium to low temperature until scalding. Watch the milk so that it does not reach a boil. Combine cocoa and water in a mug and carefully add hot milk. Stir until blended.
Mint is a therapeutic herb believed to alleviate colic and digestive, gall bladder and stomach problems. The truth is, only peppermint, which is 92 percent menthol, has these medicinal properties. Spearmint does not contain menthol and offers no digestive benefits. Before adding cocoa, steep fresh peppermint leaves in the hot milk. Remove after 10 minutes and pour according to directions.
Cinnamon and Cardamom
The Aztecs used spices in their chocolatl, and today traditional Mexican hot chocolate has a spicy kick. Cinnamon may soothe digestive problems and is considered an antispasmodic and antiseptic. Cardamom offers the same digestive benefits and acts to decrease gas. Sprinkle in cinnamon and cardamom to your liking.
Peel fresh ginger and add a few slices to hot milk, then steep for 10 minutes. Remove from milk before adding to cocoa mixture. Not only will you get a spicy kick, but the ginger’s qualities can reduce fever, gas and pain, and aid in digestion. It’s also believed ginger helps combat winter’s many coughs and colds.
Kiri Tannenbaum is a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu Paris and holds an M.A. in food studies from New York University where she is currently an adjunct professor. When her schedule allows, she leads culinary walking tours in New York City and is currently at work on her first book.