Drinking cocoa has been a thing since 500 BC, thanks to the Mayans. The beverage called Xocōlātl was also a big part of Aztec culture, and, via the Spanish, it spread to Europe and to colonies in the Americas. If the colonizers did one good thing, it was to introduce milk and sugar into the bitter original version. Drinking was the only way to consume chocolate for thousands of years, until 1828, when a Dutch chemist patented a cheap and easy way to turn roasted cocoa beans into a powder that could be used to make chocolate bars and other solid chocolate delights, as well as a sweeter hot cocoa.
During the winter, I drink a lot of hot cocoa. I usually get the cheap Swiss Miss powdered mix, but sometimes I’ll spring for the more expensive stuff. And any time I see it, I grab some white chocolate hot-cocoa mix. The recipes below will work with all those varieties.
For Christmas, I was gifted a bottle of Simply Chocolate, a chocolate liqueur made in Vermont by Putney Mountain Winery and Spirits. I worried it would be similar to gimmicky chocolate-flavored products like chocolate wine, usually marketed to the “Karen” demographic, but my concerns were quickly put to rest as I sipped the liqueur on ice. Living up to its name, Simply Chocolate is simply liqueur made from cacao nibs. It has a pure dark chocolate flavor with a light brandy finish and balanced sweetness. The first cocktail I made with it was a hot cocoa, naturally — a fairly straightforward version with brandy. Then I made a “hot cocoa” martini, a cold version of the normally hot drink, with vodka.
CLASSIC BRANDY HOT COCOA
- 1 serving of hot cocoa mix prepared with 6 oz. hot water
- 1 oz. brandy
- 1 oz. Simply Chocolate or other chocolate liqueur (e.g., Godiva)
- 2 dashes orange bitters (optional)
- Sweetened whipped cream, for topping
- 1 orange peel, for zesting
Into a cup of steaming hot chocolate, stir in the brandy, chocolate liqueur, and orange bitters. Top with a dollop of whipped cream — the taller the whipped-cream tower, the better. Zest some orange peel over the whipped cream for aroma and prettiness. Enjoy in front of a roaring fire while wearing footie-pajamas.
HOT N COLD COCOA MARTINI
- 1 cup skim milk
- 1 packet hot cocoa mix
- 2 large marshmallows
- 3 oz. vodka
- 2 oz. Simply Chocolate
- 1 cup ice
Heat broiler. In a small saucepan over low heat, heat milk. Stir in hot cocoa until no lumps remain, then pour mixture into a cocktail shaker.
Place marshmallows on a baking sheet and broil until browned, 1 to 2 minutes (keep an eye on them!).
Add vodka, chocolate liqueur, and ice to shaker and shake until combined. Pour into glasses and top each with a toasted marshmallow. Serves 2.