Well-crafted stories and expert culinary insights

Mar 2009

Rich and Spicy Hot Cocoa

Yes, we are going to “spring forward” tomorrow. And the vernal equinox is just two weeks away. But the little crocuses blooming in my planter boxes can not drive away the winter chill. Earlier today at my house in West Seattle (very near the highest point in the city) it snowed for a few hours, though thankfully now all evidence is already gone. 

So regardless of what the calendar may say, it’s definitely been more like hot chocolate season than the cusp of springtime might usually propose.

A few weeks ago, just before Valentine’s Day, I received a little box from Lisa Dupar, owner of Pomegranate Bistro, with a homemade heart-shaped marshmallow accompanying a small bag of the restaurant’s signature hot cocoa mix. It’s what I’ve been warming myself with as an occasional afternoon treat these past few weeks, whisking a couple tablespoons of the mix into warm milk (enriched with a splash of half-and-half when I had part of a pint sitting in the fridge, even better!).

I’m typically not a bit fan of commercial hot chocolate, so often sweet and cloying, seldom letting the character of the chocolate come through. While I was working for Patricia Wells in Paris 15-plus years ago, one of my tasks was researching the hot chocolate spots in town. Granted, in Paris that was a pretty fantastic assignment! I remember the chocolat chaud at Angelina’s as being so thick and rich it was more like a crème anglaise sauce than a beverage. Delicious but not my, um, cup of tea.

This batch from Pomegranate, however, has a lovely chocolate character without being too sweet. And the surprising zing of spice from cayenne livens things up, emphasizing the toasty, nutty character of the chocolate. An uncommon afternoon pick-me-up.

Spicy Hot Cocoa Mix

(from Pomegranate Bistro)

1 cup milk, soy milk or almond milk

2 tablespoons cocoa powder

2 tablespoons vanilla sugar (or regular granulated sugar)

1 teaspoon cayenne or ancho chile powder

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Pour the milk into a small saucepan and warm over medium heat. Whisk in the remaining ingredients once the milk is hot (but not boiling). Take the pan from the heat and let sit 2 minutes before serving.

You can do as Lisa did for the Valentine’s treat and pre-mix the dry ingredients in bulk and keep on hand for a shortcut cocoa to make at whim. If you use 3/4 cup each of cocoa and sugar, 2 tablespoons chile powder (less, to suit your taste, this would be spicy!), and 1 tablespoon of cinnamon — you should have enough mix for 6 cups of cocoa.

Just the thing to tide us over until all those spring blooms kick in and winter really does slip away.