Hot Chocolate vs. Hot Cocoa

I’m about to tell you something obvious. Or, at least, something that seems obvious. But until it was pointed out to me, I was in the dark.

Now that I’m in the know, I have before me a new world of options, understanding, and deliciousness. So I’ll risk stating the obvious in the hope that I’ll fill some of you in too. And if you already knew what I’m about to tell you, well, the recipes are tasty at the very least!

Upload from December 19, 2011

Since I can remember, I’ve been stirring together some combination of cocoa powder, sugar and hot milk and calling it hot chocolate. This tasty concoction has been a quintessential feature of my winter holidays, so much so that particular Christmases have been defined by it. Ask me what happened over, say, Christmas of 2005, and I’ll be lost. Ask me what happened over the Christmas of hot chocolate with peppermint extract or the Christmas of hot chocolate with cayenne and cinnamon, and I’ll tell you all about it. 

So when I stumbled upon an article about hot, chocolatey beverages, of course I read it. And there it was: the surprise, the truth, the news:

Upload from December 19, 2011I haven’t been making hot chocolate at all. I’ve been making hot cocoa. I assumed they were the same, but no: different names, different drinks. Go figure. 

Obvious or not, maybe the difference doesn’t seem like a big one. And on the surface, it’s not. Because hot cocoa and hot chocolate have a lot in common: they’re sweet, milky beverages, served hot and flavoured with something chocolately. Try the end results, though, and you’ll know that they’re truly different types of tasty. All thanks to the name-giving ingredient: chocolate versus cocoa powder.  

Upload from December 19, 2011

Chocolate, the stuff we buy in bar-form, typically contains some combination of sugar, cocoa butter (a super-rich fat) and cocoa solids (a dry, bitter, brown powder that provides that classic chocolatey flavour). Translated into drink form, hot chocolate, made by whisking in lots of dark chocolate pieces into hot milk, is sweet, thick, rich and intensely chocolately. It’s the decadent drink of chilly childhood dreams. Truly hot chocolate.  

Upload from December 19, 2011

Cocoa powder, on the other hand, is made solely from cocoa solids, or the unsweetened, fat-free, bitter brown powdery bits. It provides intense, chocolately flavour without adding any sweetness or fat-based richness. As a drink, hot cocoa, made by combining cocoa with sugar and hot milk, is a lot lighter, providing a more grown-up, bitter-chocolate edge and the option to control the sweetness yourself. Word has it that it may also do pretty good things for your brain 

Upload from December 19, 2011I’m passing along two recipes: one will give you a classic cup of hot chocolate, the other a classic cup of hot cocoa. In addition to being super-simple and speedy, these recipes are awesome because they’re nearly identical in their ingredients lists and instructions — make them side-by-side and you’ll be able to see just what a difference a single ingredient can make. Once you’ve got the basics down, you’ll be in a great place to start customizing your cup — check out the variations at the end of the post for a few simple, tasty ideas. 
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Classic Hot Chocolate
Adapted from Gourmet Live
Serves 1 (for more servings, simply scale up!)

Ingredients
1 cup of milk, cream, or some combination of the two*
1 pinch of salt
1.5 - 2 oz semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped**
1/4 tsp vanilla extract

Instructions
In a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine milk and salt over medium heat and heat until it’s just about to simmer. Remove from the heat, add the chocolate to the pan, let sit for a minute, then whisk until the chocolate has fully melted into the milk. Whisk in the vanilla extract and serve.

Upload from December 19, 2011

*I made mine with 2% milk and it was plenty rich!
**A few tips here: (1) An ounce of chocolate is equivalent to about 25 grams, so for this recipe, then, you want either 38 or 50 grams per cup of hot chocolate. If you’re using a chocolate bar as the base for your cocoa, simply divide the total number of grams in the bar by the number of squares in the bar, and you’ll get a rough idea of how many squares you’ll need to use to get 38 or 50 grams. (2) If you’re in the mood for something indulgent, use 2 oz (50g) of chocolate. If you want a more standard cup of hot chocolate, use 1.5 oz (38g). (3) Chocolate’s easiest chopped with a large, serrated knife. 
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Classic Hot Cocoa
Adapted from Gourmet Live 
Serves 1 (for more servings, simply scale up!)

Ingredients
1 cup of milk, cream, or some combination of the two
2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1-2 tbsp brown sugar (depending on how sweet you want it; I opted for 1 tbsp)
1 pinch of salt
1/4 tsp vanilla extract

Instructions
In a small, heavy-bottomed sauce pan, whisk together cocoa powder, brown sugar, salt, and 2 tbsp of the milk over medium heat until cocoa and sugar have dissolved into the milk. Once cocoa and sugar have dissolved, add the remaining milk and heat over medium until it’s nearly simmering. Remove the pan from the heat, whisk in the vanilla extract and serve.  

Upload from December 19, 2011___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Variations!
Variations are scaled to work with a single cup of hot chocolate or cocoa

  • Add some spice: Toss a big pinch or two of your favourite spice, or combination of spices, into your drink at the same time that you add the chocolate pieces or cocoa powder. My sister likes to add a big pinch of both cinnamon and cayenne. 
  • Swap extracts: Skip the vanilla, and try almond, peppermint, or some other extract instead. If your extract is quite strong in flavour, start with less than 1/4 tsp; if it’s weaker, add a bit more.
  • Adulterate it: Toss in a shot of your favourite liqueur or espresso to your prepared drink. Given that most liqueurs are quite sweet, you may want to adjust the quantity of chocolate or sugar, depending on whether you’re making hot chocolate or hot cocoa, downwards a little.
  • Top it off: Top your hot drink off with a bit of freshly-whipped cream, animal-friendly marshmallows, or, as my Colombian friend does with her hot chocolate, a small handful of mild white cheese.

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Thanks goes out to David, for both lending me the photo-worthy mugs and alerting me to the potential superpowers of hot cocoa.  

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