Saturday, December 24, 2011

Last Minute Gift Idea: DIY Hot Cocoa Mix

Window decor by my 8th graders. Tis the season for geometry!

How do I always end up with such an extensive list of things to do on Christmas Eve? I mean aside from the working flat-out until the day before, inevitable last-minute inspirations for the perfect handmade gift that cannot be made at the last minute, the fact that Christmas Eve is the big celebration in our family, all with a side of being easily distracted?

All to-do list anxiety aside, this twofold revelation crossed a few things off my list in one fell swoop:
  1. Hot cocoa mix, even custom hot cocoa mix, is really easy to make.
  2. Most people really like hot cocoa.
The hardest decision to make here is whether you want to put together a mix-with-milk or a mix-with-water variety. As much as I'm happy to heat up milk at home, it's not going to happen at work since it's not practical for me to keep milk there. I actually used to keep a tub of cheap cocoa mix at work to add to my coffee in lieu of sugar and milk. I also know that some of the folks to whom I am giving this cocoa mix are not as well-inclined to heat up milk for cocoa. So, I decided to opt for a variety that would work mixed only with hot water.

The dairy effect in this is created by a mixture of non-fat dry milk and non-dairy creamer, much like the magical fairy dust many coffee shops use in sweet, creamy drinks. You know, that stuff you suspect contains the addictive chemicals that make you crave a cafe vanilla fortnightly. To make a product free of dairy or lactose, you could probably get away with only using creamer (or just make a mix-with-milk variety by leaving out the milky-creamy stuff).

In any event, we tried a few rounds of different ratios of the basic ingredients: cocoa powder, sugar, salt, dry milk, and creamer. We also amped the chocolate up a little by taking some bittersweet, 70% cacao Callebaut chocolate and putting it in the food processor until it got to a coarse cornmeal texture.

Mix-With-Water Hot Cocoa Base

gluten-free, optionally lactose-free
makes about 5½ c./22 servings
  • 1 c. cocoa powder (I prefer dutch-process cocoa, or part-dutched, but it can be hard to find)
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1 c. nonfat dry milk (replace with another cup of creamer to make it lactose-free)
  • 2 c. non-dairy powdered creamer
  • 1 tsp. salt (a pinch of salt makes the rest of the flavors bloom - this works out to about 1/22 tsp per cup)
  • ½ c. ground bittersweet chocolate

  • Mix about ¼ c. base with 1 c. very hot/boiling water. Very hot water helps release the flavor of the cocoa powder (this is why a number of recipes using cocoa powder tell you to mix it with boiling water first) and melts the ground chocolate.

    Scaling info/For one cup: I use these amounts because they're the simplest way of describing the ratio. Using tablespoons instead of cups makes about the right quantity for 1 cup. This makes the salt more difficult to scale, but remember that 48 tsp = 1 cup and 16 Tblsp = 1 cup (hooray, imperial conversions!) and just use a pinch.
This base itself makes a pretty solid cup of cocoa, but you may want to personalize the cocoas and/or make them seem fancy. Here's a few suggestions:
  • Chili: Because chili and chocolate are an older combo than sugar and chocolate
    Add 1-2 tsp ground chili per pint of cocoa mix (my favorite is smoky chipotle, but cayenne gives a smooth, clean heat)
  • Raspberry: One of chocolate's favorite fruits (you can use other freeze-dried fruits, but this is the one that seemed to mesh best with cocoa)
    Grind ¼-½ c. freeze-dried raspberries (check Trader Joe's or Whole Foods) to a powder and add to a pint of cocoa base
  • Chai spice: For the Bollywood lover on your list
      per pint of base
    • 1 tsp. ground cardamom
    • 1/4 c. ground cinnamon
    • &frad12; tsp. gr. clove
    • 1 ½ tsp ground ginger
    • ½ tsp. ground black pepper
  • Peppermint Candycane: Get seasonal and get rid of those languishing candycanes!
    Crush candycanes as finely as possible. Add about ¼-½ c. crushed candycane per pint of base.
  • Mocha: Because coffee and chocolate will always love each other. Add ¼-½ c. instant coffee per pint of base.
Don't forget to come up with your own custom label, especially if you're doing what I did and reusing old pasta sauce/honey/peanut butter jars. Include directions and ingredients, if you like. I found a lightly stylized picture of a Theobroma cacao flower and, after thinking way too hard about a pithy, snappy title, just went with "It's Cocoa!" Because really, what more needs be said?

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