Let's talk about Hot Cocoa for second, shall we?
Subtly different from hot chocolate, nothing takes me back to my childhood like a cup of Cocoa. When I was a kid, my Nana watched my brothers and I while my parents were at work. Every morning, I always wanted the same thing for breakfast, the aforementioned toast and cocoa. My Nana would perch me on the counter next to the stove so she should keep an eye on me while she cooked.This was a spot I frequently occupied, and it was on this counter, looking down into whatever she was cooking that my lifelong love affair with food began :) I would watch her mix the cocoa powder and sugar in the pan and then watch it bubble and carmelize into a paste (side note: Whenever the coca/sugar mixture started to bubble, my grandmother would always say "Bubble, Bubble, Toil and Trouble*, so maybe my Nana's kitchen is where my love of Shakespeare began too? ;) and then she would slowly pour in the milk, whisk it all together, pour it into my cup, and my morning joy would be complete :)
So, in a nutshell: Cocoa, to me, in addition to being delicious and festive, is also supremely comforting and nostalgic. Drinking cocoa literally makes me feel like a kid again, cared for, safe, and innocent. All this in a cup of Cocoa? Yes. In my world, YES.
This year, because of it's aforementioned qualities, I wanted to add homemade hot cocoa mix to my repertoire of homemade Holiday Gifts. I looked around online, and through some of my cookbooks, and was rather disappointed to see that most of the recipes I came across were, like, 3 parts sugar to 1 part cocoa powder. I know I've said this before, but I honestly don't enjoy the taste of heavily sugared foods and drinks. I rarely drink soda, pixie sticks make me gag, etc. And, not to point out the obvious, but the drink is called *Hot Cocoa* not *Hot Sugar* (that sounds vaguely naughty, doesn't it ? ;). So I continued to look until I could find a recipe that was at least equal parts sugar and cocoa powder.
As it turns out, I already had such a recipe in my arsenal :) This recipe (tweaked slightly by yours truly) came from a beautifully illustrated cooking and craft book by Susan Branch.
Susan Branch's books are an absolute pleasure to read. They are sort of like peeking through a friend's illustrated recipe journal. Her books have such a familiar, conversational tone and the recipes are no-fail :) What's not to like?
I am absolutely thrilled with the way this cocoa turned out, it is exactly what I wanted it to be :) Rich but not heavy, chocolatey but not overly sweet, wicked short ingredient list, no weird chemicals or additives, and so incredibly yummy that I'm having trouble coming up with the right words to describe it, I must have used up all my poetic words up there in the first few paragraphs ;) I cannot wait to give this Hot Coca mix to my family and friends :)
Hot Coca Mix
(original recipe, adapted slightly by me, taken from Autumn from the Heart of the Home by Susan Branch)
NOTE: Since I was making this batch for holiday gifts, I multiplied this recipe by FIVE, which made ten 8oz jars of Cocoa Mix. Here, I am listing the recipe for a single batch as it appears in the book. Since I scaled it up by five and it made ten 8oz jars, I'm guessing this single batch recipe would make about two 8oz jars or one 16oz jar worth of Cocoa Mix.
-3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
-3/4 cup sugar
-1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (do not leave the cinnamon out! You can't really taste it, but it adds a very important note of warmth in the background. The cocoa will taste flat without it)
-1/2 cup crushed peppermint candy (optional, for experimentation's sake, I made half of the jars plain and half of the jars with the peppermint candy added) (I used a box of one-dozen average sized candy canes, but, again, I quintupled the recipe. If you're only making a single batch, you'll have a bunch of candy left over, but it can always be sprinkled over your favorite dessert or hot drink :)
-1/2 tsp sea salt or to taste
-Place lids on jars and label as necessary :)
Wrap up these lovely jars up all pretty-like and give them to your loved ones, and be sure to include this recipe note (maybe as a gift tag?)
TO MAKE THE HOT COCOA:
-Add two tablespoons (or to taste) cocoa mix to 8oz (1 cup) hot milk and stir until dissolved. Garnish as desired :)
As you can see, Santa is neck deep in a hot tub of Cocoa, and he looks like a Happy Man to me :)