Hot Cocoa Mix Recipe - 4 Tips, 2 Recipes

Yes, yes, I know homemade hot cocoa is supposed to be better than hot cocoas that begin with some mix named Nestle Quik, Ovaltine, Carnation, or Swiss Miss -- but when I want a cup of hot cocoa at the end of a long day, or when I'm planning a casual gathering with friends, the last thing I think of is finding some blocks, chunks, or chips of chocolate to melt down in a water bath.. Consider me spoiled by convenience -- wonderfully, gloriously spoiled, and ready to share my tips on how to make a hot cocoa mix recipe shine.

Here's Tip No. 1: Your selection of a hot cocoa mix should be the only shortcut you take toward your destination of a rich, decadent, completely satisfying cup of warm chocolate bliss. Hot cocoa mix is already diluted chocolate -- all mixes have cocoa powder blended with sugar, many of them have cocoa powder blended with milk solids and fat (some are meant to be added directly to water), and many of them are processed with additives that assist smoothness of texture (pure cocoa powder is very gritty). None of these facts by themselves prevent you from using hot cocoa mix to make some spectacular cups of cocoa, but if you cut corners in other areas, you're headed for disaster.

Tip No. 2: When using hot cocoa mixes meant for milk, forget that most common of all modern kitchen shortcuts -- the microwave. Sure, you can put a cup of water into the microwave, heat it up, and then put a water-ready cocoa mix into it to your heart's content -- it won't be the most spectacular cup of cocoa, or the warmest (because your mix will cool down the water), but it will work. But you just can't take chances with your milk. In the first place, milk has a tendency to overcook quickly. Given the variation of strengths in microwaves, you are taking a big chance with the quality of your milk -- and nothing ruins a cup of hot cocoa like some overcooked milk. Nothing, that is, except overcooked chocolate, which also tends to overcook and scorch quickly. This is why chocolate is always melted in double boilers or water baths -- and it is also why you should take out a nice heavy-bottomed pan and heat your milk carefully within it, never, ever allowing it to boil. Simmer is the word, and gently simmer at that, if you must -- and once you've added the hot cocoa mix, you'll need to be very gentle indeed. The chocolate does not need to cook in the pan -- once you've added it and gotten it mixed in, it's time to get the cocoa into the cups or mugs.

Tip No. 3: Avoid all things "nonfat" like the plague. I am now going to praise skim milk and its counterpart, nonfat soy milk, before I bury them. Skim milk and nonfat soy milk are wonderful for many things. With cereals, particularly those that tend to be better as they soak up liquid, they are delightful. As regular beverages for those of us that need to watch our cholesterol, they are honored staples, and make acceptable additions to our coffee and tea. Skim milk has a further boon; because of its calcium, it makes wonderful fertilizer for tomatoes. But tomato season is usually well over when hot cocoa season begins, so when hot cocoa is in view, it is past time to put the nonfat stuff away. A water-ready cocoa mix with water will be richer and rounder in taste than a milk-ready mix with skim milk. Nonfat soy milk would be even worse. Hot cocoa is about decadence, not denial -- save the nonfat items for your cereal or daily consumption, and use a reduced-fat milk or soymilk if you can't bring yourself to take the calorie hit of whole milk or half-and-half.

Tip No. 4: Take special care about sweetened soy milk or milk treated for those with lactose intolerance. Many brands of soy milk are flavored, most often with "vanilla." Basically that boils down to added sugar. By contrast, milk treated for consumption by those who are lactose intolerant is not sweetened, but the process by which the milk sugar -- lactose -- is broken down into two simpler sugars leaves the treated milk sweeter to the taste than regular milk. Hot cocoa mix already contains sugar; adding it to sweetened soy milk or milk that has had its lactose broken down may lead to a cup of cocoa that tastes too sweet. I would avoid the sweetened soy milk entirely; there are plenty of unsweetened brands. As for the treated milk, you may have to add a touch of cocoa powder to balance out the perception of extra sugar -- or melt half a block of unsweetened chocolate into the pan.

Tip No. 5: Color matters, before the pan and in the pan. I have my favorite cocoa mixes, and I have them for several complicated reasons, but for you I just put forward one point. You don't want a pale hot cocoa mix. Before the pan, a light-colored mix means that the ratio of cocoa powder to the other ingredients is low, and you need an abundance of chocolate, not sugars, milk solids, fats, and other additives. In the pan, you will have to use a great deal more of a low-chocolate mix to get the flavor you want -- and then you still won't get that, because the other ingredients will be piling up as well. The whole brew will also begin to take on an uncomfortable thickness -- and while it is sometimes very desirable to serve yourself or your guests the equivalent of fudge in a cup, dark, thick, and just short of being warm chocolate mousse, it is emphatically not desirable to serve a sludge composed mainly of sugar, fats, milk solids, and other additives. Just because you don't have to pull out your double-boiler does not mean you don't have to pay attention to the reality of chocolate -- whatever hot cocoa mix you pick should have a great deal of chocolate in it, and one of the ways to tell is by the mix's color.

Those are the basics, the instructions for the fundamentally blissful cup of hot cocoa from a cocoa mix. And here are the basic recipes (just double the amounts as needed).

For hot cocoa mixes requiring milk:

1. Eight ounces of reduced-fat milk (or whole if you can stand it)
2. Two heaping tablespoons of your chosen cocoa mix
3. Dash of cinnamon (optional)
4. Dollop of heavy whipped cream (optional)

In a heavy-bottomed pan, heat milk on the stovetop until it is very warm (not boiling!), continuously stirring. Add cinnamon if desired; stir. When milk is hot (again, not boiling!) and you can smell the cinnamon, put in the hot cocoa mix, turn off the heat, and stir until milk is a uniform color, with no lumps. Serve immediately, topped with whipped cream if desired. Makes one eight-ounce cup or two four-ounce cups (you know, those cute little teacups).

For hot cocoa mixes requiring water:

1. Eight ounces of water
2. Two packets of your chosen cocoa mix
3. Dash of cinnamon (optional)
4. Dollop of heavy whipped cream (optional)

Heat water in a pan on the stove (or a microwave it in a cup if you want and you're just serving yourself), then add cinnamon and two packets of your chosen hot cocoa mix. Use two packets because, tablespoon for tablespoon, there is generally less chocolate in a mix made to be used with water than there is for cocoa mixes that work with milk. Stir vigorously, serve immediately, putting whipped cream on top if desired. Makes one eight-ounce cup or two four-ounce cups (those same cute little teacups).

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About The Author,
Deeann D. Mathews is the Creative Director of Praising Pilgrims Music, but this businesswoman still has time enough to indulge her passion in the kitchen. For more recipes based on this article's model, head on over to (scroll down to the bottom of the page).