There’s nothing like a steaming mug of cocoa to warm you up on a winter’s day. My children crave it whenever they run in from the snow (which, admittedly, has yet to fall this year in Seattle) or the rain (which is much more likely), cherry-cheeked and chattering and breathless. I crave it after dinner, when the children are tucked into bed, and the house is still and quiet. I curl up in my pajamas with a book and a candle if I can and wrap my hands around my warm mug, breathing in the soothing scent of warm milk and chocolate.
I discovered there’s actually a difference between hot cocoa and hot chocolate, although the terms tend to be used interchangeably. Hot chocolate is made from actually melting blocks or bars of, you guessed it, chocolate. Often, it’s made with water rather than milk. Hot cocoa, on the other hand, is made from whisking together a syrup of cocoa powder, sweetener (usually sugar), and water before adding the milk and slowly heating it to steamy perfection.
My personal preference is for cocoa. It’s cheaper, faster, and much less mess to clean. It’s got all that good, delicious dairy (or substitute if that’s your thing). Creamy is key for me on chilly nights. Plus, cocoa is a bit kinder to the waistline. Or at least it is when you make this version.
A word of warning. This ain’t your average Swiss Miss. Like I said, there is no sugar. In fact, there’s almost no sweetener! Don’t worry. It doesn’t need it. With a subtle drizzle of real maple syrup, this cocoa is satisfying in a deep, almost spiritual sense. My whole body relaxes when I take a sip — and when my cup is empty, I don’t suffer the sugar-high (or crash) inevitable with sweeter versions. The cocoa flavor is very pronounced (in a good way), but it’s not going to taste like your favorite chocolate chip cookie. (Which means you can feel free to have one of those on the side, right? Isn’t that what that means?) It’s the perfect bedtime treat, even for littles who tend to be especially prone to sugar-jitters.
I’ve included a recipe for a single serving below, but the recipe can be duplicated as many times as you like. I’ve made it for as many as 8 with these proportions. Just be careful with your pinch of salt. It’s absolutely necessary for the flavor, but a little goes a long way. Don’t go overboard if you’re making a big batch! Four servings of cocoa still only needs a pinch. Just a slightly larger pinch. Keep your quarter teaspoons to yourself.
Healthy Hot Cocoa
the Humble Baker @bakinghumblepie.com
I know what you’re thinking. Where’s the sugar?!?!? The first time I made this for my family, I worried the children would think it wasn’t sweet enough. Ha! They guzzled the stuff down. (They tend to leave a good portion of regularly sweetened cocoa in their cups, claiming tummy aches by the end, which they assure me have nothing to do with the fact that they asked for extras of those little marshmallows.) I can’t promise the same success with your crew, but for us, this is the perfect kiss of sweetness on a dark and stormy night.
Prep + Cook time: <5 minutes
Yield: 1 serving, can be doubled, tripled, or octupled!
1-2 Tablespoon cocoa powder
a pinch of fine sea salt
1 Tablespoon water
1 teaspoon real maple syrup
1 cup whole milk
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the cocoa powder, salt, water, and maple syrup. Whisk until the cocoa powder is entirely dissolved, being careful to scrape sides of pot so it doesn’t scorch. Add about 1/4 cup of the milk, whisking until well mixed. Add the rest of the milk and heat through to desired temperature. You should be able to just see little wisps of steam rising from the surface. Do not let it boil. Add the vanilla extract. Sip slowly + savor.