There is long held tradition of adding accents to a cup of hot cocoa. The three common additions are whipped cream, marshmallows, and/or a peppermint stick. These accents are purely preferential and are not required to enjoy a classic cup of cocoa. Today, I want to focus on whipped cream and its contribution to hot cocoa.
The addition of whipped cream is practically iconic. A steaming mug of cocoa almost beckons to be topped with a juxtaposing mound of chilled whipped cream. The topping can come in many forms. From the stylized and decorative bands emitted from a pressurized can to the scooped snowball of “whipped topping” from a classic plastic bowl, most drinkers of hot cocoa have experienced this tasty addition to their mugs.
Those who know me best know I am a purist when it comes to most things in life. When it comes to whipped cream, there is no exception. I am a fan of real, homemade whipped cream. Now, some will step back and avoid making their own out of anxiety or convenience. I tell you making whipped cream at home is far simpler than you would have ever imagined. There are several recipes and videos out there demonstrating techniques. The short and simple version is you pour heavy cream into a chilled bowl, add in some powdered sugar and vanilla, and then use an electric beater to whip the cream to desired stiffness. This is a fun little activity which can be shared with family and friends.
For any addition to a beverage, such as hot cocoa, the question is always “What is the benefit?”. Why do people add something like whipped cream to the cocoa? What is gained? In a word: contrast. Whether it is real whipped cream or a synthetic substitute, the topping is normally chilled before serving. By adding the topping to a warm mug of cocoa, the drinker’s tongue is splashed with the clashing sensations of warmth and coolness. The contrast does not stop there. Due to the nature of the whipped cream, the substance is incredibly light. This is due to the actual whipping. The process folds air into the cream to create the fluffiness for which it is known. This contrasts deliciously with the heavy richness found in a standard cup of cocoa.
There is at least one more benefit to adding whipped cream to cocoa. As the cream melts into the beverage, the richness of the drink is increased. I have stated before my preference for using milk as the base of the hot cocoa since the milk fat enhances the richness of the chocolate. This is magnified even more so with the whipped cream as cream has a much higher fat content.
Is adding whipped cream to hot cocoa necessary? No. Is it encouraged by me? Yes. The whipped cream on a cup of cocoa is more than a garnish. It is an additional ingredient that adds a delicious spin on a classic recipe. If you have not tried it, please do.
The Cocoa Nut
So, it has been nearly a year since I have been able to post. A lot has happened personally in that time. Some good. Some bad. I will not bore you all with the details, but I will summarize and say that I am well now and back at it. Thank you for your patience.
I would like to spend some time now talking about preparation of hot cocoa. There are few schools of thought around the proper way to prepare the beverage. I will list some of them and then expound on my own preferences. I encourage your comments on the subject.
Probably the most obvious dichotomy in the preparation of hot cocoa is milk vs water. Many, if not all, pre-packaged varieties have instructions explaining how to mix the product with hot water. Most of them also have the caveat of using milk for a richer taste. I can tell you this now: do not use water if you can avoid it. The use of water produces a beverage that is what you expect it to be: hot sugary water. When using pre-packaged cocoa, especially, it is most important to use milk. The package generally contains a product of sugar and unsweetened cocoa, amongst other chemicals and preservatives. The best way, I have found, to bring out any resemblance of true cocoa taste is to use milk. It is the combination of the sugar, cocoa, and natural creaminess provided by the milk fat that gives the drink its smooth and filling texture. My personal preference is whole milk.
After your selection of a liquid base, the next step is heating it. After all, the beverage is “hot” cocoa. Again, most pre-packaged products have directions for heating. These directions usually indicate the use of a microwave oven for a specific amount of time. I am not so much of a stickler for the heating method of the liquid. A microwave can do a fine job. However, there is a downside to using a microwave. Once the liquid is removed from the microwave it begins to cool. Granted, a hot cup of milk or water will not cool instantly, but physics clearly shows us that energy is no longer being added to the liquid and is now being extracted in a natural effort to equalize the temperature of the liquid and its surroundings. What exacerbates this is the addition of the cocoa ingredients. They need to absorb heat in order to dissolve properly in the liquid and finish the drink. The consumer is left with two options here. First, you can heat the milk to a very high temperature in the microwave and very easily burn the milk (yes, that is a thing) and cause it to bubble over the container creating a mess and losing a significant portion of the liquid, but you will not lose as much heat when mixing in the cocoa. Or, you can try to heat the milk to a milder temperature and hope you can mix in your cocoa product well enough to avoid lumps from lack of dissolution and maybe retain enough warmth to still classify the beverage as “hot” cocoa.
There is another way: the stove. The stove method avoids a lot of the pitfalls made possible by using a microwave. It also allows for use of methods that can improve the quality of the final prepared beverage. Assuming you are using milk, I recommend filling your mug to about the 85-90% level. Do not fill it completely with liquid, even if you are using a microwave, because there has to be room to allow for the added volume of the cocoa. Pour the milk into a small pot on the stove. This ensures you are using the amount of milk you want. Set the stove to a low to medium heat. The key here is patience. You want the temperature to rise gradually so it is easy to monitor and prevent burning the milk. Once the temperature has reached a point you are satisfied with, add the cocoa and stir it in. By using this method, no heat is lost from the milk while the cocoa is being added. This allows for the finished product to be at optimal temperature when poured from the pot back into the mug. This also prevents the mug itself from being overheated as can happen in the microwave.
There is another bonus in using the stove. Instead of just heating up the milk and stirring in the cocoa when it is time, you can also use a whisk. By whisking the milk as it is being heated and then again to mix in the cocoa, you are able to whip the liquid and add air to the mixture. This creates a nice froth atop the beverage and an even creamier texture overall.
That is all for today. If there is something you would like me to dive deeper into or a specific topic concerning hot cocoa you would like me to discuss, please feel free to reach out either by use of the contact page or the comments section.
The Cocoa Nut
Today’s entry in the 18 varieties focuses on the chocolate nougat flavor of the Charleston Chew brand. Charleston Chew is one of those classic candies. We see it on the store shelves all the time and, if you are like me, probably think of it as something our parents or grandparents enjoyed in their youth. While the packaging is fairly modern in design, the name screams nostalgia. For me, images of the Charleston dance craze run through my mind whenever I see the candy on display.
Despite the classic imagery associated with the candy, I have always enjoyed Charleston Chew. I think it is fair to say the feeling of the candy being old timey just goes to show its resilience through the years. There are many candy varieties that are no longer manufactured and Charleston Chew is still here. The candy has a delicious chocolate flavor accompanied by smooth, chewy nougat. It is a very snackable confection.
Knowing how much I enjoyed the candy, I greatly looked forward to tasting the brand’s hot cocoa. What most piqued my curiosity was how the nougat taste would translate into a beverage. Granted, nougat does have a taste of its own, but it is most often used in chocolate candies to give density and texture. How would they translate that over to a liquid?
I prepared the now standard 8oz cup of cocoa in the Keurig. Unlike some of the other, more aromatic flavors I have tasted, there was no distinct scent detectable as the cup was being made. This did not concern me. The only two flavors I was looking for were chocolate and nougat and given the Keurig uses water to prepare the beverage I was not surprised in the least when these were not filling the air.
After the cup was readied I gave it a few sips. The chocolate taste was most certainly there. I know I tend to state that a lot when reviewing cocoas, but there are a few I will mention in future posts that honestly just do not have the expected level of chocolate flavor. Therefore, I feel it is important to point out when a brand does have the advertised chocolate taste.
The beverage was smooth. It was the smoothest of the 18 varieties so far. The smoothness was inviting. It made me want to keep drinking. It was after the first few smooth sips that I began to notice something. It was the nougat. That familiar light nutty taste was coming through the distinct chocolate overtones. While it is difficult for me to be precise, I want to say the nougat flavor was mostly almond in construct. What was most interesting to me was the more I drank the more I realized it was the nougat that was creating the smoothness in the drink. I really felt as though I was drinking a liquid Charleston Chew.
My opinion of this cocoa is very high. It was advertised as being part of the Charleston Chew brand and it did not disappoint. Each sip delivered that expected blend of chocolate and nougat flavor one would get by eating one of the traditional candies. And what’s more is the expert way the manufacturers blended the nougat into the hot cocoa. It was smooth and not overpowering. This cocoa was truly delightful.
The Cocoa Nut
Continuing on with my review of the 18 varieties of hot cocoa in the sample pack I ordered, today I will be telling you all about Bosco’s Salted Caramel flavor. I have been aware of the Bosco chocolate company since I was a kid. The first time I heard of it was on the now famous Seinfeld episode where it was revealed “Bosco” was George’s ATM password. What I am ashamed to admit is that I have never tried the brand in any way before tasting this flavor of cocoa.
How is this possible? Honestly, I have never seen it sold in any of my local grocery stores. Bosco is most notable for its chocolate syrup product. While growing up, if there was a need for chocolate syrup, my family usually purchase Hershey’s and, on rare occasion, a store brand of syrup. Even after I struck out on my own and began buying my own groceries, Bosco was nowhere to be found. I cannot ever recall even hearing an advertisement for the brand.
With this lack of experience, I prepared to drink their hot cocoa with an open mind. Again, they are enough of a name brand that I recognized them, so I was more optimistic than cautious. Now, this is also the first cup of the sample pack that I used the 8oz setting for the Keurig. Even before I tasted the cocoa, I could tell this was meant to be the optimum setting as the end of the water stream was not clear like it had been at the previous higher settings, but still mildly brown. This indicated the cup would most likely not be watered down.
As soon as the Keurig was finished making the cup I was already pleased. The cup was easily 2 feet beneath my nose on the low table the Keurig was set on and I could already smell distinct aroma of caramel. The color of the cocoa was slightly darker than I expected. Not having much of a reference point for salted caramel flavored hot chocolate, I did expect it to be on the lighter side of color, close to caramel. The liquid in the cup was not very dark, but closer to a dark brown one would usually associate with cocoa.
I picked up the cup and brought it to my mouth. The caramel smell did not fade. I took the first sip and was very pleased. The texture was smooth and the caramel taste was definitely present. Perhaps the most important attribute to note was that the caramel flavor did not overpower the cocoa. They blended well together. The tastes were consistent throughout the entire cup. I was initially met with chocolate and then a light taste of caramel as an after-taste.
This was a fine cup of hot cocoa and a wonderful first experience with Bosco. I look forward to not only tasting the rest of Bosco’s flavors in the sample pack, but completing a new quest to find Bosco syrup and taste that as well.
The Cocoa Nut
To recap for those that may not have read my previous post on the subject, I am in the process of reviewing 18 varieties of hot cocoa from a sample pack I purchased online. Today’s flavor Peanut Butter Cup by Brooklyn Bean Roastery.
Brooklyn Bean Roastery is another brand of hot cocoa I was unfamiliar with before I received my sampler. This might be because they primarily sell coffee, with a specialty focus in single servings for Keurig machines. I was cautious when tasting this brand’s cocoa for the first time. There is a long held belief in the world that the flavor of coffee enhances the flavor of chocolate. I hoped Brooklyn did not incorporate coffee flavor in their cocoa.
The concept of peanut butter cup flavored cocoa appealed to me immediately. One of my favorite chocolate candies is the peanut butter cup. It is normally the first item I look for when entering any candy store, especially the little mom and pop shops you often find in vacation towns and tourist destinations.
This was my second time using the Keurig to make hot chocolate. My previous attempt set the device to dispense a 12oz serving. This produced a watered down cup of hot cocoa. I decided to go with a 10oz serving for this round. The results were a slight improvement.
The 10oz serving from the Keurig did produce a less watered down cup of cocoa, but it still was not concentrated enough. The peanut butter flavor I was looking forward to was just not there. It was faint at best. This could have been due to the 10oz of water, but I am hesitant to believe what should have been a prominent flavor could have been diluted so significantly.
On the other hand, the chocolate flavor was fairly decent. It was an average taste for a cup of powdered cocoa. I was incredibly please to not detect any notes of coffee in the cocoa. I tip my cap to Brooklyn Bean Roastery for keeping these flavors separate. I am very interested to see if the flavor and intensity is improved any when I lower the water level to 8oz.
The Cocoa Nut
Recently I was assigned to work in an office where the closest beverage was either water or coffee. Now, I have nothing against water. I drink it often. But it is rather cold in this office, especially since we are in mid-November, and cool to tepid tap water is just not what I am looking for in a beverage. The only option for a warmer liquid is coffee, which I refuse to drink.
I could go on and on about how much I despise coffee and even preemptively shoot down urgings for me to try different variese because I have tried numerous ones. Since we are just getting to know each other here, let me be very clear on one point: When I say I do not like something it is because I have had a fair interaction with it and have made an informed opinion. I try to be as fair as possible in life and rarely dismiss something on first go around.
But this is not a blog about coffee and how terrible it is. This is a blog about hot chocolate. As you have probably guessed by now, I did find a way to enjoy some hot chocolate while working in this office. To put a fine point on it, the coffee machine is a Keurig and I purchased a sample pack of single serving hot cocoas from Amazon.
The sampler contained 40 individual servings spread out over 18 varieties of hot chocolate. Several of them are from the same brand, but within these brands were different flavors. I have not tried them all yet. I am working on that. And that is where we find our discussion today. Here you will find my first round of interpretations of different flavors of hot chocolate. I have sampled 9 of the 18 varieties so far. For my readers’ sakes I will try to keep my posts on these limited to 1 or 2 flavors at a time.
First up is the brand of Felix & Norton and their Chocolat au Lait flavor:
For starters, a quick Google search tells me Felix & Norton is a cookie company based in Montreal. This explains two things immediately. It explains why there is a cookie prominently displayed on the packaging and it explains why both French and English are used to denote the flavor in this serving is milk chocolate.
The taste of this brand and flavor is not bad. There was no strong aroma and the chocolate flavor was fairly smooth. As I have stated before, I try very hard to be fair in life, especially when I am critiquing something. In that spirit of fairness I must admit I set the Keurig to a 12oz setting. I did this for two reasons. First, I had a 12oz cup. Second, there was no marking on the package of the cocoa to indicate the suggested sizing. I bring this up because the cocoa did taste watered down and that was more likely user error than the fault of the brand. Lastly, I thought I detected a hint of coffee flavor. It was not overpowering and I chalked it up to using a coffee machine to make the cocoa.
Overall, I would say this is an average cocoa. Nothing negative about the taste or texture, but nothing amazing either. Regardless of knowing whether or not Felix & Norton is a cookie company, a cursory glance at the packaging would suggest a cookie flavor of some sort in the cocoa. I honestly did not taste it. Again, to be as fair as possible, the words on the package do not say it is cookie flavored, simply milk chocolate. And I will re-review this cocoa in an 8oz serving in the future to see if my opinions change.
You can order the sample pack I am reviewing here: Amazon
The Cocoa Nut