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