Whipped Accent

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.  

Drink warmly,

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.

Drink warmly,

The Cocoa Nut