With the first crisp breezes of the new season, we are reminded that Summer has come to an end and Winter is just around the corner. Fall weather can be treacherous; we can be completely enamoured by the beautiful colors of the changing leaves, which decorate treetops and sidewalks, & walk under the delicious golden sun…OR you can spend days on end under a seemingly never-ending wet spell, with a cloudy, gloomy, & wet outdoors that will not only put a damper on your parade, but will also manage to leave you longing for a new umbrella!
This weekend marked the beginning of our Fall Break…a two-week period when anyone who CAN, WILL leave Germany in search of one more chance to enjoy the summer sun…travelling south to Mallorca or Turkey is always a favorite! We have birthday fun on Fall Break and this year is quite different: we’re enjoying a somewhat forced stay-cation in a rainy & wet Leipzig. Without putting much thought on the weather, we made a day out of our Saturday and headed out to town. We were interrupted by scattered showers – survivable – & later came back home wet but happy! I couldn’t think of a better late afternoon snack: hot cocoa. What is it about hot cocoa that just screams cozy. Being back home, changing into our dry PJs while it was still daytime and enjoying the overly sweet explosion was, in my opinion, bliss!
We’re big fans of hot cocoa around here…and although we don’t do the whipped cream & marshmallow topping all the time, we do enjoy a good ole sweetened chocolate milk! In fact, there’s so many different takes to what we could call hot cocoa, or hot chocolate? Let’s go back 3,000 years in history, when the Aztecs created the first chocolate beverage…yup, they did it, and the beverage was obviously made popular in Europe when it came to Spain in 1528. Once they tasted it, Europeans were hooked! It became a luxury item by the 17th century, which gave it an aristocratic nature: “the drink of the gods”. Cocoa powder itself, from which most hot cocoa is made, is unsweetened & does not dissolve instantly in liquid but tends to form lumps that must be smoothed by vigorous stirring. It’s not to be confused with instant cocoa, which usually contains sugar, is pre-cooked, and has an emulsifier added to make it dissolve readily.
Today, hot chocolate is consumed throughout the world and comes in multiple variations. In France, you can count on a milk base and cream incorporated into the drink. In Vienna, they add a generous topping of whipped cream. In Russia & Brasil, coffee is added, and in Mexico, it has cinnamon! I personally had the most amazing experience in Prague, a place famous for chocolate everything! We visited the renowned Choco Café U Červené zidle, a family-run chocolate eatery tucked away in the heart of Old Town, and were delighted in the enchanting break with the silky smooth cup of chocolate. Think Augustus Gloop swimming in the chocolate river! I had my (extremely large) cup of hot chocolate infused with spicy chili powder, AMAZING – but definitely not for everyone…this variation of hot chocolate is very thick and not as sweet as most of us would like! On the other end of the spectrum is the thinner hot cocoa we know best, made with hot water or milk (usually from a packet): instant American bliss.
But enough on hot cocoa, let’s talk about rainbows & unicorns! Unicorn fever has been running high this year, with everything getting the colorful make-over to enhance our Katy Perry cotton candy dreams! Everything from food & beauty products, to apparel & accessories has made the transition this year, and my daughters were not ones to lag behind in the craze…especially when encountered with some commercially-labelled unicorn snot. Who can resist?! Here’s the recipe, enough about this.
For the Hot Cocoa
- 1/4 cup of cocoa powder
- 6 teaspoons of sugar
- 3 cups of milk
- 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla
- Whipped cream & marshmallow
The proportions suggested here will produce a cocoa richer in flavor, but far less sweet than you will get from most commercial mixes, which is great for an extra, extra large mug! Stir the cocoa powder & sugar together in a medium heavy saucepan. Vigorously stir in the milk in a slow steady stream. Heat over medium heat, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom of the pan, just until bubbles appear around the sides. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla.
To fluff chocolate drinks just before serving, which inhibits the formation of the cream “skin” that often appears on top, use a wire whisk or an immersion blender. Serve the hot beverage in a deep narrow mug so as to retain the heat and spoon whipped cream on top! Don’t forget the marshmallows & sprinkles!