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Hot cocoa adds sweet delight

If you have kids, you know that those new toys and games will occupy them for only so many hours. Don’t tell the family dentist that I said so, but handing your kids a recipe for something sweet is a sure way to keep them busy when electronics lose their luster.

But just one recipe isn’t going to cut it. Let kids into the kitchen (supervising them if they are too little to do everything themselves) and they are going to want to bake over and over again. I recommend making a batch of hot cocoa mix in advance. Store it in an airtight container in a cool place and you’ll be able to make many cups of warming, delicious hot cocoa. More importantly, your children will be able to use this mix to make a variety of simple, wintry treats.

A quick pitch for making your own hot cocoa mix: Sure you could buy it at the supermarket, but you’ll be surprised at how much money you save when you make your own. Commercial cocoa is often stuffed with all kinds of artificial ingredients that you wouldn’t add if you were making your own. And if you make your own, you can adjust it to your taste, adding more or less sugar or chocolate, or stirring in a tablespoon of instant espresso powder, a 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon or cayenne pepper.

>> Hot Cocoa Rice Krispies Treats: Using the back-of-the-box recipe, stir 1/4 cup of Homemade Hot Cocoa Mix into the melted marshmallow mixture before stirring in the cereal. Add 1/2 to 1 cup milk chocolate chips if you’d like.

>> Hot Cocoa Pudding: In a medium saucepan, whisk together 1/4 cup cornstarch and 1/2 cup Homemade Hot Cocoa Mix. Slowly whisk in 2-1/2 cups whole milk until smooth. Heat over medium-high, whisking, until thickened, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat, whisk in 1 tablespoon butter and 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips, and spoon into pudding cups. Serve warm, of course.

>> Hot Cocoa Popcorn: In a large bowl, combine 8 cups freshly popped, hot popcorn with 3 tablespoons Homemade Hot Cocoa Mix and stir to coat. Stir in a cup of mini marshmallows and/or chocolate chips and serve.

>> Hot Cocoa Brownies: In a large bowl, whisk together 1 cup Homemade Hot Cocoa Mix, 1 cup flour, 3/4 cup packed brown sugar, 1 teaspoon baking powder and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Stir in 2 eggs, 1 teaspoon vanilla and 6 tablespoons unsalted melted butter. Scrape into a greased 8-inch-by-8-inch baking pan and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Homemade Hot Cocoa Mix

1 cup natural (not Dutch process) cocoa powder

1 cup sugar

6 tablespoons powdered milk

1/4 teaspoon salt

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

In a large mixing bowl, sift together the cocoa, sugar, powdered milk and salt. Stir in the chocolate until evenly distributed. Pack in an airtight container and store at cool room temperature for up to 6 months.

For a cup of hot chocolate, whisk together 3 tablespoons of hot cocoa mix with 1/4 cup of milk in a small saucepan until cocoa and milk are dissolved. Whisk in 3/4 cup additional milk. Heat over medium, whisking frequently, until just bubbling around the edges.

Mix makes enough for 12 cups of hot chocolate.

Hot Chocolate and Marshmallow Sandwich Cookies

Just as marshmallows are a good garnish for a cup of hot chocolate, marshmallow creme adds gooey sweetness as a filling in these simple but fun sandwich cookies.

2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1 cup packed dark brown sugar

1/2 cup Homemade Hot Cocoa Mix (recipe at left)

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla

1 cup milk chocolate chips or chunks

1/2 cup marshmallow creme

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Combine the flour, salt and baking soda in a medium mixing bowl.

Cream the cooled melted butter, brown sugar and Hot Cocoa Mix together in a large mixing bowl with a wooden spoon until smooth. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until smooth. Stir in the flour mixture until just incorporated. Stir in the chocolate chips.

Drop the batter by heaping tablespoonfuls onto ungreased baking sheets, leaving about 3 inches between each cookie.

Bake the cookies until golden around the edges but still soft on top, 9 to 11 minutes. Let the cookies stand on the baking sheet for 5 minutes and then remove them with a metal spatula to a wire rack to cool completely.

Spread a rounded teaspoon of marshmallow creme on the flat side of one cookie and sandwich with another. Repeat with remaining creme and cookies.

Makes about 20 cookies.

Nutritional information unavailable.

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