What’s a gift that almost everyone in your life will love and that’s cheap, cheerful and easy to make? One that your kids will adore helping you with, that’s guaranteed to please everyone from teachers to the postman to your mum, and can be knocked up – and customised – in a jiffy? It’s yummy, scrummy hot chocolate.
It’s true, you could save yourself the trouble and just buy the ready made stuff, sprinkle it in a retro preserving jar with a cute ribbon and tag, and no one would be the wiser. But when it’s this simple – and cost effective – to make, it’s well worth the effort.
Once you’ve decided who the lucky recipients will be, think about the packaging: a handy-but-boring plastic container, an elegant-but-breakable screw-top jar or a cute-and-personalised mug? Something the kids can paint or decorate with stickers? A pound store or charity shop bulk-buy?
Next it’s as easy as buying cocoa powder and granulated sugar. For a standard mix that will make about double the amount of store-bought hot chocolate mixes, it will cost you far less and won’t contain the weird additives used in many products. A popular ‘Everyday Value’ hot chocolate mix, for instance, contains “whey powder, Maltodextrin…vegetable oil, Guar Gum, milk proteins and Stabiliser (Potassium Triphosphate.)” And while none of those ingredients will do most people any harm, avoiding things like whey powder will ensure anyone who is lactose-intolerant can safely mix your homemade hot chocolate powder with their soy milk.
Once you’ve thoroughly combined 500g of granulated sugar and 300g of cocoa powder (often found on store shelves with the hot chocolate mixes), add a teaspoon of salt to balance out the flavours and you’re done. Be sure to include instructions (a couple of heaped teaspoons per mug added to warmed milk or a milk-water combination) for heating, and you can even include a nice spoon or scoop with the packaging.
Then comes the fun part. There are loads of hot cocoa extras that can make a simple cuppa spectacular. From spicy Mexican mixture (a pinch of ancho chili powder warmed with a cinnamon stick – not the for lighthearted!) to peppermint, which is as good for the tummy as it is for the soul. To get a minty mixture, you can melt in some After Eights, add a tiny dash of peppermint extract or even top it up with some peppermint Schnapps. Add a festive peppermint stick for instant Christmas cheer.
For grown-ups, hot chocolate loves liqueuer, whether it’s orange-flavoured (Grand Marnier or Cointreau or maybe The Ana Mum Diary’s Spiced Orange Vodka), cinnamon (Goldschlager if you’re fancy, Schnapps if you’re not) or another fruity addition such as Kirsch. If it goes well together in a Quality Street, it’ll work in liquid form.
Finally, for a delicious chai kick, either add a scoop of the store-bought stuff or sprinkle some ground cardamom, cinnamon, ginger and cloves or nutmeg into a saucepan with the other ingredients. Your whole house will smell better than a hundred scented candles in no time.
Last but not least, there’s one hot chocolate mixture that’s best approached with caution. Not long ago, our household discovered the evil genius of the brownie-in-a-mug, in which chocolate pudding heaven can be achieved in under five minutes and with minimal ingredients. This isn’t real baking – you don’t need fancy kitchen equipment, an apron or even fresh eggs. But it is addictive, and could lead to an epidemic of molten-brownie addiction. Consider yourselves warned.
Photo Credit for this featured post: Kinfolk