Living in Chicago, I have an appreciation for seasons or, in other words, I'm really good at rationalizing the 6 months of cold weather I face each year. Winter may hurt your face, make you a couch potato and limit your fashion options to looking like a gender-abstract marshmallow, but it's also the best time for getting cozy at home with friends and family. The recipe for the perfect cozy evening (or really any time of day) is easy: invite everyone to your home so you don't have to venture outside, light a fire and make alcoholic hot chocolate!
You could, of course, grab some generic hot chocolate packets with slightly stale marshmallows at the grocery store, but that would result in very underwhelming and overly sweet hot chocolate. The secret to the cup of alcoholic hot chocolate is starting with unsweetened cocoa powder. Since you'll be adding a very sweet liqueur and possibly topping with whipped cream, starting with unsweetened cocoa allows you to get the wonderful chocolatey depth without the syrupy sugar high and simply gives you more control over the final product.
I also recommend experimenting with your milk options. Personally, I love using almond milk because it has the creamy consistency I'm looking for without the heaviness. The slight nutty flavor gets thoroughly masked by the chocolate and liqueur you layer with it. I may still add homemade whipped cream on top for an extra treat but starting with almond milk keeps the whole drink from getting too heavy. Though I haven't tried this myself, coconut or cashew milk would likely make great options as well.
Next, let's talk about consistency. Froth is your friend because it makes your alcoholic hot chocolate all the more magical and the process for making froth has the desired consequence of making sure all your cocoa powder is dissolved (because no one likes questionable lumps in their drink). The quickest way I've found to make this happen is to use a blender - either immersion or regular. Assuming you start with hot milk, it breaks up the added cocoa powder and adds air into the liquid to give a hint of froth. Trust me, the heavenly consistency is worth the blender clean-up.
Finally, let's talk liqueurs. This component gives you the most freedom to experiment with the flavor profile of your drink because liqueurs have such a concentrated taste and can take you in a ton of different directions. Some of the ones I've enjoyed using include Bailey's (or any decent knock-off), Kahlua, local Minnesota maple walnut cream and Crater Lake (an all sorts of amazing hazelnut espresso vodka, available locally at Binny's!) You could also add a fruity twist by using a raspberry liqueur or a flavorful triple sec.
With the details discussed, let's get down to business! My process, per cup of alcoholic hot chocolate, is as follows:
- Fill your serving mug 3/4 of the way full of your desired milk type and microwave until hot (I generally do a minute per mug). I've found this to be the easiest way to measure out how much milk I need since the mug size I use always varies. Note that you don't want your milk to be boiling as that would defeat the purpose of alcoholic hot chocolate.
- Empty the hot milk from your mug(s) into a blender. Add 1 tbsp of unsweetened cocoa powder per mug of milk. Blend until you see a froth start to form then add 1 oz of liqueur per mug and blend a bit more just to mix it in.
- Divide the hot chocolate mixture evenly between mugs.
- If you'd like to add whipped cream, I suggest using an electric mixer, heavy whipping cream and powdered sugar to make your own. Again, this gives you more control over the sugar content. I generally use 1 tbsp of powdered sugar per 1/4 cup of heavy whipping cream but you should find your desired ratio depending on your sweet tooth (this makes enough for several cups of hot chocolate). The process is very easy - add whipping cream and powdered sugar to bowl, then mix until it thickens to the point of retaining its shape (I've found the whisk mixer attachment to work well for this). Use a spoon or a frosting tool to top your hot chocolate with whipped cream.
- Finally, add some sort of sprinkle topping to make your guests (or yourself) feel extra special. I love Trader Joe's cocoa/coffee bean/sugar grinder and cinnamon sugar grinder for this purpose (they're also super cheap and last forever)!
- Savor your creation in front of the fire!