- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 3, 2008

December is the month when many of us make and share food with others. Home bakers pull out their cookie sheets and cake pans and turn out all manner of sweet treats. Others serve warm mulled cider or wine at caroling parties and trim-the-tree gatherings. Everywhere there is a sense of celebration through food.

I join right in, picking up on this holiday spirit. Hot and spicy pecans and Cajun-scented cashews are savory items I’ve prepared in years past, while molasses cake squares, chocolate-mint minibrownies and petit cranberry-orange loaves are among my sweet inventions. Such creations are perfect to have on hand for impromptu entertaining when friends stop by or to give as a host and hostess gift when you are invited out.

I recently came up with an idea for holiday spiced hot chocolate, which I expect to use often during the next few weeks. The hot cocoa is served topped with whipped cream, a dusting of spices (those used in the cocoa mix) and a cinnamon stick for stirring.

This special cocoa mix could easily be packaged as a gift. Spoon it into a small airtight container or into a clear cellophane bag (sealed well) and wrap with ribbons. Attach a tag with directions for combining with milk and serving. (I’ve included the wording for such a note along with today’s recipe.)

I am definitely going to have a stash of this spiced cocoa in my cupboards ready to share with others during the holidays.

Holiday spiced hot chocolate

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (see note)

1/3 cup sugar

2 teaspoons ground cardamom, plus extra for garnish

1 teaspoon cinnamon, plus extra for garnish

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg, plus extra for garnish

5 cups whole milk

1/2 cup heavy or whipping cream, whipped until just firm

6 cinnamon sticks, preferably tall ones, for garnish

In a medium bowl, stir together cocoa powder, sugar, cardamom, cinnamon and nutmeg until well blended. Transfer to a medium, heavy saucepan and pour in 1 cup milk. Set pan over medium heat and whisk constantly until cocoa mixture is blended with milk. Add remaining milk and whisk until mixture is hot, about 3 minutes.

Divide the hot chocolate among 6 coffee cups or mugs and top each serving with a generous dollop of whipped cream (which will start to melt immediately). Garnish each serving with a pinch of cardamom, cinnamon and nutmeg. Then add a cinnamon stick for stirring. Serve immediately. Makes 6 servings.

Note: This spiced cocoa is best when made with a good-quality cocoa powder. Droste, Scharffen Berger or Hershey’s Special Dark all work well.

Note: If using the cocoa mix as a gift, double the recipe; increase cocoa powder to 2/3 cup, sugar to 2/3 cup, cardamom to 4 teaspoons, cinnamon to 2 teaspoons, and nutmeg to 1 teaspoon. Mix well and put in an airtight container or tightly sealed cellophane bag with a note that reads:

“For one serving, combine 2 tablespoons spiced cocoa mix with 3/4 cup whole milk in a saucepan. Whisk constantly over medium heat until hot.

“Serve cocoa in a cup or mug garnished with a dollop of whipped cream and, if desired, with a sprinkle of cardamom, cinnamon and nutmeg. Add a cinnamon stick for stirring, if you like. This cocoa mix will make 12 servings.”

•Betty Rosbottom is a cooking school director and author of “Big Book of Backyard Cooking” (Chronicle Books).


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