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What can be better than a mug of piping hot chocolate on a cold winter’s day? Dressed up hot chocolate with a few easy modifications! Here are a few deliciously fresh and remarkably simple ways to change how you prepare your favorite liquid chocolate treat. Indulge and enjoy!

Always start with a steaming mug of your basic hot chocolate — store purchased or home-made can be equally satisfying. And every mug of hot cocoa benefits from a halo of sweet whipped cream. Then comes the difficult part . . . deciding which of the following to try first!

Are you a fan of sweet and hot? 1) Add a pinch each of cinnamon and cayenne pepper. Stir well and savor the heat. Or try this: 2) Sweeten your cocoa with 1-1/2 tablespoons of honey, then stir in 1/4 teaspoon of ground black pepper for Peppered Honey Cocoa.

Were you a fruit bat in a former life? You’re going to love any one of these! 3) Strain a big tablespoon of raspberry preserves through a fine mesh strainer. Dump the solids, and whisk the remaining purée into your cocoa. OR, 4) Blend one-half very ripe banana until smooth, and add it, plus a tablespoon of creamy peanut butter, for Peanut/Banana Hot Cocoa.

Appreciating the nut theme? Number 5) recommends stirring in 2 tablespoons of chocolate hazelnut spread (Nutella works!), and maybe a tablespoon of Frangelico liqueur, for an Adult Hazelnut Daze. Almonds a favorite? Make 6) Almond Praline Cocoa by replacing white sugar with brown sugar, and adding a teaspoon of almond extract for the kids; a tablespoon of amaretto for the adults. 7) This Grasshopper Cocoa couldn’t be any easier. Just whisk in 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of peppermint extract. 8) Limey Nut Rum Hot Cocoa has you adding the finely grated zest of 1/2 lime, 2 tablespoons of cream of coconut, and an ounce of rum. Like Gingerbread? 9) Add 1-1/2 tablespoons of molasses, 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice, and 1 tablespoon of ginger liqueur. 10)  Scrape the seeds from 1/2 vanilla bean pod into your cocoa, and blend it well in your blender, adding 2 whisk in 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of peppermint extract. 8) Limey Nut Rum Hot Cocoa has you adding the finely grated zest of 1/2 lime, 2 tablespoons of cream of coconut, and an ounce of rum. Like Gingerbread? 9) Add 1-1/2 tablespoons of molasses, 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice, and 1 tablespoon of ginger liqueur. 10)  Scrape the seeds from 1/2 vanilla bean pod into your cocoa, and blend it well in your blender, adding 2 tablespoons of cream cheese. This is my favorite “Cheesecake!”

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Tracie Burket
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