It's cold outside and you've just come in from shovelling six inches of snow from the driveway. You're exhausted and frozen, and would like nothing better than to drop your wet clothes in a pile, bundle up in a warm blanket in front of the fire and enjoy a hot beverage. Coffee and tea are options, of course, but it's winter outside! You can have coffee and tea any old time, what you need now is hot chocolate.
The purists will say, of course, that the only way to make a worthwhile mug of hot chocolate is to begin from scratch with milk and cocoa powder. They're probably right, but you're exhausted, remember? An instant mix is just the ticket, and it doesn't have to be the lumpy, tasteless concoction it's made out to be.
Choosing Your Mix
Hot chocolate mix usually comes packaged either in a tub or jar of loose powder to be measured per serving, or in pre-measured, single-serving sachets. One of the main reasons instant mix has a reputation for being tasteless is that according to package labelling, a serving uses six ounces of water, while the average household mug holds substantially more than six ounces. For this reason, it's better to use the loose powder because the mix can be measured to taste. Alternatively you could use more than one sachet, on average a mug will take about a sachet and a half (or more).
Now for the heavy decisions: what variety do you like best? Rich chocolate? Swiss chocolate? Milk chocolate? Instant mix can even be raspberry, orange, mint or Maltesers-flavoured. Some brands can be purchased in individual sachets which is a bit more expensive, but saves you being stuck with an entire box of mix you subsequently find out you don't like and which will ultimately go to waste. If you're not sure which flavour you will like best (and keep in mind that if it sounds good on the label it doesn't mean it will taste good in the cup) try a few different flavours before committing to a larger purchase.
With marshmallows or without? It's certainly up to you, but any marshmallows already in the mix will be tiny, hard mockeries of marshmallows, similar to the kind in kids' dry cereal1. It's best to go with the genuine article.
Now to make your chocolate palatable. First and foremost, your priority is to get rid of the lumps. To put the powder into the water, or pour the water over the powder? The difference is marginal at best, however the most important thing is to use hot water2 and stir well. The hotter the water, the easier it is for the mix to dissolve. You may want to stir then rest then stir again. Particularly stubborn lumps can be broken up by pressing them against the side of the mug with the back of the spoon. Other methods that have proven to work well are to use a mini-whisk instead of a spoon, or to use a splash of milk and stir the powder into a paste before adding the water.
If your primary complaint about instant hot chocolate is that it's too watery, try adding a little bit of dry coffee creamer, non-dairy creamer, or even a splash of milk. This will give your drink a little more substance, but too much of a good thing is not good; the taste of the creamer can overpower the chocolate. Alternatively, you could simply prepare the mix with milk.3
Instant hot chocolate can be tailored to meet a variety of tastes. Try adding some of the following items to your mug, by themselves or in different combinations:
- A sprinkle of cinnamon or nutmeg
- For a little kick, try a pinch of chilli powder
- Flavoured coffee creamers
- Flavoured syrups, especially raspberry, caramel or butterscotch
- A shot of Scotch, whisky or rum
- A splash of liqueur, like Amaretto, coffee, Irish Cream or Créme de Menthe
The Finishing Touches
Marshmallows are the perfect traditional hot chocolate topper. The mini puffed marshmallows work best because they melt4 better than the large ones. But sometimes marshmallow isn't the taste you're after.
Whipped cream makes a nice topping; the kind out of the can in the fridge is fine. If you're into garnishes you might like to sprinkle the whipped cream with a bit of nutmeg, or drizzle it with chocolate syrup or caramel.