Roasted Hazelnut Hot Chocolate
I consider myself somewhat of a “hot chocolate connoisseur.” B and I drink it a few times a week during the winter, after dinner, and have ever since we’ve been married. Over the years we’ve really honed what we like — we have a real system to whip up our mugs of chocolatey deliciousness :) — but we’re always looking for new ways to switch things up.
Now, when I say “switch things up,” even I have my limits: and they do not include the time when we accidentally stirred kosher salt into the hot chocolate instead of sugar….eep! Not a flavor combination you ever want to try, for sure. (If you’re wondering how I could have ever made that mistake, I will just say that when you keep your dry goods in large clear glass containers, unlabeled, like I do, sometimes….well…mistakes happen.)
start with chopped toasted hazelnuts
A year or two ago, one of my good friends gave us a whole cookbook dedicated to hot chocolate for Christmas (thanks M!) It’s provided lots of great inspiration for new liquid chocolate concoctions (none of them containing kosher salt.)
steep the toasted hazelnuts in steamy milk
One of our favorite variations starts with milk that’s been steeped with chopped roasted hazelnuts, then combines it with chopped dark chocolate and a little dark brown sugar. It’s got lots of nice flavors going on: a subtle undertone of toasty hazelnuts, rich dark chocolate, and the caramel-y sweetness of the dark brown sugar.
Some notes on hot chocolate* that I’ve found make a great mug:
- Dutch process cocoa dissolves better than regular unsweetened cocoa powder in liquid, plus it lends a rich, chocolate flavor to the drink. That being said…
- …nothing beats chopped chocolate for the ultimate hot chocolate. A combination of dutch process cocoa and a little chopped chocolate (your preference – milk, semisweet, or dark) equals a super chocolatey, super rich and delicious drink.
- Whisking dry cocoa powder directly into hot milk often leaves you with lumps (or sludge on the bottom of the mug.) For better dissolving, whisk the cocoa together with the sweetener and a little hot water in the bottom of the mug to make a paste first, then whisk the hot milk into the paste. You’ll be amazed at the difference – no lumps!
- Honey is usually my sweetener of choice, just a little – maybe a teaspoon. I like my hot chocolate with just a touch of sweetness.
- It’s never a bad idea to gild the lily with some softly whipped heavy cream. :)
*By “hot chocolate,” I am referring to drinks made with milk (no water), good quality unsweetened cocoa, maybe some chopped chocolate, and something real to sweeten it (honey/sugar/maple syrup only, please.) No “hot cocoa mix,” that un-chocolatey powdered stuff with a weird chemical aftertaste, odd dehydrated “marshmallows(?),” and all manner of artificial ingredients (that people usually mix with water, adding insult to injury!)
Friends don’t let friends drink bad hot chocolate…keep it real!
Dutch process cocoa is the best.
mix it into a paste with the brown sugar and water
my favorite – Callebaut dark chocolate
whisk the chocolate and cocoa-sugar paste into the steaming milk
If you wanted to make this mug of hot chocolate really special, you could stir in a little Frangelico liqueur at the end…yowza!
Roasted Hazelnut Hot Chocolate
1/2 cup whole hazelnuts
4 1/2 cups milk, preferably whole or reduced fat
1/4 cup Dutch process cocoa powder
1/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup hot water
4 ounces semisweet or dark chocolate, chopped (I always go for dark!)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract, or 1/4 cup Frangelico liqueur
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Spread the hazelnuts on a baking sheet, in a single layer, and roast until golden and skins are beginning to crack, about 10 minutes. Let cool to room temperature, then finely chop (a food processor makes quick work of this step.)
Bring the milk and chopped hazelnuts to a boil over medium heat in a large heavy saucepan. Turn the heat off and let the mixture steep for 30 minutes, so the hazelnuts infuse the milk with their flavor.
Meanwhile, whisk the cocoa, brown sugar, and water together in a small bowl to make a paste.
After the milk has finished steeping, heat it up again over medium heat until it begins to steam. Whisk in the chopped chocolate and the cocoa-sugar paste, until the chocolate is melted. Take off the heat and stir in the vanilla (or Frangelico, if using.)
Strain the hot chocolate into 4 mugs. Top with softly whipped cream and additional chopped hazelnuts, if desired.
Makes 4 servings.