When I was a young girl growing up in Westchester County, New York, my family and I, as with all east coasters, suffered the most grey, bitter and dreary winters every year. Once in a while we made the most of the season, skiing in upstate New York, or ice-skating at Murray’s Skating Rink in Yonkers. Skating was never really my thing, as the skates always made my feet cramp, it was invariably freezing, and I was often wiping out onto the ice most ungracefully. But the best part was the reward of hot cocoa after an hour or two of mild torture. There was a machine inside the lobby area dispensing a watery and sugary facsimile of that hot and sweet treat. Looking back, it certainly ranked among the worst hot cocoa versions I have tried, but to my young taste buds, it was heaven.
My taste buds have come a long way since those days, and several years ago, I embarked upon a hot cocoa exploration in my own home. My friend, Heather Malloy, whom I have often relied upon to be my culinary guinea pig, would spontaneously pop by my place in Sedona, and I would usually prepare some treat du jour for both of us to enjoy. She has always been my biggest foodie fan, and it is really fun for me to cook for her.
So I started a winter tradition, with the goal of making an intensely chocolaty, but not too sweet, version of hot cocoa, spiked with booze, and topped with dreamy homemade whipped cream. Some favorite versions were hot cocoa with Peppermint Schnapps, blanketed in whipped cream and sprinkled with crushed candy canes, boozy Grand Marnier hot cocoa, and this spicy, southwestern influenced cocoa accented with hot, smoky chipotle powder and cinnamon, and fortified with rum.
When you use the best quality, dark, unsweetened cocoa powder, you can achieve a deep chocolate intensity without the result being cloyingly sweet. I love the warm buzz and heat from the rum and spices, and the contrast of the cool cloud of silky and decadent whipped cream, which first kisses your lips, yielding gracefully to the hot cocoa elixir beyond. Enjoy this recipe with very special friends. And that’s love on the table.
Spicy Chipotle Hot Cocoa with Rum
and Fresh Whipped Cream
For the whipped cream:
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 large pinch kosher salt, or 1 small pinch fine salt
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract
7 tablespoons powdered sugar, sifted
For the hot cocoa:
7 cups 2% milk
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon premium quality cocoa powder, like Valrhona, Green & Black’s, or Ghirardelli
5 tablespoons plus 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons chipotle powder
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, or 1/4 teaspoon fine salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup gold or dark rum
For the garnish:
6 cinnamon sticks
Prepare the whipped cream. Place bowl of mixer and whip attachment in the freezer for ten minutes. Meanwhile, assemble all of the whipped cream ingredients.
When mixing bowl is very cold, place cream, salt, vanilla and almond extracts into the bowl, and whip on medium, and then high speed, until soft peaks are just beginning to form. Turn off mixer, add sifted powdered sugar, and beat on medium-high, until cream is fluffy, smooth and glossy, being careful not to over mix (if you let it go too far, the cream will become grainy and begin separating, on its way to becoming butter). Cover whipped cream with plastic, and keep refrigerated until using.
Prepare the hot cocoa. Place the first eight ingredients into a medium or large pot over medium heat. When mixture begins getting hot, whisk the cocoa and other ingredients to dissolve them into the milk. Allow cocoa to come to a simmer, and lower temperature all the way, cover and keep it warm.
To serve, whip cream very briefly with a whisk to re-inflate it. Bring cocoa back to a simmer over medium heat. Add rum, and allow it to simmer for a few seconds.
Ladle cocoa into heatproof glasses or mugs, and top each with a generous amount of the whipped cream. Sprinkle them with a little chipotle powder, and dunk a cinnamon stick into each hot cocoa to finish.