Love hot cocoa in winter? So do we! Have you heard about the new, (exceedingly) decadent, way to enjoy it? It's called a “hot cocoa charcuterie board.” No, not adding meats to cocoa. A better term would be “hot cocoa smorgasbord” – calling on the Scandinavian tradition of a buffet meal offering an array of related dishes. After all, cocoa conjures cozy, and when one thinks of Scandinavia, “hygge” – the Danish term that takes “cozy” to a warmer and fuzzier place – is as cozy as you can get. But alas, the ship has sailed on the term for this hot cocoa board, and it wasn’t a Viking ship. So we’ll carry on calling it a “charcuterie,” albeit begrudgingly.
Whatever you’d like to call it, there is a bounty of ways to serve it up. We’ve created a printable, free guide to download to help determine what to include with yours. Starting here with the main ingredients, and working outward...
We especially love a Denver-based chocolate company called Cultura. After stowing their artisanal, uniquely-flavored bars in our travel bags to deliver as gifts countless times, we treated ourselves to their drinking chocolate. Cultura Chocolate has three flavors to choose from. True to her Mexican roots, owner/chocolate maker Damaris Ronkanen features a traditional Mexican drinking chocolate highlighting flavorful, organic cinnamon. You'll likely agree that adding cinnamon to hot chocolate is one of the greatest gifts to arrive from south of the border. We also especially love the Peppermint flavored drinking chocolate, with a festive kick perfect for holiday get-togethers. And the 70% Haiti drinking chocolate is as pure a taste of chocolate as you'll ever find.
One of our favorite on-the-go hot chocolates is NibMor of Kennebunk, Maine (originally NYC.) We find ourselves stocking up on their flavorful packets the minute there is a nip in the air. It’s so easy since they seem to be available in every quality store. “Traditional” and “Mint” are our go-tos, as the “6-Spice” packs a bit more of a punch than we can handle, boasting both cinnamon AND hot peppers. If you like spicy, definitely check out their “6-Spice.”
Portland, Oregon based Treehouse Originals is known for a number of delicious, organic, breakfast-oriented products, including five different flavors of vegan hot chocolate. They sustainably source their cacao beans from Peru, and craft their cocoa flavor blends in small batches, so as to “fully realize the potential of the beans.” Each blend is 72% cacao, using sustainably sourced real dark chocolate.
They describe their cocoa mixes as “fudge-like,” and we agree. At first when we read one of the simple steps on the back of the packet: “stir passionately” – we giggled at the intensity they wanted us to give to the making of a cup of cocoa. But we quickly realized that their advice is accurate: if you don’t truly blend their cocoa mix, you might wind up with lumps in the bottom of the cup. Once you’ve “passionately” stirred it up, you will have a cupful of one of the smoothest, richest cocoas this side of Switzerland, France or Belgium. They say adding hot water is fine, but we prefer heating up a cupful of coconut milk – for optimal richness.
Coconut– with coconut milk, which gives you an insane amount of vegan richness when you also mix with a simmering coconut milk, rather than hot water.
Dark Chocolate – all the intensity you could ask for.
Mocha – robust, yet balanced.
Sea Salt – smoothly blended like a perfect bar of chocolate.
Spiced with Cinnamon & Aji Chili – it’s true, this is a spicy cup of cocoa. To us, this weighed in as being spicier than most Mexican hot chocolates – there is definitely more chili than cinnamon to this flavor.
MarieBelle New York
MarieBelle may be the first hot chocolate mix that we fell 100% in love with. Not the cheapest hot cocoa mix, but worth every penny. We used to buy the small blue cannisters at a café in Brooklyn, unaware that it would spark a lifelong love affair. It’s not just that this hot chocolate is rich, without being overpowering, it’s the nibs you spoon into the cup that give it an extra depth.
Everyone loves homemade cookies. If you have a favorite fall/winter cookie recipe, this is a great time to show it off. Here are some ideas to get you started, along with our favorite snowball cookie recipe.
Frosted Peppermint Chip
Snowballs, also known as Russian Tea Cakes – (scroll down for a recipe)
HOT CHOCOLATE CHARCUTERIE BOARD GARNISHES
Cinnamon Sticks can serve as stirs
Fresh, Powdered Cinnamon & Cocoa Powder for dusting
Marshmallows* – vegan is the way to go!
Peppermints – starlight hard candies, candy canes, and melt-away peppermints
Whipped Cream – we recommend coconut whipped cream. Pick some up at Trader Joe’s or a local grocery store, or make your own! (insert coconut whipped cream recipe)
Vegan marshmallows are becoming easier to find, and, we believe, far surpass traditional marshmallows in both flavor and consistency.
Dandies – have a hint of vanilla. Available at many stores nation-wide.
Both the larger size and the minis
Mallow Puffs from Belgium come in three flavor options: Vanilla Bean, Raspberry and Salted Caramel. All are dunked in – what else: Belgian dark chocolate.
Trader Joe’s – all of Trader Joe’s marshmallows are now vegan
You can also make your own vegan marshmallows
Sugared pine needle sprigs – not edible, just for decoration.
Using a sharp knife, cut sprigs off of a pine tree, anywhere from 3” – 7” in length. Cut several of them in varying sizes to intersperse on the serving tray. Make an egg white wash in a bowl by beating together one egg white and a teaspoon of water. Use a whisk, not a mixer, so as not to over blend. Use a pastry brush to coat the pine sprigs with the egg white. Pour about a cup of fine, white sugar into a bowl. Using a spoon or your fingers, sprinkle the sugar over the coated pine needles. If you need more sugar, just add it to the bowl. Use as much as you need to coat your desired number of pine needle sprigs. Place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment, or a wire rack, to dry out. This should take about 20-30 minutes.
Miniature pinecones – possibly from your yard; just don’t take too many, as local squirrels love to stash these for the winter months.
BEST LIQUOR AND LIQUEUR FOR HOT CHOCOLATE
Adults adore hot cocoa as much as kids, perhaps more when there’s a little kick added. Special liquors and liqueurs will pair perfectly with hot chocolate; there are so many directions to take this in.
Bailey’s Irish Cream, Kahlua and a good whiskey are immediate choices. Amaretto can work nicely, as can a dark rum. And a spicy rum would nicely compliment a spicy cocoa.
Gluten-free & Vegan Option
Sweet, little snowballs are the cookie version of winter. Light and buttery, rolled in powdered (confectioners’) sugar, they’re delightfully decadent. One trick we’ve discovered is to substitute almond flour for a portion of the recipe's called for flour. Almond flour is so light, adding to the crumbly, pastry-like feel of these cookies. We pair it with gluten-free flour, and the cookies turn out wonderfully. And these lighter flours mean no need to sift.
1 Cup almond flour, leveled for precision
2 Cups leveled, gluten-free flour, such as Bob’s Red Mill 1-to-1 Baking Flour
½ teaspoon salt (we prefer Celtic Sea Salt, for its health properties)
½ Cup powdered (confectioners’ sugar) + 1 Cup for rolling
2 sticks unsalted butter (1 cup) – room temperature softened (not melted) – we use vegan butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract - optional
Make Them Mexican!
1 teaspoon cinnamon – add to dry ingredient mixture
Make Them Russian!
¾ Cup finely chopped almonds,* pecans or walnuts – add last to dry ingredients
* we recommend buying slivered almonds in bulk to chop up – they will be far easier to work with than whole almonds
Make Them Hawaiian!
½ Cup shredded coconut – roll in coconut as a final step
Yield: approx 3 ½-4 dozen cookies
Line one or two (if you have two) cookie sheets with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper; set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together almond flour, gluten-free flour and salt. If making them Mexican, also add cinnamon. If making them Russian, add in chopped nuts.
Cream butter in a large bowl until the color pales and it becomes fluffy. We recommend using a hand or stand-up mixer with the paddle attachment on medium to high speed. Mix in ½ Cup of the powdered sugar and continue mixing on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add vanilla extract and continue mixing on low until completely combined, approximately 1-2 minutes.
Mix the dry ingredients in with the butter mixture on low speed until fully combined. Use the paddle attachment to scrape the sides of the bowl while mixing.
Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C), or 325°F (163°C) if you are at high altitude. If baking two sheets at once, place oven racks in upper & lower third positions in the oven prior to heating.
Using a measuring tablespoon, create approx. 1-inch balls of dough, rolling in the palms of your hand. Place on cookie sheets about 1 inch apart.
Bake approximately 13-15 minutes, rotating the sheets from upper-lower/lower-upper positions at about 7 minutes. If baking at altitude, you may need to bake a few extra minutes. They’re done when they appear a slight golden-brown around the edges.
Let the cookie sheets cool on wire racks for about 5 minutes. When the cookies are cool enough to handle, roll them in the remaining powdered sugar and place on wire racks alone to completely cool. Once cooled, roll again in powdered sugar until resembling little snowballs. Roll in coconut instead of powdered sugar for this second roll, if using coconut.
If you only have salted butter, omit the salt from the recipe
Store in a covered container at room temperature for up to 7 days. We recommend one more roll in powdered sugar or coconut before serving.
Cookie dough may be frozen for up to 3 months in a storage container, bag or plastic film. Thaw at room temperature to shape; if not fully thawed, they may require extra baking time. Baked cookies may also be frozen; thaw at room temperature and roll again in powdered sugar before serving.