There are certain movies, especially holiday movies, that evoke a familiarity, a nostalgia. Growing up, my family always watched Christmas Vacation (“The little lights aren’t twinkling, Clark.”) and to this day, it just isn’t Christmas without watching The Santa Clause. Over the years, I’ve added Love, Actually to my list and can never forget White Christmas.
These traditions are being passed on, with my own kids loving Frosty the Snowman, Mickey’s Christmas Carol, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and of course A Charlie Brown Christmas, most of which we watch while decking our halls.
What better way to experience this holiday nostalgia than with a classic mug of warm, comforting hot cocoa? Who doesn’t love the feeling of taking that first sip of hot chocolate on a cold night, feeling the smooth liquid warm up your insides Whether it’s topped with marshmallows, whipped cream, or spiked with a little extra holiday cheer (if you know what I mean…), hot chocolate is something that can be enjoyed by everyone, young and old.
Since hot chocolate has global origins, this post gets to be a double whammy: Part of my global dish series and part of my Christmas movie series).
Hot chocolate originated in Central America and was believed to have been created by the Aztecs. A tomb from around 460 AD was found with a vessel that contained a glyph for cocoa and traces of a chocolate drink inside. According to anthropologists, this drink was made up of ground cocoa seeds mixed with water, cornmeal, chili peppers and other ingredients. The drink would be poured back and forth from one pot to another until foam developed. Because they didn’t have sugar yet, this drink would have been very bitter.
After Cortez defeated the Aztecs in the 1500s, he took back cocoa beans and the equipment used to make the chocolate drink with him to Spain. The drink became popular with the Spanish Upper Class because the cocoa beans were very expensive. Later on, in the 17th Century, sweet hot chocolate was invented, though it was still considered a luxury item. Shortly after that, milk chocolate and dutch-process cocoa were also invented. Incidentally, this led to the creation of bar chocolate.
There are many, many variations of hot chocolate throughout the world. In Europe, hot chocolate is served very thick and often as a traditional breakfast drink; in Mexico, cinnamon and vanilla is added and it is traditionally served with churros; they also sell disks of Mexican chocolate that you can melt into hot milk. The United States serves hot chocolate much thinner than in other countries and it is very sweet, topped with marshmallows and whipped cream.
I guess I like a combo of Europe and US, because I like my hot chocolate thick with marshmallows on top!
Here’s my recipe for a deliciously hot cup of cocoa:
In a pan over medium heat, add one can of sweetened condensed milk and 1 cup of chocolate chips. I used semi-sweet, but you could use milk chocolate or even white chocolate if you wanted.
Now stir together until the chocolate is melted and it forms a thick syrup. This won’t take long at all, less than a minute. Make sure you are stirring the whole time so it melts evenly.
At this stage you can add a teaspoon of vanilla extract. You can also substitute peppermint extract if you really want a holiday treat. Or really, any flavor you want.
Finally add 1-1/2 cups of milk. We drink 2% so that’s what I used but you can use whatever you like. You can also add more milk if you don’t want your cocoa as thick as mine. My amounts yield a rich, decadent cocoa that reminds me of the European drinking chocolate they used to serve at Starbucks many years ago in my barista days.
Pour into a mug and top with whipped cream or marshmallows (or both!) and drink up! (Please make sure to let it cool down a bit before drinking. Let Me, and my scalded throat, serve as a warning!)
Enjoy this classic drink with one of my favorite classic Christmas movies: Holiday Inn, White Christmas, It’s a Wonderful Life, Christmas in Connecticut, Elf, Love Actually, Christmas Vacation, The Santa Clause, Home Alone, Miracle on 34th Street, Frosty the Snowman, Charlie Brown Christmas, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Muppet Christmas Carol, Mickey’s Christmas Carol, the I Love Lucy Christmas special (I know this isn’t a movie, but they show it every year and I love it!)