By Ari LeVaux, Contributor
When the weather turns cold, hot cocoa is everyone’s friend. It plays well with others and offers something for everyone. At work, mix it with coffee for more working power. At play, mix it with booze for more playing power. During the holidays, mix it with eggnog for more holiday power.
Hot chocolate has a way of roping everyone else into its game, like a kids game of blob tag — if the blob touches you, you’re part of the blob. Fancy European names like “café mocha” don’t obscure the basic fact that we are talking about a cup of hot chocolate with coffee. When you add alcohol, it’s spiked cocoa. When you add eggnog, it’s no longer eggnog: It’s a cup of cocoa that happens to be the smoothest, puffiest, fluffiest cloud of chocolate beverage bliss you could sip.
This does not mean you should bring a carton of eggnog home from the store and mix it with Swiss Miss. The eggnog we shall turn into hot chocolate comes from Luci Brieger, a veggie farmer with an attitude. Her eggnog recipe is no-nonsense to the bone, like everything else on the farm. It’s made from scratch with the freshest eggs and cream and while she may not cut corners, there’s no time to separate the eggs, beat the whites and fold them back in. But it’s still the best eggnog you’ll ever have, at least until we add chocolate and make it better.
As we bliss out on the flavor, stimulation and feelings of joy triggered by chocolate, we shouldn’t forget the people, many of them children, who are toiling in cacao plantations carved into the jungle. The work is brutal and the conditions are dangerous and uncomfortable, with no upward mobility or health benefits. It’s worth paying a few extra bucks to purchase fair trade cocoa powder that ensures basic standards and a baseline quality of life for the people behind our bliss. The savings you will realize by making your own chocolate far outweigh the extra price you pay for fair trade ingredients. So look for that Fair Trade Certified label. I’ve had great results with Volupta brand, which is fair trade and organic.
Now, about this eggnog cocoa. Instead of adding heated spiced sweet milk to eggs, which would make eggnog, we add heated spiced cocoa to the eggs.
Luci uses an immersion blender, which occupies such an important place in her kitchen she calls it “the Tool.” This blender on a stick is a great way to mix and puree hot food without transferring it to a blender. In the case of eggnog, the tool keeps the eggs moving while we temper the eggs with hot chocolate. If you don’t have the Tool, it’s fine to use a mixer or eggbeater. It can be done with a whisk, but it’s a challenge.
While hot cocoa mixes well with both eggnog and coffee, eggnog and coffee together are not a great match. Some may disagree, but I don’t think the bitterness improves the eggnog. But when chocolate is involved, everything is fine. It bridges the gap between nog and coffee, and everyone gets along cheerfully.
Step one: Liquid ganache
6 cups milk
2 cups cream
1 cup cocoa powder
¾ cup sugar (or to taste)
3 teaspoon vanilla
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon nutmeg (If you plan to mix the cocoa nog with coffee, go light on the nutmeg)
Mix the sugar and cocoa powder in a bowl. Add a tablespoon of milk and stir it into the powder with a fork until the milk is all gone. Add another tablespoon, stir it in, and keep going until all of the lumps and all powder are absorbed and you are left with a smooth, sweet, glistening chocolate goodness that’s not unlike the soft frosting-like filling called ganache, found in the middle of a truffle.
Put the milk, vanilla and remaining cream into a heavy bottomed pot on medium heat. Add the ganache and mix it in. Add the salt and nutmeg, sweeten to taste, and slowly bring the pot to the point where simmer bubbles appear around the edge. Turn off the heat and proceed to the next step.
Step two: Luci’s Nog conversion
The eggs won’t influence the flavor, but add a velvety thickness that you will quickly get used to.
8 cups piping hot cocoa (recipe above)
3 whole eggs
Crack the eggs in a bowl and prepare to beat them fiercely with the Tool or your best alternative. Add the hot cocoa to the eggs, very slowly, a little at a time, in a very slow, thin stream. Beat the eggs furiously as you add the cocoa, “so you don’t cook your eggs,” warns Luci.
If mixed properly, the result will be smooth, and not resemble scrambled eggs. Return the egged cocoa back to the pan on the lowest heat you’ve got, stirring slowly but obsessively. Stop as soon as you notice it thicken a little, and it coats a spoon. If you plan to mix it with coffee or booze, you must stop here.
If you keep heating, the liquid will soon get so thick it will start to set up into a pudding ahead of the spoon, and break into curds behind it. You now have chocolate eggnog dip for silver dollar pancakes, or chocolate eggnog pudding. Nobody will complain, but you will have to drink something else.