Winter's Brew

With the chilly winter winds finally coming through this month, you’ll want to snuggle up with the perfect mug of that quintessential winter drink – hot chocolate. But you don’t have to venture into arctic temperatures to find a perfect brew. With quality ingredients from your neighborhood grocery store and a sprinkle of creativity, it’s easy to take a favorite tradition and transform it into a gourmet treat.

For a richer chocolate flavor, steer clear of cocoa powders that incorporate dry milk. Instead, opt for higher-end mixes that use real pieces of pure chocolate shaved down to melt quickly in hot water or milk. Several manufacturers—including Scharffen Berger, Lake Champlain, and Schokinag—make drinking chocolate mixes using real shaved chocolate for retail purchase at stores like Whole Foods. Use these and you’ll reproduce the bold European flavor found in French cafés. “Maybe use two tablespoons or more per six-ounce serving to achieve the same effect,” says Taza Chocolate owner Alex Whitmore who recommends Taza Chocolate’s Velo Rouge, a shaved Colombian chocolate with orange zest, and Cabra Sentada, a Mexican style mix with ground cinnamon ($19 for 18 oz.). Use hot water for a robust drinking chocolate or hot milk for a creamier version.

For a more customized brew, pick up your favorite bars of quality dark chocolate, like Dagoba’s New Moon ($2.59) or Sharffen Berger’s Dark Chocolate ($3.69). Break them into pieces and melt into the hot liquid of your choice; you can even put the bar in whole if it’s made thin enough. For added flavor – and pizzazz for dessert parties – whisk your favorite spices into hot milk. Top sellers at Taza include peppermint, cinnamon, marjoram, and even chili.

Top with marshmallows, whipped cream, or any other garnish you so desire, and voila – it’s so good that you’ll forget you made it yourself.