Saturday, February 2, 2013

Quick 'n' Easy Vegan Hot Cocoa

As snow dusted New York City yesterday I had a craving for one of my favorite winter cocoa.


Hot chocolate has always been a favorite indulgence of mine. With time...and love for it has hardly waned. When I stopped having milk products I struggled with saying goodbye to hot cocoa. I soon discovered several vegan options for hot cocoa powder, but ultimately found that they lacked the richness and flavor so easy to attain in those instant hot cocoa packets of my youth! They were also quite expensive, and could be difficult to track down outside of a big city.

Luckily for me it wasn't long before I discovered Ghirardelli double hot cocoa powder. Its not the most budget-friendly version of hot cocoa, but certainly every bit as rich and delicious--if not more so--than the Swiss Miss and Carnation hot chocolate packets from the grocery store. A little does go a long way, so a splurge on one can of the mix (which goes for about seven or eight dollars) could potentially get you through the winter--just mix with your non-dairy milk of choice (although I recommend soy milk, see below*), and follow the directions as you would for the regular old cow's milk version.

If, however, you want something you can throw together with ingredients you likely already have in your kitchen, check out this easy alternative!

Quick 'n' Easy Vegan Hot Cocoa
servings: 2
What You'll Need:
2 cups soy (or almond) milk*
3 tbsp cocoa powder
3 tbsp sugar**
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp chocolate extract (optional)
Vegan whipped topping of choice or vegan marshmallows (optional)***

What You'll Need to Do:
Add soymilk to a small saucepan and heat over medium heat, stirring frequently with a small whisk (this will help you get maximum frothiness), until desired heat is reached. Once milk is heated through, add vanilla, sugar and chocolate, stirring continually until fully dissolved. Remove from heat, pour into mugs, and serve immediately!

Tips and Tricks
You may want to increase the amount of cocoa and sugar (by about 1tsp or so) if you prefer a richer flavor.

*You can use any dairy-free milk you'd like, but I find that soy milk has the thickest body, and works best for this type of drink. The next runner up is almond milk, followed by rice milk (which is much thinner and not quite as rich as the other two). The type of soy milk you buy makes a difference, too. For this recipe, I'd recommend using an "original flavor" (these are slightly sweetened, if you use an "unsweetened" milk, simply add more sugar to taste). See my "Vegan Pantry" page for more information about the different dairy-free milk options available.

I like heating my milk in the saucepan--I think it gets the best even temperature this way, and stirring the cocoa powder and sugar in while it's still very hot allows them to dissolve and be distributed evenly. You can, however, heat your milk in the microwave if you prefer, it should need just 90 seconds to heat, and you can stir in the cocoa powder and sugar immediately after removing (this would work especially well if you're just preparing one serving!).

I use soymilk with a little added vanilla, because I don't generally drink vanilla soy or almond milk. If you have either of those on hand though, just leave out the vanilla extract and save yourself a step!

**Not all sugar is strictly considered vegan, see my "Vegan Pantry" page for more information.
***see my entry on vegan marshmallows for more information, or my tips below for a discussion of vegan whipped toppings.

Some Notes on Whipped toppings:
I used Soyatoo! Whipped topping for my hot chocolate. They make both soy and rice versions. I've never tried the rice-based topping, but I really like the soy one. This canned whipped cream is the closest approximation to the dairy version of whipped cream that I know of. However, they have changed something in their ingredients or manufacturing in recent years, and I've had a bit more trouble getting the can to dispense the last few times I've used this product. The can instructs you to leave it out to warm up for about 10 minutes, but this is not enough time--the cream is still too cold and hard to dispense. The easiest solution is to run it under hot water, shaking the can after about a minute or so to see if the cream is moving inside. Once you feel it moving, give it another few good shakes and then spray, if it still has trouble coming out you'll need to heat it up a bit more. A bit frustrating, I know, but well worth the little bit of extra effort if you ask me!

Soyatoo also makes a boxed version of the whipped cream that you can whip yourself, which apparently is quite good but a bit hard to find (although I've seen both versions available at Whole Foods). And if you're feeling extra ambitious, or don't want to use a processed product, you can always make your own vegan whipped cream (most commonly using tofu or coconut cream). This is something I've been meaning to try for years...but I haven't gotten around to it just yet.

Recipe Update (1/2014): This recipe originally called for just 2 tbsp of cocoa and sugar. This is fine if you want a more subtle, mellow cocoa but, over time, I've found I prefer 3 tbsp!

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