An Antidote for Rainy, Cold Spring Days – Be Your Own Barista: Cafe Mocha, Pumpkin Laced Hot Chocolate

choc-coffeeEver since I went to Spain last year, I’ve started to enjoy the occasional cup of coffee. Turns out the reason I didn’t like coffee before going to Spain was that I had only had bitter, instant-style American coffee. Freshly roasted and ground beans taste entirely different — mellow, almost sweet, and needing only a dash of good-quality cream to bring out their flavor. Overroasting doesn’t do the beans any favors; nor does pre-grinding them and letting them sit around for an undefined amount of time. Spanish-style coffee made me think of hot chocolate.

Lately, thinking about that combination of chocolate and coffee prompted me to make my own version of mocha. Most coffee shops use chocolate-flavored syrup to lend a cup of mocha a chocolate flavor, but I think you’re better off with the real deal: an actual square of good-quality dark chocolate. I used 85% in mine, but you could go as low as 70% if you’d like a sweeter beverage. I also added a teaspoon of maple sugar, a drizzle of vanilla, and of course a nice dollop of cream. The only warning? Once you’ve had mocha made with actual chocolate, you won’t want the syrup-tinged variety ever again. But that’s just yet another reason to make sure you always travel with a square or two of good chocolate!

Café Mocha

To make 1/2 cup mocha, steep 1 tablespoon freshly ground coffee beans in 1/2 cup very hot water for 5 minutes. I like to make my coffee in a French press — it’s historical, takes up hardly any counter space, is energy-efficient, and is regarded by coffee purists as a good way to prepare coffee. It’s also the only kind of coffee maker I have.

While the coffee steeps, place a square of dark chocolate (between 70% to 85%) in your favorite coffee mug. Add 1 teaspoon maple sugar or maple syrup. Pour the steeped coffee into the mug and stir gently to melt the chocolate. When the chocolate is fully melted, stir in a dollop of cream and about 1/4 teaspoon vanilla. Savor immediately — don’t plan on reheating it. Reheating could scorch the chocolate and ruin the mocha. But see what I mean about how much better mocha tastes when made with actual chocolate?

Pumpkin-Laced Hot Chocolate

While I’m looking forward to the spring flowers that our April showers will bring, I’m still in full-on winter mode in terms of wanting hot beverages. How can your mind not edge towards hot chocolate when it’s gray, cold, and wet outside? Twenty degrees Fahrenheit and sunny seems warmer than 45F and raining. So in the spirit of warding off chill, I decided to see if I could make a Spanish-style hot chocolate.

If you’ve had the pleasure of sitting outside a Valor chocolate shop in Spain and sipping their famous hot chocolate, you know what I mean by “Spanish-style”: incredibly thick and creamy. You can nearly stand up a spoon in the stuff. This is the opposite of a frothy latte, the antithesis of the (sometimes) overwrought and overwhipped creations you find at European-inspired coffee shops Stateside. Spanish hot chocolate is not trying to be delicate or ethereal — it’s making a strong chocolate statement.

While I’m not exactly sure what magical ingredient makes the Valor hot chocolate so insanely thick (although I think cornstarch may play a role), I thought I’d try to create my own ultra-velvety hot chocolate by whisking in something that’s silky and smooth in its own right, something that probably already inhabits your pantry: canned pumpkin. Yup. It thickens without having an overly distinct flavor of its own. If anything, it imparts a slightly sweet creaminess, which is most welcome in a mug of hot chocolate. And the pumpkin-and-chocolate combo already exists in the form of muffins, cakes, and ice cream. Why not pumpkin-infused hot chocolate, too?

Pumpkin-Laced Hot Chocolate

To make a mug of creamy and thick hot chocolate, simply place 2 tablespoons unsweetened (and preferably non-Dutched) cocoa powder in a mug. Add 2 tablespoons canned pumpkin and 1 tablespoon maple syrup. Fill halfway with boiling water and whisk with a fork until all the clumps have dissolved. Pour in a tiny dash of vanilla (no more than 1/4 teaspoon) and top off with whole milk (preferably from grass-fed cows). Stir again until well-blended. If you’d like it to be a little sweeter, add a little more maple syrup.

Note that you’ll have to occasionally swirl the hot chocolate as you drink it — much like Spanish-style hot chocolate, yours will have lots of body, and it will taste better if it doesn’t sit and settle for too long.

Enjoy!  Courtesy of The Cultured Cook.

Delicious: Anytime Smoothie!

Don’t like it hot? Try this delicious healthy smoothie for those chilly spring days!

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