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Last-Minute Gift Idea: Flavored Cocoa Mix

Sunday, December 16, 2012 12:00 PM

J and I exchange a gift every night of Chanukah, and even though I save bigger gifts for our anniversary and J's birthday, smaller ones add up in price when there are eight of them. Edible gifts are often good things to give inexpensively, so to keep my Chanukah budget in check, I decided to make J some flavored hot cocoa mixes. After a little online research, I decided to go with three flavors: salted caramel, peppermint and "Mexican," with cinnamon and cayenne.

We already had all the ingredients except candy canes, so this was definitely an inexpensive gift. It took a lot of work, however, to create the mixes, with lots of tasting and tweaking the recipes (boo hoo for me, right?). Eventually, I ran out of time and energy to package the mixes prettily, but it's the taste that counts.

Here are the ingredients I used, except I forgot to get out the white, granulated sugar. And by the way, that big Smirnoff bottle is full of homemade vanilla extract, not straight-up vodka.

I started off with one base recipe for all three flavors. After testing a few cocoa mix recipes, including ones from Martha Stewart and Alton Brown, I settled on a 1:1 mix of cocoa powder and light brown sugar. I used natural cocoa powder, but I saw some recipes that suggested Dutch process cocoa instead. I think that for 3 cups of mix (1.5 c. cocoa powder, 1.5 c. brown sugar), I also added either 1.25 or 1.5 tsp of table salt. I used a food processor to break up the clumps of brown sugar and make sure everything was thoroughly mixed.

The food processor was also essential for creating powders that I used to flavor the base mix. I crushed up four candy canes, and here's what was left over at the very end of the project. For the salted caramel, I followed the instructions from this recipe. Be warned, however, that the caramel powder was difficult to work with. It seemed to remain damp, and it would clump up within seconds, requiring another go through the food processor. So you may want to look elsewhere for guidance on that.

I divided my base mix into three portions, 1 cup each, then added the flavorings: for the salted caramel mix, 2.5 tsp of the caramel powder; for the peppermint, 4 tsp of the candy cane powder; and for the Mexican mix, 1 Tbs of cinnamon and a generous 1/8 tsp of cayenne pepper. Tastes differ, of course, so you may want to start low — say, 2 tsp of the caramel powder — test it, and add more if you want. I tested the flavorings with 1 tsp of mix and a little less than half a mug of milk, which was enough to give me a sense of how it tasted but wouldn't deplete the stash too much. J hasn't tried any of these yet, so I can't tell you exactly how much to use in a serving, but I suspect it'll be about 1 Tbs of mix for each 8-ounce mug.

UPDATE: With the peppermint cocoa mix, at least, it took 1.5 Tbs per 1 cup of milk to suit J's taste. I like chocolate more, so I'd probably make it even a little stronger than that.

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