Cathie Campbell

Name doesn’t matter

No matter what you call it hot chocolate, hot cocoa, it isn’t necessary to get technical about it, as we all know what you mean. Some recipes call for cocoa and some call for chocolate, as in chips or bars. We still have some days that can be called warm (if you’re in the sunlight), but there’s no denying the chill factor now that it's fall. If you’re like me, you might appreciate the chance to curl your hands around a hot mug of cocoa. Get a little fancy by garnishing with a mound of whipped cream or perhaps a few mini marshmallows or even a few chocolate shavings.

At Christmas you could add a touch of crushed peppermint candy. Whatever you like (although I don’t think anyone would take that statement literally and add something like sardines. I love sardines but ...). I think I'd better fix myself some hot cocoa right now so I can sip at it while I write this column. I hope you make some, too, and enjoy every bit of it.

Hot chocolate with salted caramel

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/4 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

4 1/2 cups milk, room temperature (use whole or any percentage that you prefer)

8 ounces milk chocolate, finely chopped

2 ounces dark chocolate, finely chopped

Pinch salt

Whipped cream and caramel sauce (see following recipe)

1. In a small bowl, blend the sugar and lemon juice until evenly mixed. Take a medium saucepan and place it over medium heat. When the pan is hot, add the sugar and immediately begin to stir. The sugar will begin to cook right away. Stir, without stopping, until it liquifies and turns a nice golden amber color. Don't let it get too dark!

2. Keep stirring as you pour in the room temperature milk. The caramel will start to harden but that is just a temporary state. As the milk heats up, the caramel will once again melt.

3. When the milk mixture begins to simmer to the point of small bubbles forming around the edges, remove from heat. Do not allow the milk to boil! Add the finely chopped milk and dark chocolate and whisk until the mixture is smooth and chocolate melted. Add the pinch of salt and add more, if desired. Garnish with a dollop of whipped cream, then drizzle caramel sauce over the top. Makes 8 servings.

Caramel sauce

Make sure you have all your ingredients and equipment handy, as once sugar melts, it can burn very quickly. There is no time to hunt for what you need. Also, use a heavy pan with deep sides and make sure no small children get near the stove. This sauce may be a bit thick at room temperature so you may need to heat it up.

1 cup sugar

6 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

1. In a 2- or 3-quart saucepan with a heavy bottom, add sugar and begin to heat it over medium-high heat. As it begins to melt, stir vigorously with a whisk or a wooden spoon. As soon as the sugar starts to boil, stop stirring. You may swirl the pan around to help the sugar dissolve evenly. (A hint is to add 1/2 cup of water to the sugar at the beginning, but it will take longer for the sugar to caramelize because the water has to evaporate.)

2. When the sugar is an amber color, add the butter. Whisk until butter has melted, then remove pan from heat. Count to three or four, then slowly add the cream to the pan, continuing to whisk. Note: when you add the butter and cream, the mixture will foam up considerably, which is why you want to use a pan with high sides.

3. Whisk mixture until the caramel sauce is smooth. Allow to cool a couple of minutes, then pour into a heat-proof container to cool completely. Can be stored in the refrigerator for about 2 weeks. Warm sauce before using. Makes a bit over 1 cup.

Pumpkin spice white hot chocolate

I tried adding a small amount of pumpkin puree to this (like 1/4 cup), which was fine except for one thing: I needed to keep stirring to keep the pumpkin from settling too much on the bottom.

1 cup heavy cream

2 cups milk

1 cup good quality white chocolate chips (Ghirardelli is good)

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 teaspoon pumpkin spice

Whipped cream and additional pumpkin spice for garnish

1. In a saucepan over medium heat, add cream and milk and heat, stirring occasionally, until mixture is hot but not boiling.

2. In a medium bowl, add the white chocolate chips, then carefully pour the milk and cream over them, stirring until the chips are melted. Add vanilla and pumpkin spice (and pumpkin puree, if using).

3. Pour into individual mugs and garnish with whipped cream and additional pumpkin spice. (A few shaving of white chocolate are good, too, if you happen to have a bar or chunk big enough to shave.) Makes about 3 to 4 servings, depending on the size of mug.

Hot cocoa

It’s just a personal preference, but I omit the cinnamon. If you want, you can omit the ground cinnamon and use cinnamon sticks as part of the garnish.

1/2 cup sugar

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Pinch salt

1/3 cup boiling water

3 cups milk

1 cup half-and-half, divided

3/4 teaspoon vanilla

8 large marshmallows, optional

1. In a saucepan, whisk together sugar, cocoa powder, cinnamon and salt. Stir in boiling water and stir until sugar is dissolved.

2. Bring mixture to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, about 2 minutes. Stir milk and 1/2 cup half-and-half into the mixture. Cook and stir until heated through, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and add remaining half-and-half and the vanilla. Pour cocoa into mugs and garnish with marshmallows, if desired. Makes 4 servings.