I’m dreaming of a white hot cocoa… the kind you want to wrap your hands around and sip slowly to keep the chill away. The kind of hot cocoa that makes time slow down, just so you can savor its sweet, creamy goodness a little longer. The kind of hot cocoa that makes you go, “wow, I didn’t know white chocolate could be this decadent!”
Who says dreams can’t come true?
There’s something about hot chocolate that makes me wish I were five years old again. Back when playing in the snow was actually fun. Sledding, snowball fights, snowmen, and of course, building forts! I was one of those kids who never got cold, and would spend hours upon hours constructing my wintery fortresses. I would then insist on living in them, and even made a snow-mailbox, once… you know, in case anyone needed to reach me.
Yes, hot cocoa reminds me of simpler times. Back before I grew up, and learned to dread the snow and the cold. Now winter means having to get up a half hour early to scrape the ice off my car. It means wearing so many layers I become unrecognizable, as a person or as a human being. It means shoveling so much I walk around for the rest of the day with a hunch back, taking tiny, careful steps for fear of slipping on black ice. Five-year-old me would call me lame.
Yet somehow, hot chocolate takes me back there, before I was lame. It also makes me feel better about where I am, because while I may not be a kid anymore, and I may not love the cold like I used to, I can still make a damn fine cup of hot cocoa to warm me up whenever the chill starts to get to me.
There are few things in life more comforting and nostalgic than a traditional, straight-up hot cocoa with marshmallows or whipped cream, but another thing that has come with getting older is a taste for more sophisticated things. Enter, spice.
Whether it’s a classic dark hot chocolate, or a creamy white, I love my cocoa with a little flavor twist. For this one I chose to use an all-time favorite of mine, cardamom, along with just a hint of orange.
Cardamom is a very unique spice, with a flavor all its own. While it’s of the same family as ginger, the taste is nothing like it… instead, it is distinct and aromatic like pine, and brings to mind the sharpness of citrus zest, or freshly ground nutmeg. It is warm, woodsy, bright, and all-together indescribable. I could sit for hours simply inhaling the scent of the stuff! It is most commonly used in India, Scandanavia, and the Middle East (primarily in desserts, but also in some savory dishes like curry, or brewed into tea or coffee), but as far as I can tell is highly underrated in most other parts of the world.
Perhaps the price is a factor in its popularity, as green cardamom is the third most expensive spice there is (second only to saffron and vanilla). And yet, a little goes a long way — the flavor of good cardamom is bold and assertive, so only a few pods are needed for most applications. To get the most bang for your buck, I suggest buying just a small handful of cardamom pods from a spice shop, rather than getting a whole jar. Whole pods will last longer, and impart better flavor than their pre-ground counterpart. Plus you won’t be stuck with so much you won’t be able to use it all before it goes bad.
There are two types of cardamom to be aware of before purchasing — green cardamom, and black cardamom. Green cardamom, also called “true” cardamom, has a brighter flavor, and is what most people refer to when they talk about the spice. It’s also a bit more expensive than black. Black cardamom is closely related to green cardamom, but is not quite the same. The flavor is deeper and smokier, and it is almost always used in savory dishes, rather than sweet. When in doubt, buy green, but if you have the opportunity to try both and see which you prefer, go for it!
The other key component to making this hot cocoa great is using high quality white chocolate. As I mentioned last week, white chocolate must contain at least 20% cocoa butter to be labeled as such. Steer clear of anything that calls itself “white morsels”, or “white chips”, etc., as they are mostly sugar and hydrogenated oils. If you’ve ever tasted white chocolate and thought it tasted grainy, chalky, or bland, this is probably why. I suggest looking for a cocoa butter content of at least 30%, for a truly decadent experience.
Cardamom & Orange Spiced White Hot Chocolate
Makes about 2 servings
4 oz. (by weight) good quality white chocolate, roughly chopped (or about 3/4 cup)
2 cups milk (I used whole milk, but I’m sure you could use whatever % you like)
3-4 green cardamom pods, crushed
1 two-inch strip of orange zest*
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
pinch of cinnamon or freshly grated nutmeg, for garnish
fresh whipped cream, for serving (optional)
*use a vegetable peeler to remove just the outer (orange) part of the rind — try to avoid getting any of the white pith underneath.
1. If your chocolate is in a block or a bar, chop it roughly and place it in a large bowl. If it is in chip form, just add it to the bowl as-is.
2. Place a small pot on the stove over medium-low heat, and add the milk, crushed cardamom, and orange zest. Heat until the milk begins to steam, and small bubbles appear around the edges of the pot, stirring frequently to keep the milk from scorching on the bottom of the pot. As soon as bubbles appear at the edges, remove from the heat — do not let it boil!
3. Place a strainer over the bowl with the chocolate, and pour the milk through to remove the cardamom and orange. Add the vanilla extract, and let sit for 20-30 seconds to allow the chocolate to begin melting. Whisk until smooth.
4. Garnish with a dash of cinnamon or freshly grated nutmeg. Serve as is, or top with a dollop of fresh whipped cream.