Living in Florida, one of the things I miss is the extreme change of seasons. There’s no first warm spring day. And there’s no first snowfall of the year. Since there’s no big change outside, I try to recreate the feeling of the seasons with food and drink inside.
Nothing puts me in mind of the first snowfall like hot chocolate polka-dotted with marshmallows. Give me that mug, a sweater, and Baby It’s Cold Outside from the speakers and I’ll completely forget that it’s 90 degrees outside.
It’s this love of hot chocolate, the recognition that it triggers memories of ice skating, sledding, snow-angels, caroling, and fireplaces for so many people, that made us decide to do a whole topic about it.
The first chocolate drinks were made thousands of years ago in Mexico by the Mayans. The Aztecs and other peoples throughout South America made their own versions too but they were different than what we think of as hot chocolate today. In fact, the first chocolate drinks were served cold and unsweetened, having chili peppers added instead. You can try my modern Mexican Hot Chocolate recipe that has cayenne and cinnamon in it.
In the 1500s, Spanish explorers brought back cocoa beans to Europe and it eventually evolved into the sweetened, hot version most people are familiar with today. It was a luxury among the upper classes for hundreds of years, before new processes made it more affordable and accessible to the general public.
While I tend to use the terms pretty interchangeably, technically hot cocoa is made with cocoa powder, sugar, and hot milk. Hot chocolate on the other hand is made with real chocolate, either chocolate chips or a chocolate bar chopped up. The chocolate gets melted into hot milk or cream for a sweet and decadent drink.