Hot Chocolate Face-Off


Art Steinmetz


December 13, 2008

You may be going through life drinking your basic Swiss Miss instant hot chocolate and being perfectly happy. Still, if you are like most people you occasionally wonder if there is something more out there. How would your life be different is you put in the extra effort to make “real” hot cocoa with real milk?  Well, this post won’t answer that question.

Louis XVIII Chocolate Pot

What follows is a post with about as much excitement as George Costanza’s “Candy Bar Face off.”  You may want to stop here.  Still, “Seinfeld” was a hit show so we will soldier on with your indulgence.

You could spend $20 on a tin of what is still instance or you could spend Louis XVIII Chocolate Pot but both of those ideas would be silly.

What I Had

We will answer one question.  What is the best hot chocolate we could make with the stuff lying around the house?  “We are men of science,” I told the kids, so I couldn’t just make the damn cocoa.  I had to turn it into a “teachable moment.”  I peeked into the pantry and came out with cocoa powder, bakers chocolate and Swiss Miss.  From-scratch hot cocoa had to be better than instant, right? After all, real milk tastes so much better than powdered milk.  I figured the chocolate square-based drink would win in a walk due to the higher fat content but let’s see.

We made the instant according to package directions.  We made the “Favorite Hot Cocoa” recipe from the tin of Hershey’s.  We also made that same recipe using the 1 oz. of Baker’s Chocolate instead of powder.  The cocoa powder and Baker’s chocolate are both unsweetened.   Both the “real” recipes had the same about of milk and sugar added. The Hersey’s recipe calls for boiling the powder with sugar and a bit of water for a couple minutes before adding the milk.  Melting the chocolate square was a more challenging.  We put one chopped-up square into hot milk and stirred  for a looooooong time.  You should never boil the milk.  I got distracted by the usual children’s mayhem and boiled the milk.  Start over.

Finally it was time for the face off.

Mix It Up!

The powder-based drinks looked good.  The square-based one looked a bit gritty.  There were many atomic bits of chocolate that would not melt.  We could just not make it homogenous with any amount of stirring.  We lined up three times seven cups (this family is just too big) and poured in a precisely equal amount of each drink.  So what did we think?

There were three adults, three teenagers and one 2 year old but the verdict was unanimous.  The Baker’s chocolate was too intense.  The Hersey’s powder drink had a slighly gritty feeling (though it looked smooth) and the instant was just right!  That’s right, the mix with a zillion cryptic ingredients and powdered milk was the big favorite.

I kind of expected the teenagers to drift back to the XBox before this experiment was over but Austin really got into the spirit of it.  While I was being Mr. Science he went back into the pantry and found some Hershey’s Semi-Sweet Morsels.  He melted them on the stove and added milk.  No recipe, just a handful of chips and some milk.  His concoction had the same problem with homogenizing the milk and the chocolate but his brothers declared his version the best “scratch” recipe by far.  Sadly, since no notes were taken this recipe has been lost forever.

How could the cheapo instant stuff be the favorite?  I have a theory.  Let’s dismiss right away the idea that the chef’s prep skills were not up to snuff.  It may be that we like what we are used to and when offered cake we still prefer stale bread.  The instant stuff is all we’ve ever had.  When Starbucks offered samples of their hot cocoa I thought it was way too rich. I put the shot in my coffee instead of sugar.

My great aunt grew up during the depression….in Serbia.  The quality of protein in her diet, when she had it at all, was not USDA choice.  As long as I knew her, she thought pickled pigs’ knuckles were the biggest treat.  When she babysat us on Saturday nights in the 1960s we would have a “party.”  That meant my brother and I got popcorn, “Nani” got the got pig knuckles and we would sit in front of the TV watching “The Lawrence Welk Show.”  For the record, I do think pigs’ knuckles are revolting.  Wunnerful, wunnerful.