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Eric Akis: Get cosy with a hot chocolate and a holiday movie

These candy cane and maple-cinnamon hot cocoas are rich and chocolaty and perfect for the season.
Two chocolaty drink to warm your spirits. Hot cocoa with maple and cinnamon (left), and double hot chocolate with candy cane sprinkles. ERIC AKIS

I must confess that I’m, as countless other folks I know are, a fan of Hallmark’s romantic movies. And this never ending COVID-19 pandemic has made that even more so. When turning off the news and watching one of those films guaranteed to have a happy ending, I feel better, no matter how corny some of them can be.

If you’ve watched any of the recent — and numerous — Hallmark Christmas/holiday-themed movies, you’ll know comforting beverages enjoyed in some of them are hot chocolate and hot cocoa.

Hot chocolate, of course, is flavoured with melted chocolate, whereas hot cocoa is made with unsweetened cocoa powder. Either would be a fine drink to enjoy while cosied up on the couch watching one of those movies. Others must agree with me, because you can now buy — and people definitely are buying — shirts, sweaters, mugs and other items with words such as “Just want to drink hot chocolate, watch Christmas Hallmark movies” printed on them.

If you’ve not made your own hot chocolate or hot cocoa before, or have not done so for a while, here are two recipes to try. They are both rich and chocolaty and perfect for the season. Merry sipping and happy holiday-movie watching!

Double Hot Chocolate with Candy Cane Sprinkles

This is called double hot chocolate because both chopped chocolate and cocoa powder are used. It’s very chocolaty and rich and becomes even more so when mugs of it are topped with whipped cream and a sprinkle of crushed candy canes.

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: About five minutes

Makes: four mugs of hot chocolate

4 cups homo milk

1 cup half and half (10 per cent) cream

2 Tbsp + 2 tsp brown sugar, or to taste

1 Tbsp cocoa powder (I used Fry’s brand)

1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

• pinch fine sea salt

6 oz. (170 grams) dark Belgian chocolate, chopped (about 1 cup; see Note 1)

• whipped cream, to taste

2 Tbsp + 2 tsp coarsely crushed candy canes, or to taste (see Note 2)

Place milk, half-and-half cream, sugar, cocoa, vanilla and salt in a medium pot and set over medium heat. Bring mixture to just below a simmer. Add chopped chocolate and stir until it’s melted and well incorporated. Divide hot chocolate between four heated mugs. Pipe or dollop some whipped cream on each mug of hot chocolate, sprinkle with crushed candy canes, and serve.

Note 1: Dark Belgian chocolate, such as Callebaut brand, is sold in blocks in the baking department of some supermarkets. Chocolate labelled couverture will also work here. If you can’t find them, replace with another type of dark chocolate, such as Baker’s brand premium dark chocolate, sold in the baking product aisle of many supermarkets.

Note 2: To make crushed candy canes, set a large candy cane, or a few small ones, on a work surface. Cover with a double thickness of plastic wrap, and then use a kitchen hammer to hit and coarsely crush the candy.

Eric options: If candy canes are not your thing, replace it with shaved bits of dark chocolate, and sprinkle that on the whipped cream.

Hot Cocoa with Maple and Cinnamon

Rich and appealing hot cocoa flavoured with cinnamon and sweetened with maple syrup. The small amount of cornstarch added slightly thickens the hot cocoa, enhancing its mouthfeel. Recipe could be doubled or further expanded.

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: About five minutes

Makes: two mugs of cocoa

2 1/2 cups homo milk (divided)

3 Tbsp cocoa powder (I used Fry’s brand)

2 Tbsp maple syrup, or to taste

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp cornstarch

• pinch fine sea salt

• regular sized or mini marshmallows, to taste

2 cinnamon sticks (optional)

Place 1/2 cup of the milk in a small pot. Add the cocoa, syrup, cinnamon, cornstarch and salt and whisk until smooth. Now whisk in the rest of the milk. Set pot over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until the cocoa comes to a simmer. Pour into two heated mugs, top cocoa with marshmallows, garnish each drink with a cinnamon stick, if using, and serve.

Eric’s options: For even richer cocoa, substitute 1/2 cup of the milk with 1/2 cup half and half cream. For chili-spiced cocoa, add a pinch of ground cayenne pepper to the pot along with cinnamon. For plain cocoa, omit the cinnamon. For a dairy-free cocoa, replace milk with oat beverage or soy beverage.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.