The Thickest Hot Cocoa

BY Ari LeVaux TIMEJanuary 2, 2022 PRINT

I’ve perfected hot cocoa. I’ve created the cup that I always wanted, but nobody else could give me.

All of my life, the cocoa has been too thin and runny—too much like liquid, and I didn’t want liquid. I wanted a dense chocolate cloud in which to lose my sense of direction. To my great joy and greater girth, I finally solved the mystery of how to manifest this vision into reality. My cocoa is as thick as seafoam, yet flows enough to drink, each swallow like a warm hug from inside.

The body of this drinkable soufflé comes from whole eggs. I start by following the example of the Viennese, who famously add egg yolk to their cocoa to create a decadently smooth, glossy brown emulsion. But unlike the Austrians, I don’t neglect the whites. Rather, I beat them stiff, then whisk the stiff whites into my cocoa.

Unlike whipped cream and other culinary foams, stiff whites won’t dissolve in heat. Their enduring density comes from the egg white proteins, aligned by the action of the whisk into fiber-like structures that persist in the chocolatey brew. The egg whites make the cocoa so thick and so puffy that it’s like drinking a chocolate cloud.

This high-protein cocoa will protect you from any cold snap. On New Year’s Eve, doctor it with Kahlúa. The following morning—New Year’s Day—spoon some of this extra-thick chocolate foam on a cup of coffee, where it will float like professionally steamed milk. Without mixing with the coffee, the cocoa will still manage to hitch a ride in each sip. As a pair of stimulants, coffee and chocolate act greater than the sum of their parts, because the theobromine in chocolate and caffeine in coffee are mutually enhancing.

Enjoy as you stare piercingly into the blank canvas that is the year to come. When hot cocoa can be simultaneously so thick and so silky, anything is possible. So be firm with your principles, flexible with your expectations, and perfect with your hot cocoa and 2022 will be your marshmallow.

Perfect Hot Cocoa

Here is my recipe for the thickest, fluffiest, and most satisfying hot cocoa on the planet. It’s your shield against the cold, dark days to come.

Serves 3 to 4

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 3 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • Pinch nutmeg (optional)
  • 2 eggs

On low heat, melt the butter. Add the chocolate chips and vanilla and mix together without letting anything stick or burn.

Add the cocoa powder and sugar and stir it in, quickly followed by about half of the milk to dissolve any lumps. When it’s smooth, add the remaining milk, cream, and nutmeg. Slowly bring the cocoa to a simmer, whisking constantly.

Separate the eggs, putting the yolks and whites into separate mixing bowls. As the cocoa heats, gently add a teaspoon of cocoa to the yolks, stirring vigorously. Do this again and again until the temperature rises. This tempers the yolks, making them heat resistant, so we don’t end up with scrambled eggs in our cocoa. Add the hot, tempered yolks to the pot of hot cocoa. Stir it in well. Turn off the heat.

While the cocoa cools, use a whisk to beat the egg whites stiff.

If you aren’t immunocompromised or otherwise wary of undercooked eggs, you can scoop some of those stiff whites into a cup and pour the cocoa over them, stirring in as much or little as you wish. The bland flavor of the egg whites makes for a fun contrast with the cocoa, and you can eat it with a spoon. Alternatively, let the cocoa cool to room temperature. Fold in the whites and gently reheat, whisking in the whites until perfectly smooth and as thick as wet cement. You’ll be able to sip most of it, but you’ll still need a spoon to finish the job.

To float some of this foam on coffee, spoon some into a cup and pour the coffee into it. Then drink your coffee through the cocoa, as you would sip your brew with any nutritious breakfast.

Ari LeVaux
Ari LeVaux writes about food in Missoula, Mont.
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