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Growing up, my sister and I considered hot cocoa to be the ultimate winter treat. After all, drinking your chocolate is the fastest way to ingest it. And it came with marshmallows!
Like every other family in the 80s, our cocoa always came in powder form from a white packet, but now that I've grown up a bit, I like to make my own from scratch, so the flavor is fuller and richer. And I like to add some booze.
There are plenty of options for spiking your hot chocolate, but I've fallen in love with adding amaro, the Italian after-dinner drink. The rich, bittersweet flavor profile of many amari are ideal for pairing with chocolate, amping up the natural complexity of the drink.
You'll start the drink with good unsweetened cocoa powder, such as Valrhona. This allows you to dial in just the right amount of sweetness. This is a drink, of course, but it's also a dessert, and we're always big proponents of adding a touch of salt to desserts in order to highlight and balance all the sweet flavors. It's not enough to make your cocoa overtly salty—just enough to enhance what's there.
Once your cocoa, sugar, and salt are mixed, you'll add the milk and your choice of chocolate and heat while stirring constantly until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is hot. Only then do you add a little vanilla and your liquor of choice.
If you really want to get fancy, you may want to adjust your choice of amaro based on what kind of chocolate you're melting for your drink. Offset the bracing, earthy edge of really dark chocolate, with a sweeter option like Gran Classico. Milk chocolate's sweetness needs some spice or a blast of menthol; try it with Fernet. Semisweet chocolate is the sweet spot in the center, with a nice balance of rich and earthy flavors that work well with almost any amaro on the shelf. My favorite: Averna, which isn't overpoweringly bitter or too sticky-sweet. It has a little herbal finish and a deep note of caramel, and it mingles with the chocolate flavors for a result that tastes deep and rich but not too boozy.
Factory-fresh marshmallows are fine, but homemade whipped cream is even better. Lacing your cream with Angostura bitters gives the drink a whiff of holiday baking spices.
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