Vegan Hot Cocao with Clementine

The best hot chocolate I've ever had was on a class trip to Madrid, Spain back in 2004. The trip was a whirl-wind experience, soaking up as much culture, and visiting as many sites as we could see in the 10 days we were there. One very found memory I have was the night one of our teachers took our group to a small little cafe, tucked in the winding streets of Madrid. Oh, how I wish I could remember that name of place; I'd be sure to go back if I visit Spain again.

Their specialty was churro con chocolaté. The warm chocolate drink was nothing of the thin, watery hot chocolate of my childhood; this was a thick, dark and bitter concoction, essentially a drinkable ganache you could dunk the churros in. It was amazing. It was likely what turned me into a dark chocolate lover. For me, the darker the better; I love the rich and complex flavor of bitter dark chocolate.

My Hot Cocao with Clementine recipe is an homage to the flavors of that Spanish treat. My version is much lighter; not the ganache-like consistency I had, but it does have that complex and bitter chocolate flavor which I brighten up with a squeeze of clementine. Perfect for vegans, or anyone trying to avoid dairy; it's topped up with a whipped coconut cream.

Today is Day 2 of my little snow-day vacation. Framingham, MA got HAMMERED by Winter Storm Juno. The news reported my hometown got 33.5" of snow between late Monday night and early Wednesday morning. This blizzard is sure to be one I tell our children about one day. I got lucky; my office has been shut down for the second day in a row. I'm happy I had the time to kick back yesterday, because today was dedicated to the clean up. My car was buried in snow, and the task of unearthing it made me miserable. Our house has a garage, but it is so full of tools and junk there is no room for my car, which means, of course, a ton of work for me.

It was grueling, annoying, and a workout; but I did it. I dug out my car, cleaned it off and it'll be ready to hit the road to work tomorrow morning. After being in the cold for so long my bones were aching for something warm. My 2nd favorite hot beverage, after coffee, is hot chocolate. When I was little, making a good hot chocolate was all about adding some Swiss Miss into warmed milk (instead of water) for a creamy and comforting treat. In the past couple of years, I've reduced the amount of dairy I consume. I first made the decision to drink more dairy-free milks, like almond milk, because I was looking for a way to cut calories, but I eventually realized, when I'd drink regular milk, the dairy free versions were much gentler on my stomach. It seemed to make a lot of sense, considering my parents switched me to soy formula as a baby, because I was quite colicey. Anyway, happy with my dairy-free milk, its proven to be a great base for hot chocolate.

Now, I must call attention to the fact this is hot "cocao" not hot "cocoa". Raw cacao powder is unadulterated and contains many more nutrients than traditional cocoa powder. Pure, unsweetened cocoa powder tastes very bitter and rich, which is why it is most often used in sweets and confections. For more differences check out One Green Plant's article. I wouldn't say cocoa powder is worse than cocao, but the raw cocao powder was going to give me the flavor profile I wanted.

To get my hot treat going I added 1 1/2 tbs of the cocao powder to the almond milk along with a tbs of honey and a dash of cinnamon. I use cinnamon all the time, I love the flavor and how it adds extra warmth to a dish. Cocao powder doesn't dissolve as easily as the powder from a hot chocolate mix, so you need to whisk the mixture as it warms over the stove top. The thing that takes this next level is clementine. Orange and dark chocolate have long been a classic combination (one I've usually hated). There was nothing worse, as a kid, to bit into a piece of chocolate to realize it was orange flavored. What I've come to realize, is that it wasn't so much the fruit mixed with the chocolate as much as it was the artificiality of the orange flavor... it always overpowered the chocolate in the candies I had. With orange being a classic flavor in churros, and a big box of clementines sitting on my counter tops, I sliced one in half and squeezed in the juice at the very end of my hot chocolate being ready. Come to think of it Grand Marnier would be fantastic in this, but I'm still committed to #DryJanuary.

The best part of any hot chocolate is, of course the whipped topping. I love whipped cream. Any excuse I have to make it, I will. Nothing impresses people more as when I take out a chilled bowl, my biggest whisk, and whip it up by hand. Great upper body workout. I've seen and heard great things about whipped coconut cream, and had to try it for myself. I can attest that it is every bit as satisfying as the "real" stuff.

To make the coconut whipped cream, you have to chill a can of full fat coconut milk in the fridge for at least an hour. This will ensure the cream separates from the liquid. After that, you prepare just as you would a standard whipped cream. Place the coconut cream in your stand mixer with a sweetener like coconut sugar or honey along with the vanilla extract. With the whisk attachment beat on high until it is whipped. Because coconut cream is more dense than dairy cream, it won't be as airy, but it will certainly be as creamy and delicious.

Before assembling, I blitzed my hot cocao mix in my blender with two or three pulses. With the whisking I did, it probably didn't need it but I wanted to ensure that all the ingredients were incorporated and the drink was frothy. Feel free to omit that step in interest of getting to drink it. Fill your favorite mug and top off with a heaping helping of whipped coconut cream and sprinkle on some extra cinnamon and clementine zest for good measure.

Ingredients

Hot Cocao

  • 1 cup of unsweetened almond milk (or another dairy-free substitute like light coconut milk, hemp or soy milk)
  • 1 1/2 tbs unsweetened cocao powder (not cocao powder)
  • 1 tbs honey (I'm aware that some vegans wouldn't consider honey vegan, so you can substitute that easily with agave nectar or maple syrup)
  • Juice of half clementine
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

Coconut Whip Cream

  • 1 16oz can of coconut milk, chilled (you must use the full fat version)
  • 1 tbs sweetener such as coconut sugar, agave or honey
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract

Instructions

Hot Cocao

  • Pour almond milk into sauce pan over medium heat.
  • Add cocao powder, honey (or other sweetener) and cinnamon.
  • Use a whisk to incorporate the cocao powder with almond milk. It will take some time, as it doesn't instantly dissolve.
  • You want to get the hot cocao up to approximately 112 degrees, carefully not to let come to a boil. You don't want to scald the almond milk.
  • Right before taking cocao off the heat, squeeze in the juice of half a clementine (you can add the juice of a whole clementine if you'd like, or just snack on it on the side).
  • (optional) Blitz mixture in a blender for a few seconds to get frothier and ensure all flavors are incorporated. You can also achieve this if you whisked the mixture on the stove.

Coconut Whipped Cream

  • Allow can of coconut milk to chill in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.
  • After opening, use a spoon to carefully scoop out the thick coconut cream off the top. Below this layer is a clear/slightly cloudy liquid you can reserve for other purposes (like a smoothie)
  • Add coconut cream to a stand mixture with whisk attachment and beat as you would with regular cream.
  • Add vanilla extract and coconut sugar (or some other sugar substitute).
  • Continue to mix on high until you get a whipped cream texture.

Notes

*I've made a lot of true whipped creams in my time and found the coconut cream, because it is more dense to begin with, does not become as light and airy as your standard, dairy based whipped cream.

That said, it had excellent flavor and the texture (while thicker) was the perfect touch to this hot chocolate.