Winter Warmer Cocoa (Season of Self-Care: 4)

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Apparently, this week is all about warming from the inside. We’ve been blessed with some pretty mild weather this late autumn, but the bite of morning and evening have a bit of an edge, anyway, and call for toasty beverages to keep my inclination to hide under a pile of blankets for the next six months at bay.

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My favorite comfort foods are full of dairy, and my hot drink of choice is no exception. I drink bottomless cups of tea, all year long, but when I really need a snuggle-for-one, there’s cocoa in my mug.

I prefer simplicity in so many aspects of life and food preparation, but it’s a rare moment when I leave cocoa in its most basic state. I’ve been known to throw winter squash into the mix, infuse the milk with chai spices, add a splash of coffee and vanilla, or use coconut milk in the base.

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The current obsession, perhaps predictably, is peppermint. The flavor is fresh and stimulating, and makes me nostalgic for pretty much every holiday season ever. I use peppermint extract, or one drop of essential oil (be sure to use a pure, therapeutic grade oil).

Here’s a recipe for my basic cocoa with peppermint:

12 oz. milk, or milk alternative
1 scant tablespoon raw cacao powder
1 1/2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 rounded teaspoon butter
pinch of salt
1/8 – 1/4 tsp peppermint extract or 1 drop peppermint essential oil (again, go for highest quality when using essential oils internally).

Heat the milk in a saucepan until the surface begins to bubble. Remove from heat and whisk in the remaining ingredients.

Makes 2 6-oz servings or 1 travel mug.

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I find the addition of butter acts as an emulsifier, providing extracts or oils some fat to cling to, and reduces settling of the cocoa powder.

You can replace the peppermint with other extracts, like almond or orange. Add two tablespoons of fresh pumpkin, a shot of espresso, or add spices to the milk while you’re heating it up. What is your favorite cocoa pairing?