A cup of cocoa thaws your hands, steams your face and generally starts warming you back to life before your first sip. That’s assuming you’re cold to begin with, which in Montana is often the case. Beyond the cocoa’s heat, there’s the emotional comfort, and a measure of whoop-ass thanks to the chocolate’s sugar and caffeine. Is it any wonder hot cocoa is so popular come wintertime?
There are many degrees of winter engagement in Montana, and all of them have a place for cocoa. Even if you’re indoorsy, your only exposure to the elements arriving in dashes between car and house, you still feel the cold oppression of the season. You still deserve some cocoa. (Though you might want to ask yourself WTF you’re doing in Montana.)
If you’re the kind of person who would rather build an igloo than pack a tent, who doesn’t feel really alive unless your breath is thick as smoke and your cheeks are glowing like embers, then you have truly earned your cocoa.
Me? I’m a member of the populous cabin class of winterers. I like a cozy stove as much as the next guy, but I also like to break cabin fever with the occasional romp afield. After skiing, or pond hockey, or just a brisk walk through town, I’m ready for my cocoa.
One advantage of wintering cabin class is that you’re well positioned to make a proper cup of cocoa, a process as sacred in some circles as a Japanese tea ceremony.
One such devotee is Jason Willenbrock of Missoula’s Posh Chocolate, which he owns with his wife Ana. While they sell a house cocoa mix, Willenbrock was kind enough to tell me how to whip it up myself.
To make his mix, you’ll need a 3.5-ounce chocolate bar (Willenbrock recommends 65 percent cocoa), corn starch (for thickening), chocolate powder, sugar, powdered milk and liquid milk (soy or almond milk works as well). He wasn’t specific with the proportions, so I experimented to arrive at a mix I like. It’s a bit unsweet, but since everyone’s taste is different, it’s safer to start here. You can add more sugar if you want—it’s much easier to add sugar than to remove it.
Grind the chocolate bar in a coffee grinder, a quarter of the bar at a time, or otherwise crush the chocolate. Mix the chocolate with 4 tablespoons cocoa powder, 1 teaspoon corn starch, 2 tablespoons powdered milk (or powdered soy) and 2 tablespoons sugar.
Add 4 tablespoons of your mix to a mug. Bring a pot of milk just to boiling, stirring frequently. Pour two cups of the hot milk into the mug of mix and let it sit for 30 seconds before stirring. Don’t over-stir.
According to Willenbrock, “It should stay somewhat chunky, just to let you know you’re getting a treat. That texture gives it more of an organic rusticity that you won’t find in a cup of mass-produced cocoa.”
Such chunky rusticity is the perfect complement to the cozy cabin many of us envision spending winter in. Winter accommodations built from plywood rather than logs might dial down the romance a notch, but it won’t affect the flavor in your mug. And if you mix your cocoa with coffee—which I highly recommend—just make sure those cabin walls are solid. You’ll soon be bouncing off them, happy to let a sweeter, more stimulating strain of cabin fever run its course.