Decadent Hot Chocolate Mix

I’d like to introduce you to my new favorite hot chocolate mix.

I’ve made hot chocolate or hot cocoa mix for the past several years as part of the gift boxes I like to send to friends and family. When I started, I would make hot cocoa mix that included powdered milk. Then I switched to this hot chocolate mix. The past two years, I’ve made Decadent Hot Chocolate mix from Smitten Kitchen.

Both this and my previous favorite are mixes that you combine with hot milk. I had problems with my previous recipe not fully blending into the milk at times. The last time or two I made it, I felt that it was a little too sweet at times (like drinking a candy bar, although I’d be remiss if I didn’t admit that’s nice from time to time). This recipe uses a little less mix per cup of hot chocolate, which helps remedy that.

This recipe is a dark hot chocolate mix, so if you prefer milk hot chocolate, I suggest you try using that instead of regular semisweet or dark chocolate bars or chips. You can experiment with adding less mix per cup of milk to make it less chocolatey (although I certainly won’t do that!). I generally use chocolate chips when I make hot chocolate mix, so I don’t have to chop up chocolate. I always make hot chocolate mix with a food processor, as it pulverizes the ingredients the most finely, which is important in ensuring the chocolate dissolves well in the hot milk. If you don’t have a food processor, you can try grating chocolate bars for this instead.

This chocolate mix is very giftable. One batch yields about 1 3/4 cups, or 9 servings, and is a great size gift for a couple or family. I’ve also heard that spoonfuls of this mix are an excellent addition to coffee, so be sure you give plenty to your friends and family.

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Pain de Campagne

I decided to kick off 2014 by baking bread. It was very, bitterly cold when we drove back to St. Louis last weekend. I could think of nothing more satisfying than to celebrate the mid-week holiday and beginning of a new year than by filling my house with warmth and the smells of beef stew and freshly baked bread. So, that’s exactly what I did.

[I was very excited to start off 2014 by cooking! I was also excited to write my first post of 2014 on January 1 proper. However, I didn’t back up everything that day, and this post has been missing for a few days since my friend Jen restored my site from a back-up copy. I’m sure that this back-dated version of it is better than the original.]

I realized how much I missed bread-baking when I made bread for Christmas dinner last week. While I thumbed through my favorite bread book (The Bread Baker’s Apprentice) this week, I realized there were several recipes that I hadn’t made, and a few that I hadn’t even realized I had (like another recipe for panettone). Why don’t I make bread all the time?

A good question. I checked with Alex to make sure he wasn’t going to do something crazy like a low-carb diet, and couldn’t think of a satisfactory reason not to. It will be a lot to eat, but in 2014, I will make 50 weeks of bread.

I figured I should come up with some ground rules for myself for this year. So:

1. I can remake recipes I’ve already written about. This is particularly true if I thought they didn’t turn out perfectly before.

2. If it has yeast, it counts. King Cake and Gooey Butter Cake, since they take yeast and are shaped and proofed, will count for me. Cinnamon rolls count too (although I will try to make other rolls instead!).

3. Bread doesn’t have to be baked. I look forward to cooking chapatis and grill pizza later this year.

4. Beer bread, banana bread, and the like will count. I don’t think I’ll make them often, but I’m sure I’ll need some variety.

5. Biscuits will count. However, I make things like scones and muffins all the time. Despite their similarities, I will not count them. Pancakes, although included in bread sections of cookbooks, also won’t count.

To ring in the New Year and for my first week of bread, I decided to make Peter Reinhart’s Pain de Campagne recipe. I wanted to make this recipe because it was a crusty bread (which I love). It included a little whole grain flour, and promised to be good for shaping, which seemed festive for New Year’s Day.

Pain de Campagne
Pain de Campagne

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Homemade Chocolate Marshmallows

I’ve made three batches of marshmallows this year – vanilla, chocolate, and chocolate swirl with chocolate chips. I have the ingredients to make a fourth batch, but… I’m stopping for now. How many marshmallows does a person need?

Making marshmallows is very easy. Otherwise, I wouldn’t do it! You have to spend time in the kitchen monitoring the stove and stand mixer, but honestly, I haven’t messed up a batch yet. I practically have the recipe memorized. The chocolate swirl are my favorite. The chocolate chips melt but don’t fully incorporate, so they have layers and bits of chocolate in them!

Chocolate Swirl Marshmallows
Chocolate Swirl Marshmallows
Homemade Marshmallows
Homemade Marshmallows

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Cranberry and Pistachio Biscotti

Every Christmas, I bake a lot so I can give it away as gifts. Things I’ve given away more than once have included hot chocolate mix (this year in a mint iteration), lots and lots of homemade marshmallows (this year, in chocolate and chocolate swirl as well as vanilla), fruitcake (and other fruitcakes), and panettone.

This year, one of the things I decided to make was biscotti. The recipe was for pistachio biscotti, but I decided to add orange zest and dried cranberries to make it more festive.

Cranberry Pistachio Biscotti
Cranberry Pistachio Biscotti

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Panettone Muffins

While I was looking for the panettone recipe that I used last year, I came across the recipe for Panettone Muffins. I was excited to find this recipe because it was everything I wanted for something that I would make to take to a holiday party. It was festive, easy-to-make, and a little unusual. I ended up making two batches of the recipe to ensure that I had some leftovers to bring home to write about.


Panettone Muffins
Panettone Muffins

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Alton Brown’s Fruitcake

Every Christmas for the past eight or so years, I make fruitcake to gift to some of my relatives. (They like it! I promise!) I myself am not a fan of fruitcake, but the past two or three years I’ve made a point of sampling what I make to see if I can make one that I like. What have I learned from my attempts?

Don’t use too raisins – I simply don’t like them
Only use relatively fresh dried fruit – this should be obvious, but it bears reminding (myself)
Don’t make the fruitcake too clovey – subtle spice is better
Don’t make the fruitcake too boozy – that is, as long as you want to actually eat it

This year I made my best fruitcake to date. Continuing on my Good Eats kick, I tried Alton Brown’s Fruitcake recipe. What makes this fruitcake special? It’s lightly spiced, for one – not too many cloves. I only used fruit I liked – sure, I used some raisins, but I also used cranberries, cherries, mixed berries, apricots, and candied ginger. It also includes some apple juice (or cider, as I used), and a not overwhelming amount of rum.

Also, I made mini loaves, great for snacking.

Oh no! Where’d my fruitcake go?

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Specaloos Buttons

This year I was particularly inspired by the cover of Bon Appetit magazine. I love to bake, but I don’t particularly enjoy decorating. I generally consider time spent trying to make baked goods pretty to be time I should spend making more baked goods. This year, however, I felt festive. I really wanted to try to reproduce the decorations on Specaloos Buttons!

Specaloos Buttons
Specaloos Buttons – success with decorating?

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My friends Jen and Mike love panettone. Thus when I found a panettone recipe last year, I knew I had to make it for them for Christmas this year.

I’ve seen Panettone described as a cake, but that isn’t accurate in my book. It’s sweet yeast-based bread, and if you view it as such, you’ll be much happier than if you expect cake. It contains a variety of fruit – much like fruitcake, you can add whatever fruit you’d like – and this version of panettone is lightly flavored with citrus. This enriched bread took 3 eggs, butter, some sugar, a fair amount of vanilla, and a little lemon extract.


This bread wasn’t particularly difficult to make, but it does take patience. You start by making a firm starter with yeast, which rises overnight; making a dough, which goes through 2 rises; incorporating fruit into the dough after the first rise; baking the bread, which doesn’t take too long; and waiting for it to cool so you can cut it. It was a most-day process. Since I was giving one batch away, I had to make second loaf for myself at the same time.

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Baked Potato and Bacon Soup

Winter has finally arrived in St. Louis. Yesterday we reached a balmy high of 56F, and Alex and I took our dog for a leisurely walk. Today, we’ve had a few inches of snow, and when I walked my dog, it was 17F and felt like -1.

I decided this winter weather made tonight perfect for soup. As always, I just happened to have some potatoes and bacon around, and thought that a hearty and thick bacon and potato soup was exactly what the change in weather demanded.

I’m a somewhat picky eater, and discounted all recipes involving any kind of cream cheese, shredded cheese, or sour cream in the broth. That essentially brought me to this Baked Potato and Bacon Soup recipe, which I’ve adapted below. I liked the simplicity of the ingredient list – potatoes, bacon, onion, garlic, milk, and chicken broth, with a few seasonings.

Baked Potato and Bacon Soup

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Monster Hot Chocolate Mix

I had planned to make this Hot Chocolate Mix to send with my gift packages. I made a small batch to test, but I didn’t have the time to package it and send it out as gifts. It’s delicious, so it’s on my agenda for next year.

If it’s unseasonably warm where you are like it is where I am (it reached 70 in St. Louis today!), you probably won’t be in the mood for hot chocolate. But once it cools down again, as it always does in January, you’ll want this hot chocolate.

Hot Chocolate Mix

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