Chocolate Bombs or Balls are a new twist on a traditional treat

Chocolate Bombs or Balls are a new twist on a traditional treat. Add these hollow chocolate balls to a cup of hot milk, and watch the marshmallows from inside the ball pop out as the chocolate melts, creating the perfect cup of hot chocolate. (Heather Burns photo)

The well seasoned New Englander has learned to equip themselves with several must-have items in order to survive the long win­ter ahead.

These must-have items in­clude appropriate winter gear for multiple outdoor activities. These activities may vary from skiing and sledding, to daily errands and chores, to the inevitable shoveling of snow.

Hence, the next item on our must-have list is a snow shovel. This includes snow brushes for your car, and de­pending upon where you live in the Boston area, a dur­able but expendable folding chair to mark your shoveled parking spot on the street.

Finally, anyone who plans on enduring a long New Eng­land winter must also have an abundant supply of hot chocolate on hand at all times.

A cup of cocoa warms the body and the soul after an afternoon of winter weather exposure. This warm, sweet treat has probably been a part of your wintertime ritual since you were a kid, however, you may not realize that this rich, chocolate drink is also rich in history.

Many historians credit the Olmec civilization in southern Mexico as being the first to grind roasted fruit from the native Cacao tree and mix it with water to create a drink.

This first chocolate drink dates back to 1700 BCE, but was nothing like the sweet chocolate drink of today.

The bitter chocolate brew of the Olmec was also en­joyed by the ancient May­ans and Aztecs, and was con­sumed lukewarm, not hot.

The cocoa drink of Mexico was high in calories, antioxidants and caffeine, and was believed to have restor­ative properties.

Aztec warriors would drink cacao before going into battle, and it was rumored that Montezuma II would consume as many as 50 cups of this drink a day.

Spanish explorers discover­ed the chocolate brew known as “xocoatl” while in Mexico, and eventually brought it home to Europe, adding cinnamon, sugar and other spices.

Cacao also brought its re­p­utation of being an aphrodisiac to Europe, causing it to be banned for a short time by 16th century Span­ish monks to prevent widespread philandering.

As popularity for this cho­colate drink spread through­out Europe, so did concern from the Roman Catholic Church. A large debate en­sued over whether or not this rich, troublesome drink should be consumed during a religious fasting, but in the end, Pope Gregory XIII declared that it was acceptable to consume drinkable chocolate during a fasting as it was a drink and not a food.

By the 17th century, “Cho­colate Houses” were all the rage in England. These types of establishments were a place where the wealthy could drink hot chocolate while discussing politics of the day, commence in a little friendly gambling, or partake in unscrupulous troublemaking with other wealthy chocolate drinkers.

Hot chocolate eventually made its way to America, and because of beliefs of its restorative qualities, hot cho­colate was given to woun­ded soldiers of the Revolutionary War by medics, and was part of the soldiers monthly ra­tions.

Thomas Jefferson was in­troduced to hot chocolate mixed with sugar and spi­ces in 1775. He was so taken with this new drink, he was convinced it would eventually replace coffee and tea.

Because of the high cost of chocolate, hot chocolate was considered a drink mainly for the wealthy until 1827, when a dutch chemist named Coenraad J. Van Houten in­vented the process to create cocoa powder. The creations of cocoa powder helped make the hot cocoa drink available to the masses at an affordable price.

In the United States, hot chocolate refers to any hot drink with a chocolate flavor, but in reality, hot cho­colate and hot cocoa are very different.

Hot cocoa is made from cocoa powder, which is cho­colate that has been pres­sed free from all of its rich fats. The cocoa powder is then mixed with hot milk or hot water.

Hot chocolate is made from real chocolate bars or bits that are melted in hot cream or whole milk, keeping all of its natural fats and richness.

Today, the hot chocolate business is a hot commodity, valued as a 4.4 billion dol­lar industry.

Pre-packaged hot cocoa mixes are readily available at most retailers, and come in a wide variety of flavors such as dark chocolate, milk chocolate, double chocolate, mint chocolate, and salted caramel chocolate. They can also be found in specialty flavors like Unicorn Rain­bow Glow, White Pepper­mint Chocolate or Red Velvet.

Fairly new to the hot cho­colate market is the Hot Chocolate Bomb or Ball. The “bomb” is a hollow ball of tempered chocolate often filled with mini marshmallows. Simply place the bomb in a mug, pour hot milk over it, melting the chocolate and revealing the marshmallows inside. Just stir and en­joy for a fun spin on a traditional favorite.

Nutritionally speaking, most packaged hot cocoa mixes, which contain pro­cessed cocoa, offer little or no nutritional value.

However, hot chocolate drinks made with real cho­colate are high in antioxidants, and when mixed with milk products, add the extra health benefits from calcium and vitamins of the milk.

Homemade hot chocolate is easy to make and can be a fun family activity on a cold winter’s day. All you need is four cups of whole milk, one-quarter cup of un­sweetened cocoa, one-quarter cup of sugar, one-half cup of semisweet chocolate bits, and one-quarter teaspoon of vanilla extract.

In a saucepan, heat milk until hot (do not boil). Add other ingredients and whisk until blended. For a frothy hot drink, mix with a hand blender on high, and serve immediately.

To make a richer treat, substitute two cups of the milk with two cups of half and half. You can also ex­periment with other flavors by switching the vanilla with peppermint extract, or try a shot of espresso.

Before the first major snowfall of the season is upon us, be sure to have your pantry stocked with everything you need for a piping hot cup of cocoa.

Whether you prefer to make it from scratch or simply tear open a package of Swiss Miss Instant Co­coa, the results are the same. A chocolaty treat that will warm you up inside, and melt away those winter blues. Well, at least until the next time you have to shovel the driveway.

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