Published February 1, 2009. From Cook's Country.
The best cocoa mixes feature a double dose of chocolate.
We wish that everybody had time to make homemade hot cocoa. It’s easy enough to stir together cocoa, sugar, hot milk, and maybe a splash of vanilla and a pinch of salt. But we admit that instant mixes are unbeatably convenient. To find out which are best, we rounded up leading supermarket brands as well as mixes from a few upscale chocolatiers.
Following the instructions on the package, we used water to make the cocoas from most brands. Two of our contenders can be reconstituted with either hot water or milk; we preferred them with 2 percent milk, which we then used to make the mixes that called for milk. Across the board, tasters valued creaminess, which can come from either the added milk or from dry milk in the mix (all mixes that can be reconstituted with water contain some form of dried milk). In the end, however, what separated winners from losers was big chocolate flavor.
One cocoa mix won in a landslide. The mix includes both Dutch-processed cocoa powder and bittersweet chocolate. Our runner-up also has two sources of chocolate: cocoa powder and unsweetened chocolate. A milder, milkier cocoa captured third place. Tasters rated this kid-friendly cocoa the creamiest of the lot, thanks not only to the “dairy product solids” on the ingredient list, but also to hydrogenated oils and stabilizers like guar gum. The last on our list of recommended brands has notes of coffee and cinnamon, and is aimed squarely at grown-up palates.
What was wrong with the others? The losing mixes were all reconstituted with hot water, and they tasted watery. One cocoa was disgustingly sweet—on the ingredient list, sugar, corn syrup, and modified whey all precede cocoa powder.