There is nothing better in the winter than cozying up to a fire and making hot cocoa.  If you are like most, you simply take out one of those powder packets with marshmallows and dump it into hot water or milk.  Whether you are having a winter party with friends or just a party for one on the couch, you can move beyond powdered cocoa mix and make your own hot chocolate bar.  You will taste the difference in just a few ingredients.  Alex Guarnaschelli, chef of Butter restaurant and cookbook author, recommends adding a little kick to your hot chocolate by the addition of rum.  However, you can easily remove the rum from the recipe and enjoy a kid-friendly beverage.  To make the chocolate for the drink, bring ½ cup of cream, 2 tablespoons of sugar, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon and 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter to a rolling boil. Remove from the heat, add 4 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate and stir until the chocolate melts. Add 2 teaspoons of rum and stir in a dash of orange zest before serving. The rich chocolate flavor, combined with the hint of cinnamon gives the perfect combination of sweetness in each sip.

Now that you have your hot chocolate made, you’ll need some extras to go with it.  Of course, there is the go-to item – marshmallows, which are a necessity for any hot cocoa bar.  However, there are also other additions that allow your guests, and yourself, to spice up their drinks and try something different.  A peppermint stick is a great addition to a cup of hot cocoa because of the subtle minty flavor it adds.  If you want to add another alcoholic element, consider peppermint schnapps for that same effect with an extra kick.  Whipped cream and shaved chocolate make an over-the-top statement on a cup of cocoa and the melting of the cream into the drink adds an additional smoothness to the taste.  Ice cream also can turn a typical cup of cocoa into a frosty delight, especially if you choose a flavor like strawberry or mint.  Other additions to your drink can be malt balls, candy canes, white chocolate chips, coffee, and even caramel marshmallows.  So cuddle up on the couch or get together with some friends and try making yourself a hot chocolate bar this winter,  you’ll be surprised at how much better it can taste with just a few easy ingredients.

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