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With most of Berkshire County and Southern Vermont currently buried under almost 2 feet of snow, and a certain jolly ol' elf due to visit homes Thursday night, it seems right to be thinking of warming up with a mug of hot cocoa right about now.

Lisa Cervone, co-owner, and Heather Boino, manager of Ayelada on East Street in Pittsfield, took time out of their busy holiday schedules to talk about homemade hot cocoa, which Ayelada has been offering since it opened eight years ago.

"It was something warm and hot to serve along with the yogurt," Cervone said. "It went with our homemade theme."

Ayelada recently began featuring a hot cocoa of the week.

"A lot them are like our yogurt flavors," Cervone said. "We adapted the recipes for the cocoa, but they are the same ingredients as in the yogurt."

Among the flavors offered are peppermint, peanut butter, a vegan hot cocoa, raspberry, salted caramel, white chocolate and gingerbread. Also being offered is Unicorn hot cocoa — a white hot cocoa tinted with a natural pink dye and topped with frosting, mini marshmallows, unicorn sprinkles and homemade whipped cream. The shop also offers a vegan whipped cream, as a substitute for the homemade whipped cream served on every cup of cocoa.

Boino said the hot cocoas have been popular with Ayelada's customers. "The vegan hot cocoa has been way more popular than we thought it would be. Peppermint is another popular flavor."

In order to make a perfect cup of hot cocoa, Cervone advised adding a pinch of salt, saying, "it makes a big difference. Also use half-and-half to make the cocoa really creamy."

She added using a good chocolate is also important. "We use 22-to 24-percent chocolate and for the darker hot cocoas, we sometime use 52-percent or 60-plus percent."

Cervone and Boino shared some of Ayelada's recipes for hot cocoa, just in time to make some to leave for Santa on Christmas Eve.

HOT CHOCOLATE

Ingredients:

64 ounces whole milk (1/2 gallon)

1 cup heavy cream

1 cup half-and-half

8 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon salt

24 ounces dark chocolate chips

2 teaspoons vanilla

1 teaspoon peppermint extract, optional (if making peppermint hot chocolate)

Directions:

In metal pot, whisk together milk, heavy cream, sugar, vanilla, peppermint extract and salt. Heat on medium-low until bubbles start to form around the side of the pot.

Reduce heat to low, add chocolate and whisk until melted, glossy and thickened slightly. Serve immediately. 


VEGAN HOT CHOCOLATE

Ingredients:

5 cups almond milk

3 cups coconut milk (homemade is best!)

2 tablespoons sugar

28 ounces dark chocolate chips

2 teaspoons vanilla

Directions:

In metal pot, whisk together milks, sugar and vanilla. Heat on medium-low until bubbles start to form around the side of the pot.

Reduce heat to low, add chocolate and whisk until melted, glossy, and thickened slightly.


UNICORN HOT CHOCOLATE

Ingredients:

4 cups whole milk

4 cups half-and-half

2 1/2 cups white chocolate chips

2 teaspoons vanilla

All natural pink food coloring to your liking

Whipped cream to taste

Unicorn sprinkles for garnish

Directions:

In metal pot, whisk together milk, half-and-half, white chocolate chips and vanilla. Heat on medium-low until bubbles start to form around the side of the pot.

Whisk in food coloring until you get your desired color.

Divide into mugs and top with homemade whipped cream and unicorn sprinkles.

Margaret Button can be reached at mbutton@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6298. 


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