Hot cocoa and hot chocolate are usually drunk on their own with decadent toppings, such as whipped cream and marshmallows. Yet, the hot beverage's ability to pair with other flavors is far greater than it is usually given credit for.
Though hot cocoa is typically associated as a sweet comforting drink for a cozy night cuddled up on the couch or by the fire, it really does work well with a variety of foods. Certain salty, sweet, and tangy foods are all great options for pairing with hot chocolate.
Pairing Hot Chocolate With Food
An important thing to keep in mind with any drink and food pairing is that the aim is to complement—not match—the foods being paired. While it's tempting to dig into a scrumptious chocolate bar alongside a hot chocolate, this is often too much chocolate for the palate to take and enjoy.
Instead, look for complementary and contrasting flavors. Chocolate is fantastic with lightly salted foods as well as those that are gently spiced. It's also a delight with a great variety of fruits, particularly the tangy ones like oranges and tart apples.
Here are some best ways to enjoy a bite with your next cup of hot cocoa. Use these recommendations as a starting point and an inspiration.
Salty foods act as a foil to hot chocolate's intense sweetness. Avoid greasy, salty snacks since they will clash with the richness of cocoa. Instead, try air-popped popcorn with salt, or consider adding chocolate-friendly spices into the beverage like chili powder, cayenne, cumin, and cinnamon. Nut butter on rice cakes or grainy bread (or spicy-sweet marble rye) is also a good choice. Salted soft and crunchy pretzels, spiced roasted almonds, roasted nuts, toasted pumpkin seeds, or tamari roasted chickpeas or almonds are excellent companions to the sweet chocolate.
Pairing the sweet beverage with a morsel of salty cheese on a crunchy seed cracker is also a tasty option. Try using dark chocolate for the beverage, as milk chocolate and cheese together can be overwhelming for the palate; go with Gouda, Cheddar, Brie, Fontina, Asiago, or Blue.
Sweet foods can be paired with hot chocolate in moderation. Generally, the best sweet food pairings for hot chocolate are sweets with a pronounced flavor, such as mint—anything with peppermint, such as mints, chocolates, candy canes, etc., are a great choice. Try angel food cake drizzled with caramel sauce, crème de menthe liqueur, or limoncello. Caramel candy, dulce de leche, or caramel and sea salt frozen yogurt is also a real treat. Tart, candied fruits, such as candied lemons with the peel make an interesting match; try tart cherries or dried cranberries, or mix dried fruit and roasted nuts to add some crunch.
And for a salty-and-sweet snack, try these potato chip cookies.
Tangy fruits play off of hot chocolate's sweetness while refreshing and cleansing the palate. Remember—the tangier the better. Any sour citrus fruit like oranges, lemons, tangerines, and even kumquat are great choices, as well as blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, and other semi-tart, semi-sweet berries. Granny Smith apples or other tart apple varieties, like Gravenstein and Jonathan, are a nice counterpoint to the rich chocolate, and even green grapes enjoyed fresh off the bunch or frozen create an exciting hot-cold contrast. Mangoes, cherries, pears, or tropical and less common fruits found at the market also pair well.
Try tangy goat's cheese on crusty bread or salted crackers, and sprinkle it with cayenne.
Coffee and chocolate are a natural pair, and many recipes for hot chocolate already incorporate coffee liqueurs or shots of espresso to enhance and complement the chocolate's richness. For a different approach, try a coffee caramel, coffee cookies, or some original coffee meringues.