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.
Does that surprise you? Though hot cocoa is typically associated with a cozy night cuddled up on the couch or by the fire, it really does work well with a variety of foods. Granted, cocoa doesn't go with everything, but certain salty, sweet, and tangy foods are all great options for pairing with hot chocolate.
How to Pair 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.
Instead, look for complementary and contrasting flavors. Chocolate is fantastic with lightly salted foods as well as those that are slightly spiced. It's also a delight with a great variety of fruits, particularly the tangy ones like oranges and tart apples.
Let's look at some of the best ways to enjoy a bite the next time a warm cup of cocoa is being savored. 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 like chili powder, cayenne, cumin, and cinnamon. Peanut butter on rice cakes or grainy bread (or a spicy-sweet marble rye) is also a good choice.
Salted soft pretzels that are fresh from the oven or delicately warmed not only taste great with hot chocolate but will evoke images of winter festivals or outdoor ice skating. Adding spiced, roasted almonds or your favorite roasted nuts to the mix is even better. And next time there's a carving for pumpkins, don't reach for the hot cider—toasted pumpkin seeds are a great match for hot chocolate.
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. Maybe, try angel food cake drizzled with caramel sauce or crème de menthe liqueur. Caramel candy or dulce de leche frozen yogurt is also a real treat, and tart, candied fruits, such as candied lemons with the peel make an interesting match.
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 a great choice, 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. Even mangoes and other tropical or exotic fruits found at the market pair well. Be adventurous—there will be some wonderful surprises!