Mexican Hot Chocolate for that February Holiday

In the days following this past Christmas, the spam emails that regularly flood my inbox emerged like virtual heart-shaped confetti bombs in rosy reds and shades of pink. A loopy script font informed me that is was almost Valentine’s Day. Wonderful.

I guess you could say that it’s not exactly my thing. In a world filled with those that swoon over Jane Austen romance, I’m the outcast in the corner reaching for the existential crises of Kafka. Though I may not be much of a romantic, it’s not at all that I’m against love itself or the act of showing it. Far from it, in fact! It’s more so the hyper-idyllic representations of what we “should” be doing to show our love, especially on this one specific day, that get on my nerves a bit. My aversion to roses doesn’t help either, I’m afraid.

My Valentine’s Day angst used to come from always being the one without a valentine, though I’m sure many of us been there. But when I finally had that stereotypical Valentine’s Day experience, it was one of those things where a lot of hype and build-up to this romantic holiday led to an underwhelming resolve. I couldn’t help but feeling like I was tricked into doing the same loving things I would normally do in a relationship but spending a lot more money in the process.

As a way to maybe appease the changed but still somewhat harsh attitude I have towards this Hallmark holiday, I now unofficially treat February 14th as Eat-all-the-chocolate-you-possibly-can-in-one-sitting Day instead. Trust me, it makes that invasive scent of roses in the air much more digestible.

This year, I celebrate my version of Valentine’s Day with this cinnamon and cayenne spiced Mexican hot chocolate with vanilla whipped cream. It’s intensely rich and chocolately and almond extract adds those cherry notes that complement the sweet warmth of the cinnamon so well. It’s the kind of hot chocolate meant to be savored and the mug meant to be clutched to the heart with both hands so that the tantalizing scents of the spices dance their way to the nose as frequently as possible.

While I see this drink as the next best thing to a chocolate IV hooked up to my veins, most of you are probably hoping that it will help to defrost my icy frozen heart as well. Any maybe you’re right and later today I’ll be visited by the ghosts of Valentine’s past, present, and future, but for now I’ll happily ride this chocolate high through to the end of the day. Happy V-day errbody.

Mexican Hot Chocolate
Serves 4-6
Adapted slightly from Bon Appetit

3 cups whole milk
3 cinnamon sticks broken into pieces
6 oz. semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped
2 Tbs. granulated sugar
½ tsp. almond extract
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
pinch of salt
1 cup whipping cream
½ tsp. vanilla extract

Combine the milk and the cinnamon stick pieces in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Allow to simmer for about 10 minutes, whisking occasionally. Whisk in the chocolate, sugar, almond extract, cayenne, and salt. Allow to simmer for about 5 more minutes, stirring often, until creamy and heated through. Whip the cream until it forms stiff peaks and stir in the vanilla. Pour the hot chocolate into mugs and serve with the whipped cream.