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Cocoa boards hot trend this holiday season

You’re familiar with charcuterie or cheese boards, right? A ubiquitous holiday staple. Well, it’s time for brie and crackers to step aside because photos of beautiful hot chocolate “charcuterie” boards are blowing up Instagram and Facebook.

What I love about the idea is it takes something simple, a cup of hot cocoa, and makes it an event.

At home, a hot cocoa board is perfect to set out while trimming the tree or for your holiday movie marathon. If you’re having a gathering, a cocoa board could be the featured attraction for a clever and easy party. Or why not make a board to give as a gift? Talk about a gift that’s guaranteed to please!

These boards can be as simple or elaborate as you choose. While it’s easy to drop a serious chunk of change on upscale cookies and candies, these boards do not have to be expensive to be festive. You can pick up cocoa mix, a bag of marshmallows and a package of assorted cookies for less than $5. Then arrange a lovely board or divide it up to make a whole slew of thoughtful gift bags.

You can also just make a board with marshmallows and whipped cream. For reference, the board pictured cost about $14, but I made some cookies from scratch for a substantial savings.

The dollar store is a treasure trove for goodies to make these boards. You’ll find seasonal platters, mugs and plates, and even cocoa, marshmallows and other fun holiday treats to brighten up your board.

To assemble your abundant board, start with the largest items first, spaced evenly around the board. Odd numbers tend to look most harmonious. Be sure you have something to add height and visual interest, like candy canes. Next, arrange the medium-sized items, like cookies, looking for contrast in shape, color and texture. Avoid straight lines and go for curves instead. Lastly, fill in any empty space with small items like candies, leaving no bare board.

To add interest, add elements like ribbons, ornaments and mini lights. But do not include anything that’s not edible that might look edible to children (looking at you poinsettias and holly berries). That’s a recipe for disaster.

What to put on your board? Here are some ideas to get you started: marshmallows, whipped cream, chocolate chips, peppermint sticks and candies, caramels, peanut butter cups, chocolate truffles, any kind of cookies, meringues, gingerbread, brownies, sprinkles, candied ginger, candied orange zest, flavored syrups, extracts, ground cinnamon or cinnamon sticks, instant coffee or espresso powder. Be sure to add something salty to balance all that sugar; mixed nuts are perfect.

For the adults, feel free to spice things up with a dash of liquor. Irish cream, coffee liquor, coconut rum and, of course, peppermint schnapps all mingle happily with chocolate.

The easiest method to make the hot chocolate upon which this board relies, is to purchase cocoa mix at the store. But since the ingredient list of most cocoa mixes include hydrogenated oils, corn syrup solids and other unpronounceable ingredients, I’d like to offer an easy and very affordable alternative.

So, let’s warm up winter with everything you need to customize your next-level cup of cocoa. Is there a better way to share a cup of cheer? I think not.

EASY DIY HOT CHOCOLATE MIX

With such a small list of ingredients, quality matters. Purchase the best unsweetened cocoa powder you can comfortably afford.

Yield: Just shy of 3 cups of mix or approximately 24 servings of hot cocoa

What you’ll need:

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

1¾ cups granulated sugar

1 teaspoon table salt

Whole milk to serve

Here’s how:

Sift the cocoa powder (to remove any lumps), sugar and salt into a large bowl. Whisk all ingredients until fully combined. Store in an airtight container.

To serve: Warm one cup of your choice of milk, or non-dairy alternative, add 2 tablespoons hot cocoa mix and give it a good stir.

To make eight servings, add 1 cup mix to 8 cups hot milk.

To prepare a quantity of hot cocoa use your slow cooker to heat the liquid and hold the finished cocoa warm for hours. I prefer this method to the stove-top because the slow cooker on low is less likely to scorch your hot chocolate.

Lifestyle expert Patti Diamond is a recipe developer and food writer of the website “Divas On A Dime – Where Frugal, Meets Fabulous!” Visit Patti at www.divasonadime.com and join the conversation on Facebook at DivasOnADimeDotCom. Email Patti at divapatti@divasonadime.com.

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