Hot chocolate

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Alice Castle is a novelist, journalist and blogger whose chicklit book, Hot Chocolate, has just come out on Kindle. In it, her heroine goes on a hilarious voyage of discovery, about love, work, herself - and hot chocolate.

You may be surprised to hear this, but there is one thing closer to my heart than chocolate. It's hot chocolate.

That's not cheating, because they couldn't be more different. Chocolate is delicious, yes, and a treat, yes. But hot chocolate is a cuddle from your mother in a cup, it's a scraped knee being kissed better, it's a warm smile from a friend. Hot chocolate is so much more chicken-soup-for-the-soul than chicken soup itself (yuck!) could ever be. And what's more, in this weather, we need hot chocolate. It's as simple as that.

Luckily for you, when I was writing my novel, Hot Chocolate, I was forced to do extensive research on the subject. So here, for your delectation, are the finest hot chocolate recipes, to warm you up from toes to nose.

1. One of the most important things you want from a really top hot choc is a silky-smooth quality to the drink. That can be achieved by giving the milk a good shake after you've heated it. You will need a thermos flask, jug or cup with a tight-fitting lid. Take a mug, put in three to four spoonfuls of good-quality hot chocolate powder, then add a small amount of milk, to mix. Heat the rest of the milk in a pan, then, just before it boils, transfer it to your lidded container and screw the top on tight. Ideally the container should be only about half full. Give it a really good shake over the sink, then add the newly silky, slightly frothy milk to your mug, stirring as you go. Voila, delicious!

2. Cinnamon hot chocolate is one of my favourite variations on the theme. To make a spicy, comforting but not overpowering brew, add a half-teaspoon of cinnamon to the hot chocolate powder. But this time, really heap up those spoons of chocolate powder. Then mix with milk as before. This is sinfully indulgent if topped off by a thick swirl of squirty cream and served with a cinnamon stick on the side as a stirrer.

3. For all those watching their weight this month, don't despair - hot chocolate can still be as yummily satisfying, even if it's a low-cal recipe. This time, use skimmed or semi-skimmed milk and, while it is heating, grate some plain chocolate over the pan - be generous or mean depending on your current waist measurement! Plain chocolate is lower in calories and sugar than the milk version, so you can still be virtuous while slurping away. Stir the chocolate into the milk well and serve with another grating of chocolate on top. Yum.

4. In the book, my heroine is very taken with a new way of making hot chocolate - by dunking a lolly of solid chocolate in hot milk. You can make your own by ordering some lolly sticks online, then melting 200g of good quality chocolate (I use half and half of Tesco Finest Swiss 85% plain and Tesco Finest Fair Trade Organic 39% milk) with 25g butter. You can melt the chocolate and butter either by stirring them in a bowl over a saucepan of boiling water, or by microwaving them in short bursts - I do 40 seconds at a time - as the mixture can burn. Then pour the molten chocolate into a square or oblong container lined with clingfilm - one of those clear plastic microwaveable tubs is ideal. Pop in lolly sticks at regular intervals and refrigerate. Don't worry if the sticks end up at funny angles, it won't matter at all when you're using them later. The small amount of butter in the mix stops the chocolate from setting rock hard and means it is easier to cut into squares with a sharp knife when it's solid. Then peel off the cling film from the squares and you are ready to heat your milk, dip in your stick and enjoy chocolate heaven.

5. Left with a whole load of orange and strawberry cream chocolates after Christmas? Make a hot chocolate in the usual way, and drop a choc in for flavour. Remember to stir well. Recyling can be fun.

6. Don't forget, you can also have fun adding marshmallows, a tiny dash of coffee, a little orange pith or a grating of nutmeg to your hot chocolate. Just don't try them all at once ....

Alice blogs at DD's Diary, www.dulwichdivorcee.com or follow her on @DDsDiary on Twitter

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