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Family Central: Special-Occasion Hot Chocolate

It’s finally hot chocolate weather!

We’ve brought in a lot of gourmet and international chocolates and cocoas this season. So why pick just one? Next time you’ve got the family together, watching movies or wrapping gifts, set up a hot chocolate buffet, with one or more of the new favorites. Set out whipped cream, mini-marshmallows, peppermint sticks and graham crackers, and settle into a warm sugar high.

Baru:  Some of the best chocolate in the world comes from Belgium. This fun mix uses fine Belgian cocoa plus tiny chocolate shapes that melt into hot milk; serve it with a spoon so you can lap up any chocolate bits that don’t quite melt. For adults, try either the chocolate chai latte or the spicy chai latte, with nutmeg and cinnamon adding a more sophisticated taste.

Choc-o-lait hot chocolate sticks: Another Belgian import, these are solid blocks of meltable Belgian chocolate, on a thin wooden stick. Lower the chocolate into warm milk and swirl it around, and you get a rich, sweet cup of chocolate. There are several flavors, but my favorite is hazelnut – it tastes like liquid Nutella.

Abuelita: A tradition in Mexico, this chocolate drink is a simple mix of chocolate, sugar and fragrant cinnamon. It comes in powder packets, but I prefer the solid disks, which melt in hot milk.

Land O Lakes Cocoa Classics:  For the family who can’t agree on a flavor. These come in individual packets, so you can mix and match among more than half-a-dozen flavors. We like the caramel, mint and raspberry varieties. Unlike the others here, this can be made with hot water.

King’s Cupboard: Chocolate chunks and cocoa combine for an intense, chocolate-y flavor. This line also wins for most unusual flavor – its Three Chilies variety is spiced up with jalapeno, cayenne and chipotle, delivering an underlying heat with the cocoa flavor.