Ok, ok. I hear what you’re thinking. “Date…salted caramel…almond milk…hot cocoa… Hey wait a sec, what are you tryina pull here?” That’s right…it’s “healthy” hot cocoa.
I really don’t like applying the word “healthy” to food. People are healthy. Food helps us be that way…along with exercise, sleep, genetics, environment and a bunch of other factors. One order of “unhealthy” fries doesn’t make you unhealthy, the same way one “healthy” kale salad isn’t going to turn you into a marathoning god(dess). We are what we repeatedly do, right? Not just that one time.
Anyway, I don’t really know what to call this. Technically, the recipe as-written is vegan…but I’ve also made it with regular milk. Maybe it’s “light”? For homemade cocoa, yes, it is lower in calories than many versions, but maybe not by commercial standards.
You know what this recipe is, though? It’s delicious. It’s creamy. It’s warm. It’s satisfying. It’s sweet but balanced. And it’s just a little bit better for you. Maybe it’s only a small trade-off, but if it helps me be just a little healthier, I’m on board.
Now, on to the good stuff. If you’ve never used dates before, you can read my New Food Friday post about them here. In this recipe, they’re playing the part of the sweetener. Dates have a deep, rich sweetness that’s caramel-like, especially with a little nudge from a bit of salt. In addition to fiber, potassium, iron and their other advantages over white sugar, I like the depth of flavor that dates add to this hot cocoa.
There are a couple of tricks to this recipe:
- Blend the dates, salt and milk first WITHOUT the cocoa. This makes it much easier to tell when your dates have been fully pulverized because you can actually see the little blobs becoming smaller and smaller as you blend. Add the cocoa only after the dates have been reduced to teeny, tiny little specks and the milk looks a shade or two darker. If you don’t have a super high-powered blender, you may want to blend the dates using only half the milk at first to help make this process go faster.
- You absolutely must heat it in the microwave. A saucepan on the stove will make it hot, yes, but it’s just not the same. Something truly magical that I do not understand at all happens when you heat this in the microwave. The date specks soften and sweeten, the mixture thickens, and the glorious blender-generated foam intensifies and rises to the top. I don’t know why this happens, just that it does, and it’s borderline miraculous.
- Finally, DO NOT LEAVE THE MICROWAVE. Do not check your email. Do not turn your back and start washing dishes. Do not pass Go (though if you can collect $200 somehow, be my guest). Watch your mug carefully, and stop and stir any time it looks close to overflowing.
- 30 grams dried pitted medjool dates (about 2 large)
- pinch of salt
- 1 cup unsweetened almond milk (cow's milk also works, but will be higher in calories)
- 1 tbsp cocoa powder
- 1/4 tsp instant espresso powder
- If your dates have pits, cut them in half and remove them. Cut each date into quarters. Dice and add to the jar of a blender.
- Add the salt and almond milk. Blend, blend and blend some more, until the dates have been reduced to tiny specks. (If you don't have a super high-powered blender, I find it helpful to blend the dates with half the milk first, then add the rest once they have broken down a bit.)
- Add the cocoa powder and espresso powder then run the blender for another 5-10 seconds to make sure it's fully incorporated. It will be frothy on top. Taste; add more salt if you think it's necessary.
- Pour the mixture into a mug (or a cup, and drink it like chocolate milk).
- Place the mug in the microwave. Heat for 1-2 minutes until hot, watching carefully. If at any time the mixture looks about to boil over, stop the microwave and stir. Repeat until it's as hot as you'd like.