“Salt in hot chocolate?” I wondered aloud, reading from the can of unsweetened Hershey’s cocoa. It was my first time making hot chocolate not from a mix.
“Leave it out,” my husband Wayne yelled from the other room, with the conviction of one who happily omits any ingredients he deems weird or unsatisfactory.
I didn’t respond. The salt was going in, however inexplicable its role in hot chocolate.
My insistence did not come from a desire to follow the recipe exactly nor because the package proclaimed, “Tested in the Hershey kitchen!” Rather, I worried that maybe the salt would play some vital yet obscure role in flavor or texture. Maybe there was some alchemy of hot chocolate that would not happen without the salt. What it came down to: if I knew why they wanted me to put salt in, I might have felt like I had the authority to leave it out.
I stared at the salt in my palm for a few moments before shrugging a skimpy pinch into the pot with the cocoa, sugar, and warm water.
As I was boiling the molten chocolate mixture before adding the milk, Wayne came into the kitchen looking skeptical. He reached above the cabinets to retrieve a forgotten canister of Tops store brand instant hot chocolate. He held it out to me as if I might exchange it for my project on the stove.
The local Tops grocery store had turned back into the Grand Union at least five years ago, making that package unappealingly old as well as filled with partially hydrogenated soybean oil and other additives that were not headed for my pot.
“What are you doing with that?” I asked as if he were suggesting we drink sewer drainage. He put the offending can back above my line of sight.
I had been longing for hot chocolate as we cross-country skied in the afternoon and the homemade—or at least non-instant—hot chocolate was just as wonderfully creamy and chocolatey as I dreamed after skiing in 10 degrees. Wayne agreed that hot chocolate made with milk and real cocoa was definitely worth the wait. Especially served with peppermint shnapps and whipped cream, I might add.
Next time I’d use less sugar and more chocolate, though—a call I now feel expert enough to make. Of course, I still don’t know why they called for salt and thus will likely continue to feel compelled to put it in.