The Nocino Report
Seven months ago, I started making a batch of nocino, an Italian liqueur infused with green walnuts, citrus peel, and spices (Nocino: Part One). Five months ago, I bottled the nocino and stored it away in a cool, dark place to age (Nocino: Part Two). A few weeks ago, I sampled the nocino before bottling it for holiday presents, and was relieved to taste the familiar Christmastime-in-a-bottle flavor that I had fallen in love with at Cathy and Pete’s. My main critique of this batch of nocino is that the flavor is a little lighter than the version that Cathy and Pete had introduced to me, and I like aggressive intensity in a liqueur. So, the next time I make nocino, I will either (a) add more green walnuts to the original infusion; or (b) use 90 proof vodka as the base, and add the sugar directly, without making it into a simple syrup.
In spite of this criticism, the Taste-Testing Gentleman and I have been making happy progress through our reserved stash. We’ve dipped biscotti in it, added it to coffee, splashed it over ice cream, and used it as a flavoring extract in baking recipes (in lieu of vanilla or almond extract). Our favorite way to enjoy it, however, is to add a shot of nocino to a mug of hot chocolate. My boss gave us homemade marshmallows for Christmas, which really took the drink over the top. Having depleted that delectable gift early on, we are now making do with store-bought marshmallows. Even so, a mug of nocino-spiked hot chocolate provides a sweet and cozy way to end a winter evening.
Here’s the homemade hot chocolate mix we’ve been using — its deep, dark, velvety chocolate flavor will make you forget all about the Swiss Miss. I like to use “popcorn salt” (check the spice aisle of your local grocery store), because its superfine texture distributes well throughout the mix and is less likely to settle out over time.
Hot Cocoa Mix
4 cups powdered non-fat milk*
2 cups confectioner’s sugar
1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chips (60% cacao or more)
3/4 cup white chocolate chips
1/4 tsp popcorn salt
*If you can’t do dairy, leave out the powdered milk and make up the rest of the mix according to the recipe. To use the mix, whisk 2 Tbsp of hot chocolate mix into 8 oz. of hot soy milk or almond milk.
Measure the powdered milk and sugar into a large bowl. Scoop out about 1/4 cup of the mixture and put it into the bowl of a food processor. Add the bittersweet and white chocolate chips to the food processor. Pulse the mixture to avoid heating up the blade and melting the chocolate. (The small amount of powdered milk and sugar added to the food processor should also help the chocolate not to clump up.) Continue to pulse until the chocolate is finely ground. Pour the chocolate mixture into the large bowl along with the rest of the powdered milk and sugar and the unsweetened cocoa powder. Add the popcorn salt. Use a whisk to thoroughly combine the mixture. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.
To Make Hot Cocoa: Heat 8 oz. water per serving in a saucepan over medium heat until hot but not boiling. Whisk in 4 level Tbsp hot cocoa mix per serving. Whisk until drink is frothy and chocolate bits have melted completely. (If you have a tiny whisk or milk frother, you could heat the water in a mug in the microwave as well.) Splash in some nocino or your favorite chocolate-friendly liqueur and garnish with marshmallows, if desired.
Curl up on the couch with your favorite human, furry beastie, or book (better yet, all three) and enjoy!