Winter Spice

If I close my eyes and inhale the steamy vapours of a cup of mulled wine I find myself instantly transported to another time, a time when the twinkling lights and dark evenings of December glittered with magic and anticipation. I find myself in my Grandmother’s kitchen helping her make mince pie and brandy butter.  I find myself in the market square, dazzled by the crowds and the twinkling lights, the scent of candyfloss and roasted chestnuts in the air. I see my child-self sitting at the Christmas dinner table amongst distant relatives, listening to the clatter of chatter and cutlery amongst a haze of cracker smoke and sage stuffing. The sounds and the smells of the festive season only fed my excitement as Christmas finally came around again. It is these familiar tastes and scents that feed my nostalgia today. As a child I knew what Christmas tasted like, it tasted like nutmeg and cinnamon.

 As an adult I am still enchanted by this time of year, embracing the season with strolls around Christmas markets and joyously baking batch after batch of festive biscuits. Spices set festive fayre apart from the rest of the year as we bake gingerbread and brandy-spiked Christmas cakes. Our homes begin to smell of firesides and mulling spices, adorned with pine and spruce needles. Cloves and allspice are used in abundance and candles flicker until extinguished in delicious furls of smoke. Spices are used just as generously in savoury dishes, sweetly infusing clove-studded hams and lending piquancy to chutneys. It is the time of year to restock the spice cupboard and bake a cosy thing or two to share with loved ones.

This decadent recipe makes two servings of intense, spiced hot chocolate. I like to use a good quality, dark chocolate as well as cocoa for real depth of flavour. Chocolate is the perfect vehicle for spices, bringing out the earthy sweetness of cinnamon and providing a smoky backdrop for the fierce, lingering heat of cayenne. This is a soul-warming drink for cold, dark evenings and candlelit gatherings. Mix up a cup when you return home from a frosty, winter walk and sip whilst your cheeks are still pink or serve up at the end of a festive dinner party instead of dessert. The texture is creamy and rich so only a small cup is required.

Throughout the rest of this month I will be cooking and baking with spices and endeavour to share my success stories here on SentientBaker.


Spiced Hot Chocolate

(Serves 2 small cups)



1 cup milk

40g good quality, dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids minimum)

1 tbsp. cocoa powder

1 tsp ground cinnamon

¼ tsp ground cardamom

pinch cayenne pepper (to taste)

scant pinch sea salt

1 tbsp single cream

grated fresh nutmeg

2 cinnamon sticks



  1. Using a low heat gently warm the milk in a pan.
  2. Roughly chop the chocolate into small chunks.
  3. Once the milk begins to steam add the cocoa powder, cinnamon, cardamom, cayenne pepper and salt. Whisk the spices to dissolve and infuse.
  4. Continue to heat the mixture until it is nearly at boiling point, steaming rapidly but not bubbling.
  5. Remove the pan from the heat and add the chocolate, whisking until it is dissolved.
  6. Return to the heat and add the cream, whisking until a little frothy.
  7. Pour into mugs and garnish with freshly grated nutmeg and a cinnamon stick.
  8. Add a further drizzle of cream if desired.



Vanilla – replace ground cinnamon with 1/2 tsp good quality vanilla essence

Gingerbread – replace cayenne pepper with 1 tsp ground ginger

Chocolate Orange – add the grated zest of 1 orange

Tipple – add a tot of brandy or rum


If making this as a gift, or you just want to make a convenient stash for yourself, just mix up the following and present in a pretty jar or bag complete with preparation instructions.

Makes 12 individual servings

240g good quality dark chocolate (70% minimum), grated

6 tbsp. cocoa powder, sifted

6 tsp ground cinnamon

1 1/2 tsp ground cardamom

1/8 tsp cayenne pepper

1/8 tsp sea salt


For an individual serving use the following preparation method;

25g spiced hot chocolate mix

1/2 cup milk

1/2 tbsp single cream

Heat the milk and cream in a mug or pan until steaming, add the hot chocolate mix and whisk until dissolved. Garnish with a grating of nutmeg, a cinnamon stick and a swirl of cream, if desired.


Spiced Hot Chocolate with Cream




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