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I want to do a "hot chocolate bar" that'll go all day on Thanksgiving...

...and if it's a hit, we'll replay it on Christmas.

Hello. I need some ideas here if you can help.

Thanksgiving will be at our daughters house this year. Many will be dropping in throughout the day. It'll be cool, with much cooking happening all day long. She has a really long bar in her house, that's perfect for setting up a hot chocolate or hot cocoa bar. People can help themselves but I need ideas on how to do it or set it up.

I remember seeing Jacques Torres on some tv show making his hot cocoa. He used some kind of custard powder, whatever that is, that made it really thick and rich looking as well as other spices both hot and sweet. I'm not sure how to do this or if it'd even work.

The family has always been into collecting coffee mugs so husband decided to make a mug tree from floor to about 6 feet tall. We'll hang our collectibles there. People are being asked to either bring their own mug or use one of ours [and/or] bring one ingredient for the perfect addition to a hot cocoa bar.

Any ideas? Plus, any clue about Mr. Torres' ingredient of custard powder? TIA

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  1. yum - what a great idea.

    Not sure about the custard powder. I immediately started thinking of "toppings". Some ideas: whipped cream, fluff, marshmallows , cinnamon, chili or cayenne (for those who like Mexican chocolate), vanilla, shaved dark/milk/white chocolate. So many choices!

    1. For holding hot chocolate for service, you'll need "air pots" (Thermos-equipped pitchers) to keep it hot. I'm not aware of any hot chocolate that one could keep in a crock pot or coffee pot type affair -- the burner will scorch it.

      Beside the ubiquitous whipped cream, I'd offer a variety of spiced sugars to go into the chocolate (you'll have to decide if you want to serve it unsweetened and allow guests the choice of sugar, seasoned sugar, or a sugar substitute, for that matter). I've seen mint candy canes served with cocoa (I'm not crazy about the chocolate/mint combination).

      Sadly, I can't give you any assistance with the custard powder you mention. To thicken hot chocolate, the thickener that comes to my mind is arrowroot powder. Use it sparingly. Bird's custard powder mix uses corn starch as a thickener. Perhaps you want to experiment with thickeners to get the consistency you want? I just now thought to suggest placing a vanilla bean in the milk you scald to make the chocolate.

      One thing that you *can* put in a crock pot, however, is mulled cider (just take apple cider and heat it up with cloves, cinnamon stick and allspice berries). I add a little brown sugar and some orange rind. The smell of the open pot of cider is just divine for the holidays.

      2 Replies
      1. re: shaogo

        I guess my mileage must vary ;-) because I've used a crockpot to keep hot chocolate warm for fall/winter parties with no problems. I did stir it from time to time (when I happened to walk by), but it didn't burn or scorch at all. That said, I think using an air pot or a coffeepot is much less messy than the ladle and crockpot.

        1. re: Niki in Dayton

          Yeah, I've done it in a crock pot as well. On low. Of course, i only needed to hold it for a couple of hours, maybe it would have eventually scorched.

          Might I suggest a low-fat version? I make hot cocoa (Valhrona powder is very chocolaty) w/ skim milk and it's delicious. This for people who want to drink in quantity. Then as a contrast , you could serve (hopefully smaller cups) of the super rich stuff made from melted chocolate and half and half.

          And I vote for homemeade marshmallows, or some purchased from City Bakery (NYC)

      2. You two are powerhouses. Thank you for helping me out. I would have never known not to use a few crock pots, so am so thankful.

        I am also not a fan of chocolate and mint together, but our darling little GD loves the flavor so will do some candy canes hanging from the mug tree or maybe put the little kids' mugs low down with only the canes there.
        love the kinds of ingredients mentioned. I have cinnamon sugar, peach sugar, cherry sugar, ginger sugar and vanilla sugar.
        I was hoping to do a couple of kinds of cocoa with milk, a lighter version in flavor and then a deeper darker version.
        this could end up being a tradition, I like that idea

        2 Replies
        1. re: iL Divo

          I really enjoy Mexican hot chocolate. It has a few spices in I think - cinnamon and a touch of cayenne? It's delicious.

          1. re: rtms

            I've tried it with cinnamon and cayenne. Last time I got too creative and added white pepper, too. It was awful. Had to toss the whole batch and start over.

            I ultimately prefer plain hot chocolate made with high quality cocoa powder and maybe a touch of creme de cacao.

        2. I'd start with three different kinds of hot chocolate - white, dark, and regular milk chocolate.

          For dry toppings: marshmallows, mini chocolate chips, white chocolate shavings, sprinkles, chocolate powder and cinnamon.

          Sauces/syrups: Caramel sauce, cinnamon syrup, and raspberry syrup.

          And of course - whipped cream.

          1. You can buy a coffee urn with a spout and set it on the bar. Some can hold a TON of hot cocoa. Its an elegant presentation and it's got a spout- no need to ladle out of a crockpot.

            Also, I would make chocolate and white chocolate dipped spoons. Perfect for stirring in add ins and very pretty.

            5 Replies
            1. re: cheesecake17

              I second the coffee urn idea; I have a two gallon one that I used for chocolate and it didn't burn or separate. Of course, if you want to do different flavors, you might want to consider insulated pots like restaurants use when they leave a coffee pot at your table. You can find them in restaurant supply houses or online. Or, if you have family & friends with these items, ask to borrow them. They don't have to match. I love the hot chocolate idea by the way.

              1. re: cheesecake17

                ok, this is to cheesecake and cherlyptw, what the Sam is a coffee urn? "splain" please :)

                1. re: iL Divo

                  This is a coffee urn:


                  there are various kinds, but this looks just like the one my parents had 30 years ago.

                    1. re: iL Divo

                      maybe you can borrow it from your church if they're not using it. if not, it's a good item to have anyway if you entertain often..

                      my inlaws have two- they use them for coffee, hot water, or hot cocoa.

              2. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000...
                ...not that you need a case of eight boxes..but this is the custard powder.

                1 Reply
                1. re: HillJ

                  thanks for that. now I know what it looks like. never heard of it before and I could be wrong about JT and his recipe when I watched it. but if it's sugar, cornflour and a bit of salt, I could start playing with recipes on my days off.

                2. If you are into experimenting for the adults also do try ginger and hot pepper versions of hot chocolate. And you haven't mentioned it so maybe you like to keep an alcohol-free household, but a touch of Baileys or amaretto or an orange liqueure goes down well with hot chocolate, too.

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: LJS

                    Also, being addicted to the Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate at Starbucks last year - they don't have it this year :( , get some great coarse sea salt, along with your caramel sauce. And I have never, ever passed up the opportunity to put Bailey's or Peppermint Schnapps in hot chocolate.

                    But custard powder is usually found in the baking section or around the boxed jellos/puddings in the grocery store.

                    Sounds like a lot of fun.

                    1. re: foodie_guru

                      Seriously that stuff was so amazing! I worked at the bucks during that time and must have consumed gallons of it...

                      1. re: foodie_guru

                        Really? they aren't going to have it this year? I suppose that's good...I loved it SO...until I read the nutrition facts. JEBUS! How can a drink made w/ skim milk have 20 fat grams? Apparently the caramel syrup didn't taste "buttery" for nothing.

                      2. re: LJS

                        ah ginger, hadn't thought of using that, but I have several frozen so tomorrow if it's cold outside, I need to experiment for sure.
                        hadn't even thought of doing alcohol. but now that you mention it, has anyone ever been to seattle and up to their ski lodges during a winter storm and had a "face plant"? it's 151 rum, hot cocoa, creme de minthe and whipping cream, oh my goodness is it ever good...

                      3. Sounds like fun. Definitely start with unsweetened chocolate/high quality cocoa powder, if possible, as people have different preferences with respect to sweetness. Some canisters of whipping cream, plus lots of milk, heavy cream, etc., so people can adjust to the right creaminess.

                        Other ideas:

                        Chai hot chocolate
                        Chocolate orange hot chocolate
                        Egg nog hot chocolate
                        Bailley's/Kahlua/Chocolate liqueur hot chocolate (for the adults!)
                        Candycane hot chocolate (mint addition)
                        Rocky road hot chocolate - caramel drizzle, marshmallows
                        Hot chocolate floats - with a scoop of ice cream

                        Chocolate settles fast, so whatever container is being used will need regular stirring/shaking to keep things afloat.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: Full tummy

                          I watched Sam the Cooking guy today on Discovery channel. he was in Hong Kong and they served a drink of 1/2 tea and half coffee with cream. your chai hot chocolate reminded me of that. love all the ideas. about the chocolate settling, are the air pots from the 70"s the kind with a "straw" in them that sucks the liquid from the bottom of the pot? if so, would there still be a need to stir if it always picks up from the bottom? is an airpot like used in AMPM's with their various flavors of coffee already made? you know, there is like a double shelf with 3 on top and 3 on the bottom with names on all of them....oh I'm rambling now........:(

                          1. re: iL Divo

                            Gosh, I don't know anything about that... I guess you'd just need to check on whatever contraption you settle on for keeping things hot, hahaha.

                          2. So many great ideas already. You could make balls of flavored ganache (mint, cayenne, plain, Grand Marnier, Amaretto, etc.) that people can add to their hot chocolate. It makes the hot chocolate really rich and creamy. And/or you could do dipped spoons in chocolate for stirring.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: chowser

                              I have always used crocks set on low with no issue, however always had an issue with the urn...the rich chocolate settled to the bottom and scorched, big time! what a mess to clean up. Mine does not have a thermostat, just on (high) or off. Not sure if you're a drinking crowd but a little ameretto or Bailey's wouldn't hurt the adults

                              1. re: chowser

                                Or a chocolate covered cherry chocolate biscotti...

                              2. This is such a great idea. Last time I was in LA, one of the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf locations had a crazy amount of different things to add to drinks. They had crushed candy canes, several types of salt, cayenne, all sorts of different spices and a bunch of other things. Perhaps someone on here is familiar with what they have or you could call them. It's the location on South Beverly Drive in Beverly Hills. They had a lot of fun and yummy stuff. I'm sure they'd be happy to tell you what they've got so you could get some more ideas. Have fun!

                                1. There is already going to be alcohol set up at the bar with the usuals that have been mentioned here. If people want to juhzzzzz it up they're more than welcome to do so.
                                  I'd like to make rock can't spoons but have no idea how and love the chocolate spoons
                                  idea. So hint hint hint about rock candy spoons se vu plea.

                                  About the urns or pots, I have an airpot and am sure I can get another
                                  so I'll use them.

                                  To all y'all thank you so much :)

                                  1. this may be what you were referring to but i don't see any custard.

                                    personally, i am planning to make up a batch of the cooks illustrated hot chocolate which is hush hush since they try to charge you on their website if you want the recipe. chowhound listed the ratios for the ingredients though and i have heard it is delicious. The pulverized white chocolate chips are unique and sound yummy!!

                                    i would make the cocoa slightly more bitter than average and let people tweak it to their taste. i love slightly bitter hot cocoa (i drink it everyday!) and people can enjoy more of it this way. maybe provide some chocolate candies to mix in for the sugar lovers in the crowd.

                                    good luck!

                                    1. iL Divo, any thought to homemade marshmallows? There are some super simple recipes and an awful lot of flavor choices.

                                      For instance: http://www.slashfood.com/2006/10/24/h...

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: HillJ

                                        I have seen them made on tv several times and they seem very time consuming and sticky and difficult to make. they also look delicious. I'll check out and see how hard they are by watching the video, thanks.........

                                        and to hummingbird I did pull that up myself and it's not the one I'm thinking of since there is no mention of the custard powder in this video, < darn it

                                      2. If you have a bit, well maybe I should say a lot of time to peruse check this out, there is even one of a video of Jacques explaining it to you:


                                        Have fun!

                                        1. Just a thought...

                                          At our cafe, we put chocolate sauce in the cup, pour steamed milk over and stir. So it might be best have an urn with just steamed milk (and/or soy & rice milk for the lactose intolerant) and keep some melted chocolate in the crockpot to combine just before consuming. This would alleviate any problems with the chocolate pooling on the bottom of the urn.

                                          1. How about using a chocolate fountain for hot chocolate? It will keep the mixture warm, mixed, and make a great focal point.

                                            Not sure about the custard powder...was it malted powder, maybe? Or powdered milk?

                                            1. lots of great ideas, and i know guests love these sorts of interactive stations.

                                              slightly off-topic, but may i suggest renting or buying a black or very dark-colored tablecloth? if you use white or light, it will be stained and unsightly looking, splashes, slops and spills, in minutes flat. unless you have somebody in charge of wiping the bar down all day. same goes for maintaining the vessels for all your toppings.

                                              5 Replies
                                              1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                as smart as I think I am with certain things, this would have evaded me all together. thank you a hundred times over for this suggestion. you'll laugh but I'm going to see if I can find some inexpensive black or very dark table runners that I can sew together for a larger size & saving money by not buying a black tablecloth. I'll report with my find. So far we know of 36 coming.

                                                and cheesymama, I have more extracts that any one person should own. I don't want to muddle my idea, so won't be putting out the extracts per say, but will have them in sauces and flavored creams and sugars. Not sure if that's what you meant or not.

                                                1. re: iL Divo

                                                  If you look at discount stores you can often find a table cloth for next to nothing. Besides, there is a strong possibility that this will become a holiday tradition and you'll be pulling that black cloth out again and again!
                                                  What a fun idea, iL Divo. Anxious to hear the report.

                                                  1. re: fern

                                                    I have already bought about 5 runners in Autumn motif from Home Matters. They are lovely. I have many leaves I've been collecting along with pines from the neighborhood, it's gonna be a fun experience. Our daughter's really getting into the idea now too and it's at her house so she's trying to pitch in ideas too. Right now while on computer I need to find out how to make rock candy spoons.

                                                      1. re: HillJ

                                                        thanks HillJ

                                                        since I'm just now checking back on this, it's too late if it takes about a week. but it sure looks like fun to try and not hard either, oh heck it's worth a try, I have all the things mentioned. would butchers twine work for the cotton string I wonder?

                                              2. I watched a holiday baking show this morning and they did a segment on hot chocolate. One of her ideas was to steep a tea bag in a mug of hot chocolate. Also I would have some strong brewed coffee or even instant espresso powder to add to the hot chocolate. You could also have some flavour extracts such as vanilla, almond, orange, etc.

                                                2 Replies
                                                1. re: cheesymama

                                                  Not sure if you have solved your mystery surrounding custard powder, however, it is something that is a necessity in a Canadian tradition, Nanaimo Bars. As I mentioned previously, I find it in the jello/baking aisles, in a tin. I have attached this blurb I googled, in case you can use a substitute. Hope this helps.

                                                  "Custard Powder looks a lot like cornstarch or cornflour, and in fact, is made from cornflour. It also has annatto coloring (from the achiote tree), salt and other flavorings. The cook combines several tablespoons of the custard powder with sugar and enough milk to form a paste. The paste is then slowly added to hot milk and stirred until completely dissolved. The result is a thick custard sauce, not identical to traditional egg custard, but still good over cake, pudding or other desserts.

                                                  An Englishman named Alfred Bird came up with custard powder in 1837 because his wife was allergic to eggs. His custard powder caught on and by 1844, his company was producing custard powder for the whole of England. “Bird’s Custard Powder” is an English tradition, in fact, and is used all over the country.

                                                  Custard powder is sometimes used for cookies, and one recipe online uses it for the cookies themselves and for the filling inside! Some cooks also add fruit to the custard mixture, for a fruit custard, and it can also be used in recipes calling for a cream filling. The key to making a thinner or thicker custard is the proportion of custard powder to milk. More custard powder will thicken the mixture, while more milk will thin it. It all depends on the recipe and the desired results. Some recipes call for a custard that will come set in a tart shell, which would necessitate a thicker custard, for example. "

                                                  1. re: foodie_guru

                                                    foodie guru, you're a wealth of knowledge, who knew any of that? < not me.
                                                    thanks for helping me understand the purpose of the stuff.
                                                    you can understand why watching someone as brill as JT, I would
                                                    remember his ingredient and was bound to find some, which I did.
                                                    Pix below................................. <.........................................>.........I hope
                                                    Ok it didn't work. it says my photo isn't recognized as some kind of file.
                                                    it's a jpeg, so oh well

                                                2. if you're like me and enjoy the contrast of salty and sweet (bacon and chocolate), you can try this for dunking in hot cocoa: make crispy bacon sandwiches, roll flat and cut into 2 inch strips, dip in a *sweet* tempura batter and fry.

                                                  2 Replies
                                                  1. re: epabella

                                                    OML, I just gained 29 lbs AND I LIKED IT :)

                                                    1. re: iL Divo

                                                      don't worry about gaining so many pounds, you'll shed them as your entertain your guests who enjoy your party.

                                                      the sweet tempura batter will also work on PB-and-J sandwiches. just don't spread too much PB-and-J so when you roll them flat, the filling won't ooze out. you can also try PB-and-almond flakes as well.

                                                      for extra-energy, dust the finished "dunk-ables" with powdered sugar.

                                                  2. this isn't clabber girl like mine but can't get mine to upload or download or whatever the word is. I wanted to show anyone what kind "I" got but to no avail, sorry

                                                    1. I'm happy to have found these, both $1.99, ugly I agree but I have ideas of how to dress them up it's turkey material and also fall leaf material, with thick twine so they'll be covered. When I showed them to my girlfriend she loved hiding the ugliness and also told me "oh I have one of those do you want it too?" so yeah, now I have three and that's all I'll need for the bar, we'll refill as needed, can't wait

                                                      1. iL Divo, did you do this? How did it work? I am thinking of doing something like this when we have very special guests at Christmas. I would love some feedback on how it worked for you. You can reply here or email me at alliedawn_98@yahoo.com


                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: alliedawn_98

                                                          good news/bad news.

                                                          We heard a few days before Thanksgiving that many in the family had come down with either the flu or a head cold or chest cold, basically, many feeling pretty darn sick.

                                                          I cut back on the details as I didn't want overkill since the numbers could conceivably be down, so I didn't go as all out as I'd planned, still very nice.......

                                                          it worked out perfectly, I'll say that first.
                                                          not as big as I wanted it to be or maybe I should say not as elaborate.
                                                          all thought it was innovative and fun, the additives were either do or don't/take or leave, have it alone or spruced up.

                                                          the bad news: our sons were doing a tradition of a touch football game at the park with friends and family early in the morning. both of them got pretty beaten up. both of them hurt so my mind was more on them then how the food kept flowing or how many people came and went. Still a success, oldest son had to go to ER where he found out he'd fractured two ribs, the younger son had a bruised backside............. so.................

                                                          thanks for inquiring.
                                                          go for it, we're doing it again at Christmas as are others who attended.
                                                          but without pregame first thing next time...