These recipes can be made with any type of milk, from fat-free to full fat, although the former makes a thin drink and the latter tends to mask the cocoa flavor. You could even use soy milk. Two percent seems to work the best with a splash of cream or half-and-half at the end to ensure a creamy texture.

In Mexico, moms and grandmas use a utensil called a molinillo--a stick with rings--to froth the milk. They rub the stick back and forth between their palms, creating foam that symbolizes the energy of the person creating the gift.

Lacking a molinillo, use a whisk and stir vigorously or transfer the hot mixture to a blender or food processor and pulse until foamy.

Basic Hot Cocoa

(4 to 5 servings)

This recipe produces a very rich cocoa with just a hint of bittersweet; you may, of course, alter the amount of milk and half-and-half or cream to taste.

1/2 cup cocoa powder

1/3 cup sugar

Pinch of salt

1/2 cup water

2 1/4 cups milk, preferably 2 percent

3/4 cup half-and-half or heavy (whipping) cream

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a saucepan stir together the cocoa powder, sugar and salt. Stir in the water and cook over low to medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture forms a paste. Cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes.

Slowly whisk in the milk and half-and-half and heat until warmed through, about 5 minutes (do not let the mixture reach a simmer). Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the vanilla extract. Carefully transfer the mixture to a blender and pulse until frothy on top. Pour into individual mugs and serve immediately.

Per serving (based on 5; using 2-percent milk and half-and-half): 186 calories, 7 gm protein, 24 gm carbohydrates, 7 gm fat, 22 mg cholesterol, 4 gm saturated fat, 78 mg sodium, 2 gm dietary fiber

Basic Hot Chocolate

(4 servings)

Hot chocolate just doesn't get much richer and creamier than this.

1 1/2 cups milk, preferably 2 percent

1/3 cup heavy (whipping) cream

1 to 2 tablespoons granulated sugar (optional)

3 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a saucepan over medium heat, heat the milk, cream and sugar, if desired, just until a skin forms over the top of the surface, about 8 minutes (do not let the mixture reach a simmer). Remove the pan from the heat; add the chocolate and set aside until the chocolate has melted, about 1 minute. Whisk the mixture until the chocolate is incorporated. (The mixture will be mottled with small pieces of chocolate.)

Return the pan to medium heat and heat until the chocolate shards melt and disappear, whisking often, about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the vanilla extract. Carefully transfer the mixture to a blender and pulse until frothy on top. Pour into individual mugs and serve immediately.

Per serving: 218 calories, 4 gm protein, 18 gm carbohydrates, 16 gm fat, 35 mg cholesterol, 10 gm saturated fat, 56 mg sodium, 1 gm dietary fiber

Parisian Hot Chocolate With Cocoa

(4 to 5 servings)

This fusion is based on the ingenious creation of the Angelina tea salon in Paris, which combines cocoa powder and melted chocolate for an intensely chocolate beverage.

If desired, top with 1/4 cup heavy (whipping) cream beaten with 1 teaspoon of granulated sugar. Adapted from a recipe in Carole Bloom's "All About Chocolate" (MacMillan, 1998).

2 cups milk, preferably 2 percent

1/2 cup heavy (whipping) cream

1/4 cup unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder

6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a saucepan over medium heat, stir together the milk, cream and cocoa powder. Heat, stirring constantly, until the cocoa is dissolved. Remove the pan from the heat; add the chocolate and set aside until the chocolate has melted, about 1 minute. Whisk the chocolate mixture until thoroughly combined. Return the pan to the heat and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes (do not let the mixture to reach a simmer).

Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the vanilla extract. Carefully transfer the mixture to a blender and pulse until frothy on top. Pour into individual mugs and serve immediately.

Per serving (based on 5; using bittersweet chocolate): 316 calories, 7 gm protein, 27 gm carbohydrates, 23 gm fat, 40 mg cholesterol, 14 gm saturated fat, 62 mg sodium, 4 gm dietary fiber

White Hot Chocolate

(4 to 5 servings)

"White chocolate" is actually a misnomer. Products labeled as such are actually "white confection" and contain no--or very little--real chocolate liquor, which imparts the traditional chocolate flavor and coloring. Instead, white whatever-you-want-to-call-it generally consists of cocoa butter--resulting in a very smooth texture--along with milk and sugar and has a slightly vanilla or butterscotch flavor.

This hot "chocolate" recipe resembles a warm version of a vanilla milkshake. Adapted from a recipe in Ina Garten's "The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook" (Clarkson Potter, 1999).

2 cups milk, preferably 2 percent

2 cups heavy (whipping) cream

4 ounces white chocolate, chopped

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur (optional)

4 to 5 vanilla beans (optional)

In a saucepan over medium heat, heat the milk and cream just until a skin forms over the top of the surface, about 8 minutes (do not let the mixture reach a simmer). Remove the pan from the heat; add the chocolate and set aside until the chocolate has melted, about 1 minute. Add the vanilla extract and Grand Marnier, if desired, and whisk. Return the pan to low heat and cook just until warmed through. Pour into cups and, if desired, add a vanilla bean to use as a stirrer; serve immediately.

Per serving (based on 5): 507 calories, 6 gm protein, 21 gm carbohydrates, 45 gm fat, 142 mg cholesterol, 28 gm saturated fat, 107 mg sodium, 0 gm dietary fiber