Cookies and hot chocolate are essentials around the holidays. Even people who don’t cook often can still be found in the kitchen at Christmastime making their favorite assortment of cookies. And hot chocolate? Well, that’s just a given. Nothing’s better than warming up with a tall mug of steamy, homemade hot chocolate. I’ve even found that cookies taste better dunked in hot chocolate than regular milk…at least these cookies do.
It’s become a tradition for my family to put up our Christmas decorations the weekend after Thanksgiving. In the midst of hanging ornaments and arranging wreaths, my grandma and I whip up a batch of pecan crescents, the perfect festive treat to snack on while we work. These cookies are unbelievably simple, but taste so good. They’ve been my holiday favorite for a long time. A simple cookie dough is made from butter, eggs, and flour. Chopped pecans are mixed in, and the dough is done! Once shaped into little crescents, the cookies are baked and ready in less than 15 minutes. Powdered sugar is sprinkled on when they are hot so it melts into the cookie. Once cooled, we dust a little bit more on so they are completely coated. This sweet finish is perfect for the buttery cookie.
While store-bought packets of hot cocoa mix are a staple during the winter, you really do have to make your own hot chocolate…it’s THAT good. It’s creamy, extremely rich, and the deep chocolate flavor is unbeatable by any cocoa mix out there. And surprisingly, it’s almost just as easy to make. I start by warming up some whole milk in a saucepan, just so it’s barely simmering. You really don’t want to boil the milk or else the texture won’t be smooth. I simply whisk in really good semisweet chocolate (I buy mine in a large block from Whole Foods) along with other flavors such as coffee and almond extract. The coffee really brings out the chocolate flavor and gives the drink an even deeper richness. I add just a pinch of salt as well, which brightens all of the sweet flavor of the hot chocolate.
Lastly, you can’t have hot chocolate without whipped cream. It’s really easy to make. I just whip heavy cream until if forms soft peaks. At this stage, you should be able to lift your whisk/mixer and see small peaks just beginning to stand up on their own. Then, I add in some powdered sugar for sweetness and pure vanilla extract. The whipped cream is finished with two warm spices: cinnamon and nutmeg. I keep whipping it until stiff peaks form, where the peaks will now stand up firmly. If you don’t have a pastry bag to pipe the whipped cream onto the hot chocolate, spoon all of it into a zip-lock bag and cut off one of the corners of the bag. It’s a simple trick to pipe the whipped cream, and works just as well! I finish the drink with a “snowfall” of shaved chocolate and dunk the pecan crescents right in!
- ½ lb unsalted butter
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 2 cups flour
- ¾ cup chopped pecans
- 8 oz semisweet chocolate
- 4 cups whole milk
- ¼ cup brewed coffee
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1/8 teaspoon almond extract
- pinch of salt
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
- ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- shaved chocolate, to garnish
- Preheat the oven to 375°F. Cream the butter and sugar together using an electric mixer. Add the flour and mix until well incorporated. Lastly, add the chopped pecans and mix until just combined. Using your hands, tear small pieces of dough off and form each piece into a crescent. Line a baking sheet with the shaped crescents. Bake for 12-15 minutes until slightly golden. Immediately after removing from the oven, use a sifter to sprinkle the crescents with a generous amount of powdered sugar (enough to completely cover them). Let cool slightly on the baking sheet. Transfer to a rack to cool completely, sprinkling with more powdered sugar if needed.
- Heat the milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat until it is barely simmering (do not boil). Reduce the heat to low and add the chocolate, coffee, cinnamon stick, almond extract, and salt. Whisk the mixture until smooth. Continue to cook on low heat until the hot chocolate is thick and creamy, about 8-10 minutes, whisking often.
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk the heavy cream using an electric mixer (or vigorously whisk by hand) until soft peaks form, about 1-2 minutes. Add the powdered sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Continue to whisk until stiff peaks form. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
- Serve the pecan crescents alongside the hot chocolate. Top the hot chocolate with the spiced whipped cream (see notes). Garnish with a sprinkle of shaved chocolate.
- I fill a large zip-lock bag with the whipped cream and cut a small piece off of one of the corners to create a piping bag. I then pipe the whipped cream in a circular motion on top of the hot chocolate.