If you have kids you know that those new toys and games will occupy them for only so many hours of the long, long winter break. Don’t tell the family dentist that I said so, but handing your kids a recipe for something sweet is a sure way to keep them busy when electronics lose their luster.

For a week at home, just one recipe isn’t going to cut it. Let kids into the kitchen (supervising them if they are too little to do everything themselves) and they are going to want to bake over and over again. I recommend making a batch of hot cocoa mix in advance. Store it in an airtight container in a cool place and you’ll be able to make many cups of warming, delicious hot cocoa. More importantly, your children will be able to use this mix to make a variety of simple, wintry treats.

A quick pitch for making your own hot cocoa mix: Sure you could buy it at the supermarket, but you’ll be surprised at how much money you save when you make your own. Commercial cocoa is often stuffed with all kinds of artificial ingredients that you wouldn’t add if you were making your own. And if you make your own, you can adjust it to your taste, adding more or less sugar or chocolate, stirring in a tablespoon of instant espresso powder, a 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon or cayenne pepper.

  • Hot Cocoa Rice Krispies Treats: Using the back-of-the-box recipe, stir 1/4 cup of Homemade Hot Cocoa Mix into the melted marshmallow mixture before stirring in the cereal. Add 1/2 to 1 cup milk chocolate chips if you’d like.
  • Hot Cocoa Pudding: In a medium saucepan, whisk together 1/4 cup cornstarch and 1/2 cup Homemade Hot Cocoa Mix. Slowly whisk in 2 1/2 cups whole milk until smooth. Heat over medium-high, whisking, until thickened, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat, whisk in 1 tablespoon butter and 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips, and spoon into pudding cups. Serve warm, of course.
  • Hot Cocoa Popcorn: In a large bowl, combine eight cups freshly popped, hot popcorn with 3 tablespoons Homemade Hot Cocoa Mix and stir to coat. Stir in a cup of mini marshmallows and/or chocolate chips and serve.
  • Hot Cocoa Brownies: In a large bowl, whisk together 1 cup Homemade Hot Cocoa Mix, 1 cup flour, 3/4 cup packed brown sugar, 1 teaspoon baking powder, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Stir in 2 eggs, 1 teaspoon vanilla, and 6 tablespoons unsalted melted butter. Scrape into a greased 8-inch-by-8-inch baking pan and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.
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