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Short Reads

Winter Reads

Penguin Short Reads are perfect companions on chilly winter afternoons. Snuggle up by the fire with a hot mug and get started with a new story—what could be better? Stock up just in time for the holidays—there's a short read perfect for everyone on your list!

Start a family tradition with a classic holiday tale like A Christmas Carol, or navigate yourself around the world with Transit Maps, a beautifully designed guide on urban transit maps. Readers who want to spice up their winter blues can dive into a suspenseful mystery like Death Drop—and those ready to embrace the frigid weather can read up on Russia, with concise classics from John Steinbeck and Anton Chekhov. No matter what you're craving this winter, these short reads are sure to satisfy.

Learn the history of hot chocolate and whip up a batch from scratch with this recipe from Santa's North Pole Cookbook. It's the perfect winter treat for a warm and relaxing reading session!

Santa's Favorite Hot Chocolate

From Spain

PREPARE: 10 minutes BREW: 10 minutes SERVES: 4

Who doesn't love chocolate in all its edible forms? A better question might be, who knows the real history of this wonderful confection?

Chocolate is extracted from the beans of the tropical cacao tree, and archaeologists searching old ruins have determined that the Mayans enjoyed drinks over twenty-five hundred years ago. They loved the beverage so much that many grew cacao trees in the gardens of their homes.

The Aztecs called this substance chocolatl and enjoyed it in both solid and liquid forms. Chocolatl was so much in demand that Aztec merchants often used it for currency.

Christopher Columbus brought cacao beans back to Spain during his first new World explorations, but it may have been explorer Hernán Cortés who discovered how to produce a drink sweet enough to enrapture members of the Spanish aristocracy by mixing sugarcane juice with liquefied cacao beans. For most of the 1500s, "hot chocolate" was a drink enjoyed almost exclusively in Spain. Explorers for other European nations had no idea what cacao/chocolate was. One legend has it that a British pirate who captured a Spanish barge laden with cacao beans burned the ship and its cargo because he mistook the beans for dried animal droppings.

But Spain couldn't keep its tasty secret forever, and in the 1600s virtually every country in Europe went chocolate-intensive, drinking it with glee. Eating chocolate as a snack came much later. The first modern chocolate bar wasn't produced until the 1840s, when an English manufacturer invented the treat that would satisfy everyone's sweet tooth for generations to come.

Still, at the North Pole we like to honor Spain's pioneering efforts in what would become modern chocolate consumption. So if you and your family traditionally enjoy cups of hot chocolate as part of your holiday merriment, I gladly recommend this recipe based on the traditional Spanish beverage.

Lars Says: “Once again, you'll notice I've substituted a modern ingredient: They didn't have vanilla instant pudding back in medieval Spain. Even so, this is one of the richest chocolate drinks you'll ever enjoy. One delicious cup should be plenty for anyone, even the most devout lover of chocolate!”

  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 4 ozs. Dark cooking chocolate, chopped into small pieces
  • 1 tbsp. vanilla instant pudding
  • whipped cream
  • pinch of freshly grated nutmeg (tinned ground nutmeg will do)

1. Warm 3/4 cup of the milk in a nonstick saucepan over low heat. Add the chocolate and stir until all the chocolate has melted.

2. Mix the vanilla pudding and the remaining 3/4 cup milk until blended. Add the pudding mixture to the warm chocolate mixture, stirring constantly, until the chocolate drink is thick. Do not allow to come to a boil. Remove from the heat and whisk until frothy. Serve in mugs topped with a dollop of whipped cream and a grating of nutmeg (or, if you prefer, grated dark chocolate).