The Smeg Hot-Chocolate Maker

Look no further than this “milk frother” for the hot chocolate of your dreams

We need to talk about hot chocolate.

Whether you think of it as an all-purpose winter warmer or a holiday-specific treat, it is demonstrably America’s favorite source of cold-weather comfort and joy. A YouGov Direct poll in 2020 showed a third of 1,000 U.S. adults chose hot chocolate as their holiday drink of choice. (Only eggnog came close, and that was mostly among people 65 and over.)

But, if we may be controversial, we would argue that American hot cocoa, which is typically a thin, almost chalky mixture, isn’t the best variety at all.

No, we would argue that the finest hot chocolate—an Aztec creation originally introduced to Europe from Mexico—can be found in Europe, more specifically in the form of Italy’s soupy cioccolata calda.

Which is why this magnificent hot-chocolate maker from that country’s superlative Smeg brand is a huge deal for serious hot-chocolate lovers.

Here’s the strangest thing, though: Smeg doesn’t actually call the product that. Officially, it’s a “milk frother” that happens to have a setting for hot chocolate. Don’t be misled, though. This is a hot-chocolate machine that—so long as you ignore the somewhat vague instructions and also use quality ingredients—produces a drink so smooth, seductive, and indulgent that it will become the star appliance of your kitchen regardless of the season. Did we mention that it also makes sumptuous, ice-cold chocolate milkshakes?

The elegant, 1950s-style machine is commendably quiet, emitting little more than a low whir. It’s perfectly designed to heat 20 ounces of chocolate to the ideal drinking temperature (around 170 degrees Fahrenheit), whizzing it up in as little as three minutes.

The electronics are refined and unobtrusive, the warming done with an induction heater that eliminates burning and makes the jug easy to clean. There isn’t a temperature control, but there is a manual setting to heat your drink a little longer.

A word on defying the instructions, something we rarely recommend. The Smeg Frother comes with two tiny, magnetically attached whisks, which sound best in the Italian on the label attached to them upon arrival. There’s the frusta dentellata, or “notched whisk,” a disc with tiny teeth. And the frusta liscia, or “smooth whisk,” which is just a featureless ring.

In our tests, the frusta liscia, which Smeg recommends for hot chocolate, barely does anything at all beyond providing a thin layer of foam that soon disappears. The frusta dentellata, on the other hand, gives your drink a perfect half-inch or so of the silkiest, velvetiest froth imaginable.

Also, ingredients: the machine works surprisingly well with low-fat milk, oat milk, and so on—but it’s easily best with whole milk. For chocolate, we would advocate, as would any Italian, broken-up, real chocolate rather than a ready, powdered mix. Although we had quite good results with a luxury powder.

And don’t forget, there’s no limit to the hugely fattening experimentation you can do with flavors. Far more so than with home-brewed coffee.

Oh, and it makes delicious chai lattes. Sure, the Milk Frother works well for all milk drinks. If you must.

Bowers & Wilkins Px8 Wireless Headphones

The Bowers & Wilkins Px8, from $699.

Sublime over-ear cans that break ranks with competing models

Perhaps we have smooth lusciousness on the brain after sampling too much hot chocolate from the Smeg Milk Frother, but our first impression of these new headphones from England’s Bowers & Wilkins is also of a certain creamy luxury. And that’s before listening to them.

B&W’s Px8 is a noise-canceling, wireless headphone built to the highest audio standards the esteemed brand can muster with current technology. But it’s the build quality and physical feel that are most mesmerizing.

The headband, earcups, and earpads are covered in a soft Napa leather that is delightful to the touch. The cast-aluminum arm structure is perfectly machined and, judging by the way it slides, adjusts, and pivots, is clearly engineered to exacting standards.

If this all sounds like the product might be a little on the hefty side, it comes in at a fraction over 11 ounces—two less than Apple’s already light AirPods Max, which are in the same price-and-quality bracket.

B&W’s new baby comes in black or tan—both are gorgeous—and there’s a 007 60th-anniversary special edition (seriously) that is “midnight blue,” to commemorate “the dinner jacket worn by James Bond in his first on-screen appearance, in 1962’s Dr. No.” The 007 edition also has a red power button.

Whether the exploitation of that franchise to emphasize B&W’s roots strikes you as slightly cheap or not, the sound of the Px8 will leave you stirred rather than shaken, thank goodness.

They feature updated carbon-fiber cones for the 40-mm. driver on either side—previously, B&W used paper. Using the stiffer and more resilient material reduces distortion and provides a lovelier, more lucid sound. We would say they have the edge over anything we’ve listened to at the not inconsiderable (but middle-ranking as these things go) price.

The Two Pillars Duo Food Cover

The Two Pillars Duo Cover, $39.95.

Your microwave’s cleanliness—and your food’s flavor—is next to godliness

Sometimes, the simplest innovation has the most life-improving benefits.

So it is with the Duo Cover, a silicone food cover for microwave ovens from Two Pillars, a San Francisco–based, eco-friendly kitchen-and-home-goods specialist.

If you use the microwave a lot, you’ll know it often pays to have a food cover, such as when you’re reheating last night’s supper for today’s lunch. It saves messing up the oven and also locks in some of the moisture in the food.

The problem—O.K., slight irritation—is when you’re putting something in the microwave that doesn’t require a food cover. For whatever reason, the action of taking the cover out and putting it down somewhere before heating up, say, a half-drunk coffee for a few seconds is disproportionately annoying.

The Duo Cover, however, has a hidden magnet at the top of the handle, which means it can cling to the ceiling of the microwave, lurking inconspicuously until called into action.

If this sounds like a small step for mankind, it indubitably is. But it’s quite remarkable how much and how often it improves your kitchen life. Your columnist bought it having seen it on Instagram precisely because he kept misplacing his food cover.

The Duo Cover’s design is also said, thanks to its flexible material, to give a better seal over the food and keep it more moist. We can’t say we noticed a difference on that score.

Important point—don’t use the Duo Cover with a combination convection-microwave oven, with a heating element in the cavity of the roof. It won’t magnetize properly and will also damage the silicone.

The OneAdaptr MacMate Charging Station

The OneAdaptr MacMate, $49.

One outlet for all your frustrations … er, devices

Another month, another ludicrously useful Apple-charging travel gadget from OneAdaptr, a Hong Kong accessories maker we favor.

In August, it was the OneWorld 65 International Adapter, which will charge up to six Apple devices from one outlet, so you don’t need to carry all your Apple charger bricks on trips.

This new OneAdaptr device, the MacMate, can serve as a companion to the OneWorld 65 or to a proper Apple charger. The possible combinations in which the MacMate can be useful are many—it fuels up to three devices at once—but the basic principle is that it turns the charger into a multi-purpose charging station, with which you can keep your MacBook and iPad powered up while at the same time wirelessly charging your iPhone or AirPods.

It may sound a little much, but we promise that, given a hotel room, a holiday home, or a borrowed desk in someone else’s office, you will appreciate—perhaps love—OneAdaptr’s relentless drive to make your gadget-charging life less stressful.

Based in London and New York, AIR MAIL’s tech columnist, Jonathan Margolis, spent more than two decades as a technology writer for the Financial Times. He is also the author of A Brief History of Tomorrow, a book on the history of futurology