The Ultimate Guide to Hot Chocolate
Whether you're thinking simple and steamy or loaded and luxurious, we've got 16 of the best hot chocolate recipes to satisfying every craving
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It never fails. Since my son was about two years old, at the first sign of snow — seriously, the first flake — he's asked for hot chocolate. Did I mention he's 14 now? But I can’t say I blame him. When cold weather hits, very few foods provide as much coziness as a mug of hot cocoa. So, let’s talk about all things hot chocolate.
Jump ahead to:
Is hot chocolate good for you?
The obvious answer is: no, not really. But that doesn’t mean it has no virtues at all. First off, hot chocolate made with dairy milk (and even some plant-based kinds) offers plenty of calcium. Cocoa powder has fiber, iron, and antioxidants, while dark chocolate provides antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, including magnesium, potassium, vitamin A, and vitamin K. So, it’s not the worst treat you can have.
Hot chocolate’s key ingredients
I was tempted to say every mug of steaming, chocolatey deliciousness had ingredients in common, but that’s true only in broad strokes:
Chocolate. It might be cocoa powder, natural or Dutch-processed, or it could be chopped chocolate bars or chocolate chips. There, you’ll also find variety — milk chocolate, semisweet, bittersweet, and white chocolate all melt into liquid comfort.
Liquid. You might use whole, 2%, or fat-free milk, almost any kind of plant-based milk, or even water.
Sweetener. Who wants to drink a mug of hot milk mixed with unsweetened cocoa? Cacao products need a sweet ingredient to make them palatable, and that might be granulated sugar, brown sugar, powdered sugar, a less-processed sweetener like maple syrup, or keto-friendly sweeteners. The quantity depends on what kind of chocolate you’re using. Cocoa powder will need the most as it has no natural sweetness, while milk chocolate and white chocolate may not need much because they already contain plenty of sugar.
How to make homemade hot chocolate
If you’ve never tried to make hot cocoa from scratch, I have great news: It’s really easy. The specifics will vary based on the recipe you choose, but in general, it goes a little something like this:
Warm up milk in a saucepan on the stovetop over low to medium heat. Make sure it doesn’t boil, though, or it may curdle. You want to let it reach the point where you’re seeing small bubbles around the edges of the pan.
Add chocolate and any other ingredients and stir until the chocolate melts.
Or — if you’re using cocoa, you’ll probably start with cocoa and sugar in the pan (so you can whisk out any lumps), then add the milk.
Pour into mugs and garnish with whipped cream, marshmallows, crushed peppermint candies, sprinkles … you get the idea.
Homemade hot chocolate recipes
What if I said you could make a mug of rich, steaming hot cocoa in about as much time as it takes to dissolve a store-bought packet in boiling water?
If you’re searching for an easy homemade hot cocoa recipe, look no further. You need only three ingredients — milk, unsweetened cocoa powder, and sugar — to get started. Heat the mixture on the stovetop until it’s close to boiling. Stir in some chocolate chips at the end, and they’ll provide a chocolatey boost. Now, all you need are marshmallows.
Crockpot hot chocolate recipes are perfect for when you want to make a big batch all at once. Plus, the machine keeps it warm. I love coming home from a snowy walk to cozy, ready-to-sip cocoa. Here, you’ll add chocolate chips and whole milk to the crockpot, then heavy whipping cream and sweetened condensed milk for richness. A splash of vanilla extract gives the beverage another layer of flavor — or swap in peppermint extract for some zing.
Homemade hot cocoa mix really is as fast as a packet. I’ve tried numerous recipes over the years, but this is the one I use again and again. It’s originally from Cook’s Illustrated, where they pride themselves on coming up with the ultimate versions of recipes. To make it, you just whir nonfat dry milk powder, powdered sugar, cocoa powder, white chocolate chips, and a pinch of salt in a food processor, then store until you need a creamy, steamy mug.
Hot cocoa bombs shook up the hot chocolate world in 2020. Imagine putting a ball made of chocolate into a mug, pouring hot milk on top, and watching as the chocolate melts. Once it does, it releases hot cocoa mix and mini-marshmallows. These bombs are cute, fun, and easy to make — all you need is a silicone mold.
Flavored hot chocolate recipes
It’s hard to imagine — I know — but once in a while, I crave a cup of something more interesting than plain chocolate. That’s where these tasty tweaks come in.
I’m a sucker for salted caramel, especially when it’s paired with chocolate. To make this recipe, start with a quick milky caramel sauce, then stir in finely chopped milk chocolate and dark chocolate. Add a generous pinch of salt, top with whipped cream, and garnish with drizzles of more caramel. It’s as close to heaven as I can get.
Chefs often add a bit of ground espresso powder to chocolate recipes — it enhances the chocolate flavor. So, combining hot milk, cinnamon, semisweet chocolate, and sugar with brewed espresso creates an intensely rich, eye-opening way to start the day.
Transforming a classically rich hot chocolate recipe into something special takes just one additional ingredient: peppermint extract. Topped with whipped cream and crushed peppermint candies, it’s as pretty as it is delicious.
With different types of milk, thickeners, and sweeteners, white hot chocolate recipes can get fairly complicated. But it’s hard to go wrong with a recipe that has just two ingredients: milk and top-quality white chocolate. That simplicity means you’ll be sipping in minutes — even if you take the time to garnish with whipped cream, marshmallows, or crushed candy canes.
International hot chocolate recipes
We Americans didn’t invent hot chocolate. It has a long tradition in Europe and Latin America, where different countries have put their own spin on the idea.
"Decadent and easy" is the most accurate way to describe French hot chocolate. It’s nothing more than finely chopped, top-quality bittersweet chocolate bars melted into whole milk. You’re literally drinking chocolate. But the luxurious, velvety feel of it as you sip … mon dieu, that’s good stuff.
While French hot chocolate may be rich, in Austria, they take it a step further. This recipe calls for melting the chocolate into the milk and thickening the mixture with egg yolk. That’s how you make custard, so you can imagine how sumptuous a mug of this tastes — especially with a dollop of whipped cream on top.
Then, there’s Italy, where cioccolata calda is so thick — it’s practically a drinkable pudding. The secret ingredient: cornstarch, which gets mixed with cocoa powder and sugar before simmering in milk. Once it’s thickened, you stir in dark chocolate, which makes it doubly chocolatey once it's melted.
In her youth, my mom was an exchange student in Mexico City. One of her most prized souvenirs was a molinillo, the special wooden tool you can use in this recipe to froth together hot milk and a tablet of Mexican chocolate, which is slightly grainy, pre-sweetened, and scented with cinnamon. Not everyone has access to those chocolate tablets or the molinillo, but you can still enjoy Mexican hot chocolate with this Americanized version.
Healthy hot chocolate recipes
Whether you’re looking for vegan hot chocolate recipes, keto hot chocolate recipes, sugar-free hot chocolate recipes, or simply a more wholesome kind, you’ve got options.
Nobody ever said hot chocolate had to be made with dairy. This vegan hot cocoa is virtually identical to the traditional kind: sugar, cocoa powder, a little cornstarch for thickening, vanilla extract, and milk — except here you’ll use almond milk instead of cow’s. This dairy-free mug is every bit as creamy and delicious as old-school cocoa.
When you’re counting carbohydrates on the keto diet, snuggling up with a mug of hot chocolate might seem like something you can only dream about. But with a few smart tweaks, you can satisfy your yearning for a warm, sweet, and chocolatey drink.
Paleolithic man probably didn’t get to experience the glory that is hot chocolate. But if you’re on a paleo diet, you can still find a way. Take this recipe, for instance. You’ll start with a ganache made from paleo-approved chocolate chips and heavy cream (or coconut, for a dairy-free option). Stir that into warmed-up coconut milk, pour, and sip.
So, you’re not following any particular diet, but you want your hot chocolate more on the wholesome side? Or maybe you’re avoiding lactose? Check out this flexible recipe, which can use almond milk, 2% dairy milk, or coconut milk. Unsweetened cocoa powder and chopped chocolate (dark chocolate or semi-sweet) give a double-whammy of chocolate flavor, while maple syrup adds unprocessed sweetness.
More chocolate recipes?
Do we even have to ask? Our inexhaustible fountain of chocolate ideas will make your heart melt. For starters, check out these next articles chock-full of chocolate dessert recipes.