Hot chocolate is another one of those classic culinary preparations that most people are used to making from a packet (or just ordering at the counter of their neighborhood coffee bar). But making hot chocolate from scratch is incredibly easy, and when it's freezing out, you shouldn't have to bundle up and drive somewhere just to enjoy a hot beverage.
And you absolutely can make hot chocolate at home. It's basically chocolate and milk, heated up in a pan. If you have some kind of chocolate and some kind of milk, you can make hot chocolate.
Hot Chocolate or Hot Cocoa?
It's up to you whether to use cocoa powder or whole chocolate (e.g. baking chocolate, bar chocolate or even chocolate chips). Technically, hot chocolate is made with whole chocolate, while hot cocoa is made with cocoa powder. But in casual conversation, I'm likely to use the two terms interchangeably.
Both chocolate and cocoa are available sweetened or unsweetened. If you use the unsweetened kind, you're going to have to add some sugar. Ordinary semi-sweet chocolate chips are great for making hot chocolate. You'll either want to melt them over a double boiler or just melt them in the milk as you heat it, which is simpler, and it saves you from having to wash a bowl with melted chocolate all over it.
Using chocolate rather than cocoa will produce a somewhat richer drink since there is cocoa butter in the chocolate, but cocoa powder consists only of the cocoa solids, not the fat.
As far as the milk goes, you can use whole milk, cream, half and half, skim milk or a combination thereof. You can even use soy milk or some other nondairy milk substitute.
Personally, I like to use mostly whole milk with some cream or half and half, or even equal parts milk and half-and-half. Some people use all cream, and you can even add a pat of butter to make it even richer, which I happen to think is a wonderful idea.
If you're using cocoa powder, it's a good idea to bloom it first in boiling water and then stir it into the hot milk. Blooming cocoa powder helps bring out more of the chocolate flavor, so your hot chocolate will taste much richer and more chocolatey.
Hot Chocolate Should Be Whipped
Another helpful tool is an immersion blender, which is nice because whipping air into your hot chocolate gives it a lighter consistency, as opposed to just sort of sitting there in the cup. If you've ever made a packet of instant hot chocolate by microwaving it in the mug, you know what I'm talking about.
If you don't have an immersion blender, you can just transfer the hot chocolate to a regular blender and blitz it for a few seconds. If you have neither of these (or perhaps you're making hot chocolate during a power outage), you can just give it a vigorous whip with a hand whisk.
Finally, you can enrich your hot chocolate with whipped cream, cinnamon, flavored syrups like butterscotch, hazelnut or almond, and of course, for the ultimate hot chocolate: a shot of booze like brandy, cognac, bourbon, Bailey's, Kahlua, amaretto, peppermint Schnapps, rum or even tequila.
Here's a simple recipe for a delicious homemade hot chocolate:
- 3 cups whole milk
- 1 cup half and half
- 175 grams semisweet chocolate chips (about 1 cup)
- 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
- In a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-low heat, combine the milk., half and half and vanilla and heat it until the liquid just starts to steam, but don't let it simmer or boil. You can add a cinnamon stick to the milk while it's warming if you're so inclined.
- Add the chocolate chips and stir carefully while they melt, while making sure that you don't scald the milk. Check the flavoring now. If you like a sweeter hot chocolate, you can sweeten it to taste now. Powdered sugar will dissolve most easily.
- Use an immersion blender to whip the hot chocolate until frothy. Or transfer the hot chocolate to a blender and process for a few seconds on high speed. Or whisk by hand until frothy. (If you added a cinnamon stick earlier, remove it before processing the hot chocolate.)
- Pour into mugs, and add optional flavoring ingredients like syrups or liquor. Top with whipped cream and marshmallows as desired, sprinkle with cinnamon, cocoa powder, or chocolate shavings and serve right away.
Tip: I like to heat the mugs in the microwave for 30 seconds or so so that they're nice and warm when I pour the hot chocolate in.