How to Make Hot Chocolate

Creamy, delicious hot chocolate with marshmallows
Barbara Stellmach / Getty Images

Like pudding or frosting, all hot chocolate falls into one of two categories: instant and homemade. Many people go their whole lives without tasting homemade hot chocolate, much less learning to make it. They grow accustomed to little paper envelopes of chocolate powder, to a dull, cloudy beverage with only the vaguest soupçon of chocolate flavor. Little do they know that the homemade version requires just as little effort and tastes twice as good.

Of course, some people prefer their local coffee shop's hot chocolate. Learn to make a similar version at home for those winter days when you can't face the icy streets. After all, you shouldn't have to bundle up and brave the elements to enjoy a hot beverage.

Chocolate and milk are the only two necessary ingredients. You can get creative with other fun flavors, but sometimes a simple, understated hot chocolate is best.

Hot Chocolate or Hot Cocoa?

Technically, hot chocolate is made with whole chocolate, and hot cocoa is made with cocoa powder, but in casual conversation, most people don't differentiate between the two. You can use either one, though the cocoa butter in chocolate (e.g., baking chocolate, bar chocolate, or even chocolate chips) will make your beverage thicker and richer. Cocoa powder doesn't contain any cocoa butter.

Before you turn on your stove, figure out if your chocolate or cocoa powder is sweetened or unsweetened. If you're using the unsweetened variety, you'll have to add some sugar (or maple syrup or honey). Ordinary semisweet chocolate chips are perfect for hot chocolate, but you can also use your favorite chocolate bar.

You can use either Dutch-processed or natural cocoa powder—the latter has a sharper, purer flavor, not to everyone's taste.

Once you've settled on a chocolate or cocoa powder, you can pick a liquid. Use whole milk, cream, half-and-half, skim milk, or any combination of the four. You can even use soy milk or your preferred nondairy milk substitute.

Whole milk (with a dash of cream or half-and-half) will give your hot chocolate a particularly rich, decadent mouthfeel. Some people use only cream, and others add a pat of butter to make the wintry treat even more flavorful and comforting.

Whip Your Hot Chocolate

An immersion blender will whip air into your hot chocolate, taking your seasonal beverage to the next level. A far cry from boring, watery instant hot chocolate, whipped homemade hot chocolate has a light, frothy consistency.

If you don't have an immersion blender, you can transfer the hot chocolate to a regular blender and blitz it for a few seconds. (Do this very carefully, since hot liquids can splatter and cause serious burns.) If you have neither of these (or if you're making hot chocolate during a power outage), you can just give it a vigorous whip with a hand whisk.

Finally, you can elevate your hot chocolate with whipped cream, cinnamon, flavored syrups, and of course, for the ultimate hot chocolate, a shot of brandy, cognac, bourbon, Baileys Irish Cream, Kahlúa, amaretto, peppermint schnapps, rum, or tequila.

Here's a simple recipe for a delicious homemade hot chocolate:

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup half-and-half
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 6 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
  • Granulated sugar, to taste
  • Optional: 2 teaspoons flavorings (including syrups, extracts, spices, or alcohol)
  • Optional toppings: Whipped cream, marshmallows, chocolate shavings, or cocoa powder

Procedure:

  1. Gather the ingredients.
  2. In a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-low heat, combine the milk, half-and-half, and vanilla, and heat until the liquid begins to steam. Don't let it simmer or boil.
  3. Stir in the chocolate chips until they have melted and the mixture is smooth. Don't boil or scald the milk.
  4. Taste the hot chocolate, then add sugar to taste.
  5. Using an immersion blender, whip the hot chocolate until frothy, or transfer the hot chocolate to a blender and process for a few seconds on high speed. You may also whisk by hand until frothy.
  6. Pour into mugs and stir in optional flavorings. Top with whipped cream, marshmallows, cocoa powder, or chocolate shavings, as desired.
  7. Enjoy immediately, perhaps paired with a complementary dish or snack.

If you've decided to make your hot chocolate with cocoa powder, here's a foolproof, crowd-pleasing recipe.

Tip: Heat your mugs in the microwave for 30 seconds before you fill them with hot chocolate—they'll stay toasty for longer.