When asked how to make hot chocolate, some people answer, "Just add water." However, unlike hot cocoa, rich and creamy homemade hot chocolate (a.k.a. "drinking chocolate" or "sipping chocolate") takes a little effort to make. (But don't worry--it it's still pretty easy!)
Browsing hot chocolate recipes (and comparing them to hot cocoa recipes) will help you with specific hot chocolate concoctions. However, this guide to hot chocolate preparation is more about the basic skills behind making perfect hot chocolate.
Use the insider tips below to get from a block of chocolate to steaming hot, divinely delicious cups of drinking chocolate every time, all in six easy steps.
Chop the Chocolate
- Place a pre-measured chunk of chocolate into a food processor. As demonstrated in this how to make hot chocolate video, the amount of amount of chocolate you can use is fairly flexible.
- Place the food processor’s chopping vessel (complete with blade) into the fridge.
- Once the chocolate and food processor are chilled, remove them.
- Immediately chop the chocolate in the food processor in five-second “bursts” until it is finely and evenly chopped. (This will prevent uneven melting and scorching later.)
- Optional: Blend sugar, cocoa powder and/or a dash of salt in with the chopped chocolate.
Melt the Chocolate
- Heat milk over medium-low in a small saucepan or double broiler. (Note: Substitute milk with cream for a thicker beverage, or add a splash of water for a less creamy, subtler quaff.)
- Stir often. (Note: The creamier your mixture, the more often it needs to be stirred.)
- Before the milk reaches boiling, remove it from heat. (Warning: Failing to remove the milk before it reaches boiling will alter the texture and flavor of the milk for the worse. Never allow your milk or drinking chocolate to boil.)
- In a separate pan, pour a few tablespoons of hot milk over the chopped chocolate.
- Stir until the chocolate is melted and smooth. (Starting with just a little hot milk will make it much easier to blend than adding all the milk at once.)
Heat the Chocolate
- Gradually add more milk, stirring as you go.
- Return the mixture to medium-low heat.
- Stir constantly for about two minutes, adding other ingredients (such as vanilla extract) if desired.
- Remove from heat.
“Rest” the Hot Chocolate
Allow the drinking chocolate to sit for at least ten minutes. (Note: This allows its flavor and texture to develop more fully. It can be “rested” for up to two nights in the fridge before the next step.)
Froth the Hot Chocolate
- Return to medium-low heat.
- Bring to a simmer.
- Whisk rapidly until the surface of the cocoa is covered in foam. (Note: Alternately, you can use a molinillo to whisk the cocoa.)
Serve the Hot Chocolate
- Pre-warm your cups. (Note: Deep mugs are ideal for more watery drinking chocolates, while smaller cups are better for creamier ones.)
- Ladle your drinking chocolate into the cups.
- Garnish with cinnamon sticks, ground spices, melted caramel, mini marshmallows, grated orange zest, whipped cream or other toppings.
- Serve with a spoon.
- For a richer flavor, you can add just a pinch of sea salt. It will give the hot chocolate a certain je ne sais quois and add richness.
- For a more complex flavor, replace regular sugar with brown sugar or honey, or use a single-origin chocolate (which tends to have more nuance, since it is not blended with other cacao beans for consistency). You can also experiment with some of the hot chocolate toppings mentioned above, or add ground spices, such as cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, allspice or even a pinch of cayenne pepper, for a little kick. Similarly, a splash of pure vanilla extract will add a sweet, smooth, comforting flavor to your hot chocolate.
- For thicker hot chocolate (or hot cocoa), add a little corn starch or arrowroot. These thickeners can make the hot chocolate a little more like a pudding. Just under one teaspoon per mug is ideal.
- For a richer flavor AND texture, use a bit of heavy cream or whipping cream in lieu of some of the milk. Some people even use (gasp!) a bit of butter. (It's actually delicious, and totally worth it.)
- If you want a vegan version of this recipe, opt for coconut milk. It adds a fantastic tropical note and retains all the richness of cow's milk.