This is the BEST recipe for Homemade Hot Chocolate! Made with simple ingredients, this easy recipe is rich, creamy, and better than any packet of hot cocoa!
Do you want to know the secret to making the BEST hot chocolate?
That may sound really obvious, but hot cocoa is made with cocoa powder, while hot chocolate is made with real, melted chocolate. The difference in taste, texture, and quality between hot cocoa and hot chocolate is drastic. Hot chocolate is rich, velvety, luscious and creamy. Hot cocoa is thin, only has notes of chocolate, and can be overly sweet.
I use both chocolate and cocoa powder in this recipe for hot chocolate. I find that this combination creates a recipe for hot chocolate that is rich and decadent, without being over the top.
It may be simple, but this version of hot chocolate is PERFECT! It is creamy, luscious, rich, and 100% made from scratch. It is the perfect drink to enjoy during the holidays, after playing in the snow, or just for a special treat.
There are no fancy ingredients here. Just simple things you probably have on hand. But there are a few things to keep in mind when selecting your ingredients that will help ensure the best hot chocolate.
- Chocolate: The better the chocolate, the better your Hot Chocolate will be. I prefer to use a good quality 70% dark chocolate. However, you can use semi-sweet chocolate, bittersweet chocolate, or milk chocolate. Even dairy-free chocolate works great in this recipe. Use chocolate chips or fall bars, cut into small chunks.
- Cocoa Powder: Be sure to use 100% unsweetened cocoa powder. Good old Hershey’s cocoa powder works great in this recipe.
- Milk: You can use any type of milk you like, but whole milk is best for the richest Hot Chocolate. Skim works, but creates a much thinner hot chocolate. If you are dairy free/vegan, canned coconut milk makes a creamy thick hot chocolate but almond or soy milk works as well.
- Vanilla: A bit of pure vanilla extract will help deepen the chocolate notes.
- Salt: A touch of salt helps the flavors to truly pop! Do not overlook this ingredient!
- Sweetener: If you use bittersweet chocolate or dark chocolate, you will need to add a sweetener. I personally love to use maple syrup, but if you don’t want notes of maple in your hot chocolate, simply use granulated sugar. You can add more or less sugar to suit your tastes.
How to Make Homemade Hot Chocolate
Making Hot Chocolate is really easy–nearly as easy as using a packet of hot cocoa. I am sharing a few tricks of the trade that will help your cocoa dissolve into your milk perfectly and how to not scorch your hot chocolate.
In a medium saucepan, heat the milk and sweetener of your choice over medium-low heat until it just warms. You do want your milk to come to a boil or a hard simmer as this will scorch the milk. Keeping the heat at medium-low and whisking constantly will help prevent this from happening.
I have a couple tricks that will help the cocoa powder dissolve easily into the milk, which ultimately will keep your hot chocolate smooth and creamy. First, sift the cocoa powder with a fine mesh strainer into a small bowl. You will be surprised how many lumps will remain after sifting!
Next, add the salt to the cocoa powder and stir to combine. Once the milk is warm to touch, remove about 1/4 cup of the milk and pour over the cocoa powder. Whisk well until the cocoa powder is fully incorporated and dissolved into the milk and then pour the cocoa mixture back into the milk whisking to combine. No lumps here!
Next, add the chocolate chips or chocolate chunks to a bowl. Pour 1 cup of the warm milk over the chocolate and stir until the chocolate is completely melted. Add to the saucepan and whisk to fully incorporate. You may be thinking why not just add the chocolate right to the saucepan? I find this extra step really melts the chocolate more uniformly and keeps the final product super smooth.
Continue to heat over medium-low heat just until the mixture is fully warmed–about 2-3 minutes. Taste and add more sweetener if desired, whisking to melt the sugar into the hot chocolate.
At this point, turn off the heat and stir in the vanilla extract.
Serve hot chocolate with whipped cream, marshmallows, top with chocolate syrup, or additional mix-ins.
Frozen Whipped Cream
One of my favorite ways to serve hot chocolate is with frozen whipped cream. I saw this in a magazine decades ago and thought it was genius. The frozen whipped cream melts into the hot chocolate much slower than regular whipped cream and it is a magical treat that is so fun for kids!
To make frozen whipped cream, whip heavy cream until stiff peaks form. Place whipped cream into piping bag and swirl little mounds onto a parchment lined cookie sheet. Sprinkle the whipped cream mounds with crushed peppermints or sprinkles for an extra festive tough. Place in freezer until frozen solid. Once frozen solid, transfer to a freezer safe bag, and pop out one or two to top hot chocolate as desired.
*I find I do not need to sweeten the whipped cream because the hot chocolate is plenty sweet, plus the addition of candy canes or sprinkles adds a bit of sweetness. Feel free to add confectioner’s sugar to your heavy cream once it has nearly reached stiff peaks. Then continue beating until stiff peaks form.
Ways to Flavor Homemade Hot Chocolate
Dress up homemade hot chocolate with one of these 10 flavor options.
- Peanut Butter Hot Chocolate: Add in 3 tablespoons peanut butter to hot chocolate mixture after chocolate has been whisked in. Whisk and heat until peanut butter is melted in hot chocolate.
- Peppermint Hot Chocolate Instead of vanilla extract, add in 1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract into hot chocolate.
- Espresso Hot Chocolate: Add in 2 shots of brewed espresso to hot chocolate recipe.
- Cinnamon Hot Chocolate: Add in 2 teaspoons to cocoa mixture before whisking into hot chocolate.
- Orange Hot Chocolate: Add an 2-inch strip of orange zest to hot cocoa or chocolate milk before heating. As the hot chocolate heats, the orange zest will infuse the chocolate giving a subtle orange flavor.
- Caramel Hot Chocolate: Add in 3 tablespoons prepared caramel to hot cocoa base or chocolate milk and heat. Omit additional sweetener from hot chocolate recipe.
- Cayenne Hot Chocolate: Add in 1/2 teaspoon cayenne to homemade hot cocoa base or chocolate milk and heat until warm.
- Coconut Hot Chocolate: Use canned coconut milk in place of dairy milk. Top with flaked coconut if desired.
- Ginger Spiced Hot Chocolate: Take 1/2 inch peeled fresh ginger and place in homemade hot chocolate or chocolate milk as it heats. Remove ginger.
- Nutella Hot Chocolate: Mix in 1/4 cup Nutella into hot chocolate as it cooks. Omit additional sugar from recipe.
More Winter Beverages
Homemade Hot Chocolate
- 4 cups milk
- 1/4 cup maple syrup or granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup cocoa
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup dark chocolate chunks
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- In a medium saucepan, heat the milk and sweetener of your choice over medium-low heat until it just warms, whisking every 30 seconds or so. Don’t be tempted to turn up the heat--milk scorches easily!
- In a separate small bowl, sift the cocoa powder using a fine mesh strainer. Mix the salt into the cocoa powder. Once the milk is warm to touch, remove about 1/4 cup of milk and pour over the cocoa powder. Whisk well until the cocoa powder is fully incorporated and dissolved into the milk and then pour the cocoa mixture back into the milk whisking to combine.
- In the same bowl that you whisked the cocoa powder, add the chocolate chunks or chips. Pour 1 cup of the warm milk over the chocolate and stir until the chocolate is completely melted. Whisk the melted chocolate back into the saucepan.
- Continue to heat over medium-low heat just until the mixture is fully warmed--about 2-3 minutes. Taste and add more sweetener if desired, whisking to melt the sugar into the hot chocolate.
- Turn off the heat and stir in vanilla extract.
- Serve with whipped cream or marshmallows.
- Make sure you don’t overheat the milk. You do not want the milk to boil.
- For the milk, whole or 2% is best. Almond milk and canned coconut milk are good dairy-free substitutes.
- For the chocolate, use chopped up chocolate bars or morsels. I prefer to use 70% dark chocolate, but you can use semi-sweet chocolate, bittersweet chocolate, milk chocolate, or dairy-free chocolate.
- For the sweetener: I use maple syrup, but granulated sugar works as well and will not leave any hints of maple flavor. It is important to remember if you use a milk chocolate or semi-sweet chocolate, you will want to cut the amount of sugar you add to your hot chocolate. You can always add more at the end if needed!
- Be sure to use 100% unsweetened cocoa powder.
- Leftover hot chocolate can be stored in an air tight container for up to 3 days in the refrigerator. Reheat as desired.