This is the BEST recipe for Homemade Hot Chocolate! Made with simple ingredients, this hot chocolate is rich, creamy, and comes together in minutes.
Top a mug of Hot Chocolate with marshmallows or homemade whipped cream for a decadent treat that is perfect for a cold, winter day.
The Best Hot Chocolate
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 a simple recipe, 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.
- 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, chunks, or 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: I recommend using either granulated sugar or maple syrup to sweeten this recipe. Keep in mind, that maple syrup is a delicious sweetener but does add a slight maple flavor, while granulated sugar only sweetens the hot chocolate--use what you like! Also, if you use bittersweet chocolate or dark chocolate, you may desire to increase the amount of sweetener used.
How to Make Hot Chocolate
Making Hot Chocolate is really easy--nearly as easy as preparing a packet of hot cocoa. I am sharing a few tricks of the trade that will help you make the best hot chocolate.
- In a medium saucepan, heat the milk and sweetener of your choice over medium-low heat until it just warms. You do not 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.
- Sift the cocoa powder and salt with a fine-mesh strainer into a small bowl. You will be surprised how many lumps will remain after sifting!
- Once the milk is warm to the touch, ladle out ¼ cup of the warm milk and pour over the cocoa powder. Whisk well until the cocoa powder is fully incorporated and dissolved into the milk. This will make it much easier for the cocoa to fully dissolve in your milk.
- Once the cocoa powder is dissolved into the milk, pour that mixture into the milk, whisking to combine.
- 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 the milk over medium-low heat just until the mixture is fully warmed. This should only take 2-3 minutes.
- Taste and add more sweetener if desired or needed.
- At this point, turn off the heat and stir in the vanilla extract.
- Ladle the hot chocolate into mug and top with woth whipped cream or marshmallows.
Ways to Flavor Homemade Hot Chocolate
Dress up homemade hot chocolate with one of these 10 flavor options.
- Peanut Butter Hot Chocolate: Add 3 tablespoons of peanut butter to the hot chocolate mixture after the 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 ½ teaspoon peppermint extract into hot chocolate.
- Espresso Hot Chocolate: Add in 2 shots of brewed espresso to the hot chocolate recipe.
- Cinnamon Hot Chocolate: Add 2 teaspoons to the cocoa mixture before whisking into hot chocolate.
- Orange Hot Chocolate: Add a 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 sweeteners from the hot chocolate recipe.
- Cayenne Hot Chocolate: Add in ½ 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 ½ inch peeled fresh ginger and place in homemade hot chocolate or chocolate milk as it heats. Remove ginger.
- Nutella Hot Chocolate: Mix in ¼ cup Nutella into hot chocolate as it cooks. Omit additional sugar from the recipe.
Recipe Notes & Tips
- Leftover hot chocolate can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days and then warm as needed in the microwave or over low heat on the stove.
- For Dairy-Free Hot Chocolate, use dairy-free milk and dairy-free chocolate chips.
- It is important to remember that the type of chocolate you use, determines the amount of sugar you need to add. If you use really sweet milk chocolate, start by adding only 2 tablespoons of sugar. For all other types of chocolate, start with ¼ cup and increase to taste, if needed. You may need more if you are using bittersweet or dark chocolate.
More Warming Beverages
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Homemade Hot Chocolate
- 4 cups milk any variety
- ¼ cup granulated sugar or maple syrup
- ¼ cup cocoa
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup chocolate chunks dark, milk, or semi-sweet chocolate
- 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 and salt powder using a fine-mesh strainer. Once the milk is warm to the touch, remove about ¼ 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 the hot chocolate with whipped cream or marshmallows.
This post was originally published in 2016 but was updated in 2020 with new pictures and a video.