Made with simple ingredients and real chocolate, this easy recipe for Hot Chocolate is rich and creamy and comes together in minutes.
The Best Hot Chocolate Recipe
Do you want to know the secret to making the absolute richest, creamiest, most decadent 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 to create 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.
Notes on Ingredients
- Chocolate: The better the chocolate, the better your Hot Chocolate will be. I prefer to use a good quality 70% dark chocolate, for a really rich, robust hot chocolate. That said, semi-sweet chocolate, bittersweet chocolate, or milk chocolate all work. You can opt to use chocolate chips, chocolate chunks, or chocolate bars that have been 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, rather than skim milk or 2% milk, is best for the richest Hot Chocolate.
- 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. Keep in mind that if you opt to use bittersweet chocolate or dark chocolate, you may desire to increase the amount of sweetener used.
How to Make Homemade Hot Chocolate
Making Hot Chocolate is really easy. In fact, it is nearly as easy as preparing a packet of hot cocoa.
- 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! Set this aside to add to the milk after it has been heated.
- 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.
- Once the milk is warm to the touch, ladle out ¼ cup of the warm milk and pour it over the sifted cocoa powder. Whisk that mixture well until the cocoa powder is fully incorporated and dissolved into the milk and forms a paste-like consistency. This extra step will make it much easier to fully incorporate the cocoa powder into the hot chocolate.
- Once the cocoa powder is dissolved into the milk, pour that mixture into the remaining milk in the saucepan, whisking it well to combine.
- Add the chopped chocolate or chocolate chips into the bowl used to combine the milk and cocoa powder. Ladle 1 cup of the warm chocolate milk mixture over the mixing bowl with the chocolate and stir until the chocolate is completely melted. 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.
- Add the melted chocolate mixture to the saucepan and whisk to fully incorporate.
- While whisking constantly, 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 mugs and top with 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 ½ teaspoon of peppermint extract after the hot chocolate has been removed from the heat. Top with crushed candy canes or serve with a candy cane on the side if desired.
- Espresso Hot Chocolate: Add 1 shot of brewed espresso to each serving of hot chocolate before serving.
- 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 the milk before heating. As the milk heats, the orange zest will infuse the chocolate giving a subtle orange flavor.
- Caramel Hot Chocolate: Omit the added sugar or maple syrup from the recipe, and instead whisk in 3 tablespoons of prepared caramel sauce to the recipe for a hot chocolate with caramel notes.
- Cayenne Hot Chocolate: Add ½ teaspoon of cayenne pepper to the cocoa powder before sifting. This will add a nice little kick of flavor.
- 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 of peeled fresh ginger and place it into the milk as it heats. Remove ginger.
- Nutella Hot Chocolate: Omit the sugar from the recipe and stir ¼ cup of Nutella into the warmed milk when you add in the chocolate.
Recipe Notes & Modifications
- Leftover hot chocolate can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days and then warmed as desired in individual servings in heat-safe mugs in the microwave. For additional servings, heat over low heat in a saucepan on the stove.
- Dairy-Free Hot Chocolate: Use your favorite non-dairy milk and dairy-free chocolate. While almond milk or soy milk works well in this recipe, for a rich dairy-free hot chocolate, use canned coconut milk.
- Level of Sweetness: It is important to remember that the type of chocolate you use, determines the amount of sugar you need to add. If you use milk chocolate, start by adding only 2 tablespoons of sugar. For all semi-sweet or dark chocolate, start with ¼ cup and increase to taste, if needed. You may need to add more sugar if you are using bittersweet chocolate.
More Warming Beverages
- Easy Mulled Wine
- Slow Cooker Mulled Cider
- Peanut Butter Coffee
- Coconut Milk Eggnog
- Homemade Latte
- Christmas Tea
If you enjoyed this recipe for Homemade Hot Chocolate, I would love for you to leave a rating and comment below.
Homemade Hot Chocolate
- 4 cups whole milk see note on other varieties
- ¼ cup granulated sugar or maple syrup
- ¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- ⅛ teaspoon table salt
- ½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chunks or chips
- 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 2022.