Hot Chocolate

Come in from the cold and take the chill off with a warm cup of hot chocolate! Please welcome guest author Garrett McCord as he takes us through a hot chocolate tutorial. ~Elise

Hot chocolate is one of those things that spoil you forever. Once you make it at home you just can’t go back to those ready-go packets of hot cocoa anymore. It’s like comparing homemade truffles to a Hershey’s bar from last year’s Halloween. It’s just not even a contest. Real homemade hot chocolate is thick, rich, and the real essence of what chocolate in a glass on a cold day should be.

How is hot chocolate different from hot cocoa? Hot chocolate is basically like drinking a melted candy bar; the chopped chocolate contains cocoa butter which makes it richer and smoother. Cocoa is powdered and contains no cocoa butter and thus very little fat. It also contains dried milk, sugar, and added flavors.

This is the real stuff, and once you try it you may never want drink hot cocoa again! The recipe here serves four, it may not look like a lot but believe me it’s very rich and one cup is more than enough for a single person.

Chocolate to Use

If you plan to make good hot chocolate, it helps to start with quality chocolate. Scharffen Berger, Guittard, and Valrhona are great choices if you can find them where you are.

I suggest using bittersweet or semisweet chocolate. Bittersweet has little sugar added to it so you’ll get a more pure chocolate taste. Semisweet works too, and usually has more sugar added to it than bittersweet. What about those cacao percentages? The higher the cacao percentage (noted on the chocolate package) the more chocolate solids are in the product, and therefore the higher intensity of chocolate flavor. Semisweet is usually 35-40% cacao, bittersweet up to (and sometimes higher than) 75%. 100% cacao is unsweetened chocolate, which is fine for baking, but you probably don’t want to use it for hot chocolate. Milk chocolate already has milk solids added to it and has a very low (about 20%) cacao percentage.

Milk, Soy, or Water?

Whole milk lends to the creaminess and sweetness of hot chocolate, but feel free to use lowfat or nonfat milk if you prefer. For a thicker, richer hot chocolate, switch out 1/4 cup of milk for cream.

Soy milk is an alternative if you are lactose intolerant. Use unflavored or vanilla soy milk.

Believe it or not, you can use water instead of milk (though most people use milk). Water allows the chocolate to show off its true flavors and unique characteristics, however you lose the creamy feel and taste when you don’t use milk.

Spices & Herbs

Experiment with spices and herbs to create unique flavors with your hot chocolate. Centuries ago the Aztecs made hot chocolate with vanilla and chili peppers. Today Mexicans enjoy hot chocolate with cinnamon. Many flavors can be added to chocolate, such as the classic flavors of peppermint and orange. You might also try lavender, bay leaf, or star anise.

Brew spices into the milk (or soy milk or water) during the initial heating process. After the milk is steamy, strain out the spices and herbs and return the hot, flavored milk back to the pan and add the chocolate as you normally would.


A small addition of liquor is a fun way to warm the body on a cold night. About 1 to 1 1/2 ounces of liquor is the right amount per cup of liquid being used. Most any favorite liquor will work. Dark chocolate with a dark Guinness is a perfect combo. Cinnamon or peppermint schnapps with hot chocolate are classic companions. Kahlua and chocolate makes for a sort of mocha-esque treat that you won’t find at your local coffee shop. A popular way to drink hot chocolate in Canada, according to some of my northern relatives, is to add a bit of whisky and (real) maple syrup.

Whipped Cream

Regardless how you make it, I think whipped cream makes hot chocolate (or anything really) better. Feel free to use an extract such as vanilla or anise to flavor the whipped cream. Once dolloped onto your drink a small sprinkling of nuts, cocoa powder, or ground spices is a great way to add flavor and pump up the presentation.

My best advice to creating your perfectly flavored hot chocolate is to make it as you like it. Feel free to experiment as I doubt friends and family will mind being subjected to cup after cup of chocolate.

Hot Chocolate Recipe

  • Yield: Serves 4.


Basic Hot Chocolate

  • 4 cups of whole milk
  • 8 ounces of chocolate (60% cacao, preferably)
  • 3 teaspoons of powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon of salt


1 Finely chop the chocolate into small pieces. The pieces have to be able to dissolve easily in the liquid.

2 Place the milk into a small, thick-bottomed pot on low heat and bring to a low simmer. Whisk once in a while to ensure that the milk doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan.

2a If you plan to steep herbs or spices, add the herbs or spices to the milk, bring to a simmer then take off heat and allow to steep for 10 minutes. Strain the liquid then place back into the pot and return to a simmer.

3 Add the vanilla, powdered sugar, salt, and chocolate and whisk vigorously until the chocolate has melted.

3a If using liquors add them to the chocolate.

4 Heat for another 4 minutes, constantly stirring.

Serve. Add a dollop of whipped cream if you want.

Favorite Variations

Steep a vanilla bean and a cinnamon stick in the milk while simmering. After whisking in the chocolate and letting it rest and reheat, cool it down a tad with a small bit of cream and throw some orange zest on top to perk it all up. Very Parisian.

A teaspoon of Chinese five spice does wonders and gives it a slightly oriental kick. A fabulous twist on hot chocolate. Another viable alternative is Chai spice for something a bit more familiar.

Some edible lavender and lemon zest in white hot chocolate are aromatic and perfect for anyone with a sweet tooth.

I like rum in my hot chocolate. Rum is good.

Hello! All photos and content are copyright protected. Please do not use our photos without prior written permission. If you wish to republish this recipe, please rewrite the recipe in your own unique words and link back to the source recipe here on Simply Recipes. Thank you!

Belgian hot chocolate from David Lebovitz
Hot chocolate on a stick from Giver's Log
Peanut Butter Hot Chocolate by Wasabimom
White Christmas Hot Chocolate from Once Upon a Plate


  1. Simone (junglefrog)

    I would love to make the chocolate with cinnamon variety. There is something entirely irresistible about the smell of cinnamon in a hot drink!

  2. Attila

    I made some hot chocolate last week, pretty much the same way as described here! MUCH better than those powdered bags of blasphemy!
    I used honey instead of sugar and spiced it up with some cinnamon and pili-pili (couldn’t find the chili powder) and it turned out fabulous! I strongly recommend it to everyone!

  3. Michael Leung

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! For a moment there I thought I would have to resort to powdered cocoa this year, but after learning how easy it is to make hot chocolate, I guess not anymore! One question though, do I have to put the vanilla extract or can I just skip it? It’s hard to find where I live.
    You can skip it if there’s none to be had. Plus, you can look at this as a chance to try some other flavors. I recently heard of steeping a tea bag of chai tea can do hot chocolate wonders. ~Garrett

  4. Seth @ Boy Meets Food

    Great post. I really enjoy reading the background info/history behind particular dishes. I recently tried some of the Abuelita cocoa mix (of the cinnamon variety) and really enjoyed it. I am not a coffee drinker, so hot chocolate is a frequent winter treat at my house.

  5. Jeni

    My favourite way to drink hot chocolate is with a bit of whisky or Bailey’s. Yum! Oh, and whipped cream and marshmallows are awesome, too.

  6. [email protected]

    My grand-father used to drink his chocolate with water and, as a child, I could not stand it.
    I agree that making it from scratch (like most recipes anyway) is the best way to make hot chocolate. I personally like it with vanilla and chili pepper or even orange zest.
    My children like it best with vanilla and whipped cream, of course. But who does not like whipped cream? Thanks for this perfect-timing recipe!

  7. PJ

    A-ha, finally I found the tutorial on hot chocolate that I was looking for! I am one of those who like nothing but water in their hot-chocolates. Milk to me seems to overpower the chocolate. Now I know exactly what to make of the left-over chocolate slab from this weekend’s truffle-making! Thanks for sharing, very useful info.

  8. Sheri

    As a Canuck I can attest the maple syrup and whiskey in the hot chocolate (eh). Chili & chocolate is also very warming in our cold winters.

  9. Rathi Varadarajan

    Am curious. Why the salt?

    Salt enhances the flavor of chocolate and sugar. If you want to see what I mean, make the recipe without the salt and try it. Then, add the salt and try it again. It’s a world of difference as the chocolate and milk flavors become more pronounced. ~Garrett

  10. Sally

    I like my hot chocolate plain, but I also like it with Kahlua, or Amaretto, or Bailey’s Irish Cream. Whipped cream on top, naturally!

  11. Carol Merrill

    About the chocolate: did you use 8 oz by weight or by volume?

    Weight. ~Garrett

  12. Louise

    Thank you, thank you – I have been making hot chocolate the easy-way-out method but will now try this wonderful sounding drink. My way was to break up the 76% chocolate I bought in a rash moment, add it to milk and heat in the microwave – then stir till dissolved – okay but not great – I’m going for great now!

  13. Angie

    Great tutorial! I was just fixing to go out for hot chocolate ingredients. I have to use water with mine though. I am lactose sensitive, I can handle the powdered milk, but not fresh. This is a great idea, I had been using the dark cocoa powder. I will follow your steps, thanks!

  14. Candy Schoppe

    I grew up drinking Hershey’s cocoa and condensed milk, and I loved it. I still use Hershey’s cocoa, but not the condensed milk.

    And, as a mother of six, living in VT, I don’t have time to do fancy recipes when my kids and the neighbors come in from sledding or shoveling snow.

    I whisk 1c dark brown sugar, 1/2c cocoa powder, 1/4t salt in a glass bowl. Then I add 2/3c hot black coffee (right out of the coffee pot) and continue to whip until it’s all dissolved.

    I heat the mixture to a boil in my microwave and then whip it some more while adding 6c whole milk. I heat it up some more in the microwave, add 2t vanilla extract while stirring it with a rubber scraper, and pour it into mugs.

    The kids and I love it. I might try condensed milk again sometime (the kind from contented cows), but living in VT, I like to support the local farmers (and their cows look pretty contented, too).

  15. jrhather

    Add a 1/2 tsp of cayenne or a shredded Habanero in a teabag to the milk.

    Spicy hot chocolate is where it’s at. Try it before you slam it, it’s quite amazing.

    Also, hot peppers and chocolate are always good together, IE: cake, muffins, doughnuts, icing and homemade bars!

  16. Sri

    Wow, this is a knock out Garrett. I am resorting myself to drinking hot cocoa by Godiva which is one of the decent ones amongst the yucky powdered versions, but this recipe looks like one that would take me to heaven, hopefully not literally :-). Thanks

  17. Katherine @ NightOwlChef

    Yum! I like the idea of using powdered sugar; it must dissolve so easily. Usually I use agave syrup, though. Garrett, thanks for the salt tip – now I know why my last few mugs have been so … blah!! And yum to Chinese 5-spice powder! That beats my usual cayenne-cinn-nutmeg blend.

    In a pinch if I’m out of chocolate, I like using cocoa, but for some reason Dutch-processed tastes best to me. Has anyone else used Fry’s? I got it in Montreal and LOVE it!

  18. Darby "The Dessert Diva"

    Can you imagine this made up, cooled off and then blended with ice cream. Oh. My. Goodness.

  19. peanutts

    There is nothing more comforting than a cup of hot chocolate. Is there a difference between cacao and cocoa?

    Cacao is the name of the cocoa plant. Cocoa is a by product of the processed cocoa beans. ~Garrett

  20. Marjy

    Yum! On the soy milk note, having grown up with a milk allergy that caused hives during a time when there weren’t any alternatives, I’ve explored lots of options, so I thought I’d offer one of them up. I prefer almond milk to soy milk for hot beverages. It’s almost as easy to find as soy milk, and in hot chocolate, my husband can barely tell the difference between it and cow’s milk.

  21. Kristin

    I recently made some hot chocolate with a small bar of Donna Elira’s Sicilian-style hazelnut chocolate. The hazelnut is finely ground and incorporated into the bar. It’s not that smooth to eat straight as a bar, since it has a gritty texture from the sugar (the sugar is not melted into the chocolate, but added straight as crystals in this style), but it was really yummy melted with milk. I would highly recommend it if you can find a bar–not too sweet, the hazelnut was nicely subtle, and naturally didn’t have that weird aftertaste I’ve found with pre-flavored hazelnut cocoa from companies like Ghiradelli. I bet a spoonful of nutella or other chocolate/hazelnut butter would up the ante as well.

  22. Cristina

    Great post, very didactic. I’m allergic to chocolate, and after seeing your photo and explanation, it’s difficult to beat the urge of running to the kitchen and preparing one of those. Maybe I will succumb to temptation one of these days!
    Happy christmas!

  23. cindy

    Thank you Elise and Garrett for this recipe! I have been craving for hot chocolate a long time now, but unfortunately in Beijing, it is very difficult to find cocoa or chocolate powder. I will try this recipe right away! Thank you, thank you!

  24. tobias cooks!

    I remember getting water versions of hot chocolate here in Greece a very long time ago.

  25. mantha

    This makes me smile — I remember the first time I babysat for my older sister’s kids, and they wanted “hot chocolate” after playing in the snow, but they were out of Nestle’s QuiK. I raided my sister’s baking cupboard. They had never seen hot chocolate made from scratch before . . . sister was annoyed, because they always wanted the real thing after that. :)

    Interesting about adding chai. I used to use the Celestial Seasonings “Bengal Spice” tea blend to season all sorts of things, including red lentil soup and gingerbread. I think it would work here too.

    Happy chocolate holidays to all!!

  26. Samme

    I don’t make sweet drinks often, but when I do making my own is the only way to go.

    Last year I tried adding the cinnamon and cayenne as some people have suggested and I haven’t gone back to the plain chocolate. The spices really bring out the flavor.

    It only takes a little cinnamon and a little less cayenne, just a pinch per serving. You shouldn’t really taste the spices themselves as much as the way they enhance the overall chocolate taste.

  27. pv

    Re: step 2: if you dampen the pot with water before adding the milk in, it’s a lot less likely to stick.
    Recipe looks yum! Have to try it soon!!

  28. Tom Hammer

    Great recipe Garrett. I subscribe to a pinch of cayenne in my chocolate. Mmmmm…….

  29. marla

    What a thorough hot chocolate post. I love your detailed collection of drink preparations. I myself am a purist. I drink hot chocolate daily. Hot water, a splash of non fat milk, dark Scharffen Berger cocoa, stevia to sweeten and this girl is all happy!! I do add a few drops of peppermint extract in the winter!

  30. vegiechef

    Peanutts – thanks for the tip on using almond milk instead of soy for hot chocolate. I grew up using dairy, but now we only use soy in our home, but it is just not the same. I’m excited to try it with the almond milk. :)

  31. Alejandro Ortega

    Had a tough evening yesterday, I saw this recipe, and I decided to treat my wife and I to it. Very good chocolate – we used a mint dark chocolate, and simmered a cinnamon stick in the milk.

    BTW, I made my thanksgiving Turkey with your recipe, and it was great.

    Thanks Elise!

  32. VBP

    I tried this recipe, and I doubled the amount of sugar, thinking that 3tsp for 4 cups was too little. I used a non-premium brand of chocolate (Ghirardeli). Either because of the chocolate, or my messing with the recipe, it was too sweet! So for those tempted to up the sugar level, don’t! A wonderful drink! Thanks for the recipe.

  33. Regina

    I find that adding butterscotch schnapps or a hazelnut liqueur is also quite yummy.

  34. Keith

    The Aztecs never used cinnamon as a flavoring; it’s a spice from Indonesia. Still it does make a good flavoring for hot chocolate. I’m a fan of red pepper and vanilla (which were used by the Aztec) and coffee coffee liqueur (which wasn’t).

    Point taken and corrected, thanks! ~Elise

  35. Kristin

    My children and I are big fans of homemade hot chocolate–can’t stand the packaged stuff!

    When you simmer a vanilla bean, do you use the whole bean? I’ve not used vanilla beans very often and it seems that the few times I have, the recipe has called for splitting the bean before steeping.

    Thanks–can’t wait to try this! ~K

    Scrape out the seeds then toss it and the empty pod in. Remove the pod later as it is inedible. ~Garrett

  36. Alexis

    Great recipe! My personal variation is cream thinned with skim milk (skim is what I normally keep on hand, cream is bought during cold months for hot chocolate) + chocolate + red salt.

    I usually do an espresso liqueur/vodka, but this year, I found a pumpkin spiced liqueur that is lovely and a bit sweet, a wonderful addition to hot chocolate. I highly recommend it (think it’s Hiram Walker?) for anyone wanting to experiment.

    Also, I think red salt adds the optimal bang for you buck as far as chocolate + salt. I always have it on hand for hot chocolate – brings out the chocolate flavour as well as adding a bit of earthy depth.

    Also, to be just a little different, if I do want a little extra sugar, I use honey powder. I think the powdered sugar (with the cornstarch) adds more body than I want. Besides, the honey powder adds a little floral je ne sais quoi.

  37. Travis Harvey

    Since we moved to Mexico, I’ve been playing around with whole cocoa beans to make hot chocolate for my wife (the way to her heart). There really is something incredible about the flavour of them, provided you can get your hands on them. Good delicatessens, baking supply stores or latin delis tend to have them. There is a good recipe here at the bottom of the page.

    Enjoy, chocoholics!

    This is fabulous, Travis. I look forward to trying this myself. ~Garrett

  38. Jes

    This recipe looks amazing. I just tried it and have a question. It came out slightly gritty. Gritty’s not the exact word, but the closest I can think of. When I sip, it feels thick and textured, but still soft, I can’t actually find any “grits”. Maybe the chocolate didn’t melt all the way? Doesn’t make sense to me, it certainly should have melted. Any ideas?

    Sounds like it didn’t melt all the way or maybe the milk overheated and curdeled/burned. ~Garrett

  39. Ellemar

    Wow, just the other day, I was wondering how I would go about making my own hot chocolate.
    And, like magic, you delivered. Thank you! You never let me down when I’m in need of a good recipe.

  40. Yoko

    OMG, Garrett you’ve made my day.

    I bought a Bialetti hot chocolate maker last month and I’ve been trying all sorts of things but nothing worked as well as your recipe.

    The salt did wonders! I also made mine with both dark & white chocolate – absolutely divine. Now all I need is a good book to read. :)

  41. Goss

    I got addicted to the maple machiato and the dark Belgian hot chocolate with almond milk at blenz so I’m going to try doing your recipe, but subbing in almond milk and a little maple syrup (the darker, richer variety) instead of regular milk and sugar. Might experiment with a touch of Himalayan pink salt and see how it goes :)

    Winter always has me craving hot chocolate, the richer and nuttier the better and sea salt caramel flavors are just divine

  42. Ariane

    I’ve made this more times than I can remember and it is always delicious. Thanks.

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