Homemade 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 powdered 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.
Hot Chocolate vs. Hot Cocoa
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 to 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.
The Best Chocolate for Homemade Hot Chocolate
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 purer 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, higher the 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 cacao percentage (about 20%).
Which to Use—Milk, Soy, or Water?
Whole milk lends to the creaminess and sweetness of hot chocolate, but feel free to use low-fat or nonfat milk if you prefer. For a thicker, richer hot chocolate, switch out 1/4 cup of milk for cream.
Soy milk or another non-dairy milk is an alternative if you are lactose intolerant. Use unflavored or vanilla soy milk.
Believe it or not, you can also use water instead of milk. Water allows the chocolate to show off its true flavors and unique characteristics, however, you lose the creamy feel and flavor.
Perk Up Your Hot Chocolate!
Experiment with spices and herbs to create unique flavors with your hot chocolate. Many flavors can be added to chocolate. Here are some ideas:
- A classic combination of peppermint and orange
- Lavender, bay leaf, or star anise
- Chinese five spice for a slight kick
- Chai spice blend
- Add vanilla and chili peppers, like the Aztecs did
- Or cinnamon, like modern-day Mexicans
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.
Spiked Hot Chocolate
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. Almost 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.
- I also like rum in my hot chocolate. Rum is good.
Hot Chocolate with 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 for 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.
More Warming Winter Drinks
Can You Make Hot Chocolate for Later?
Hot chocolate is best enjoyed fresh the day it's made. If you want to do some of the prep in advance, you can finely chop the chocolate and keep it in an airtight container at room temperature.
What if you have leftover hot chocolate? I don't know how that's even possible, but let's just say you do. You can freeze it and blend it with a shot of espresso to make your own homemade frappuccino. Alternately, you can add some more milk and blend it for an instant chocolate milkshake.
The Best Way to Chop a Chunk of Chocolate
Finely chopped chocolate melts faster and more evenly. To ensure this, use a serrated knife, which bites into the chocolate and won’t slip. Shear off little shards with the knife for easy melting.
Buying Quality Chocolate for Hot Chocolate
Stores like Trader Joe's and Whole Foods have plenty of high quality chocolates for your hot chocolate needs. But if all you have is a regular grocery store nearby, head over to the candy aisle and look for a bittersweet or semisweet chocolate with a high enough cocoa content.
You can use chocolate chips, but only do so as a last resort. Manufacturers add stabilizers to chocolate chips to keep their shape, making them not the ideal chocolate for melting.
Homemade Hot Chocolate
8 ounces dark, semi-sweet, or bittersweet chocolate (60% cacao, preferably)
4 cups whole milk (or a nondairy milk)
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
Chop the chocolate:
Finely chop the chocolate into small pieces. The pieces have to be able to dissolve easily in the liquid. Set aside.
Warm the milk:
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.
If you wish, add herbs or spices to the milk, bring to a simmer then take off the heat and allow to steep for 10 minutes. Strain the liquid then place back into the pot and return to a simmer.
Add the chocolate:
Add the chocolate, vanilla, powdered sugar, and salt, and whisk vigorously until the chocolate has melted.
Melt the chocolate:
Heat for another 4 minutes, constantly stirring, until the chocolate is completely melted.
Serve hot topped with whipped cream:
Divide between mugs and add a splash of liquor if desired. Top with a dollop of whipped cream.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 26g||33%|
|Saturated Fat 15g||75%|
|Total Carbohydrate 48g||18%|
|Dietary Fiber 4g||14%|
|Total Sugars 41g|
|Vitamin C 0mg||0%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|