There’s something inherently comforting about cradling a steaming mug of hot chocolate or cocoa in your hands. Though it's a beverage that transcends the seasons, the magic of hot chocolate is particularly pronounced in fall and winter. Though to some it might sound too extreme to say hot chocolate can be a soothing elixir, there’s no doubt that one sip can transport you to another time or place, perhaps where you first drank this rich, velvety liquid.
Choose your favorite hot chocolate style
Though the end point is similar—a warm drink that features chocolate—the ways to get there vary. The choice of hot chocolate method depends on how rich you like the drink and the level of ease. If you’re a chocoholic of the 1st order, then you’re probably going to want to choose the French style that combines just heavy cream or milk and hot chocolate. For those who like a lighter flavor, hot cocoa made only with cocoa powder is ideal. And for the hot chocolate Goldilocks of the world, there’s the combination of the two.
Hot chocolate made with melted chocolate, aka chocolat chaud
If you’ve ever had the luck of visiting France, then you may be familiar with their decadent version of hot chocolate—that’s chocolat chaud, en Français—which is essentially drinkable chocolate ganache. Made by whisking chopped chocolate into warm milk, this drink is not for the faint of heart. Make it when you’re looking for something ultra luxurious. This is the time to splurge on ingredients, since there’s no hiding the quality of the chocolate. Want to try it yourself? David Lebovitz has a two-ingredient recipe for Parisian Hot Chocolate. If you prefer milk chocolate or white chocolate, simply add some of that into the recipe or swap it entirely for the dark chocolate.
Hot chocolate made with cocoa powder, aka hot cocoa
Though hot cocoa mix gets a bad rap for the instant varieties, making your own hot cocoa with cocoa powder doesn’t mean the drink will be bland. Far from it. Combining a high quality natural, unsweetened cocoa powder with your milk of choice, a pinch of salt, vanilla extract, and a dash of sugar results in a comforting, cozy drink that’s not too rich. Epicurious has a simple version of hot cocoa that can be endlessly customized to your taste
Hot chocolate using a mix of cocoa powder and melted chocolate
Think of this as the Goldilocks version of hot chocolate, which has a little bit of everything for the hot chocolate enthusiast. Cocoa powder acts as a base note for the melted chocolate, which adds richness. Delish has a version of Homemade Hot Chocolate that combines both cocoa and chocolate chips. If you want to make a hot chocolate that balances milk chocolate with the more bitter cocoa powder, this is a great choice.
How to get creative with your hot chocolate
While you don’t strictly need anything more than chocolate or cocoa and a liquid, there are so many ways to enhance hot chocolate that are worth trying. To start, a pinch of salt balances the sweetness of the drink. A dash of vanilla extract enhances the aromatic compounds of the chocolate, too. Of course, there are other ways to mix up hot chocolate, from stirring in alcohol for those who like their hot chocolate boozy or addings syrups like salted caramel. Here are some ideas for mixing up your hot chocolate:
- Get boozy: There’s a reason so many people want to know how to make alcoholic hot chocolate. It’s delicious! If you want something Christmas-y, stir a shot of peppermint schnapps into your cocoa and top whipped cream and a mini candy cane. Orange liqueur is a fun addition to chocolate chaud, while Baileys or Kahlua offer a mocha-inspired twist.
- Go white: There’s no reason to stick to dark or milk chocolate for your hot chocolate. Swap in white chocolate instead, and consider adding an extra pinch of salt to balance the higher level of sweetness.
- Spice it up: Mexican hot chocolate, aka champurrado, combines masa harina (the ground corn used for tortillas) with dark chocolate, dark brown sugar (piloncillo, if you can find it), cinnamon, and a pinch of cayenne. Try out Serious Eats’ Champurrado (Mexican Hot Chocolate and Corn Drink) Recipe.
Finally, think about toppings
Whipped cream and marshmallows are classic, but there are so many ways to enhance your mug o’ cocoa. Consider chocolate shavings, a tuile cookie, candied orange peel, a few bits of crushed peppermint, or even a piece of candied bacon.