What’s not to like about hot chocolate? It’s creamy, rich, sweet, and decadent. There are so many different types of hot chocolate from classic Swiss Miss to Hershey’s chocolate syrup to the thick, pudding-like drink served with churros in Madrid.
You can easily play around with different flavors and textures depending on your mood. A basic hot chocolate starts with some form of creamy liquid (milk, half-and-half heavy cream or a non-dairy milk) simmered with cocoa powder and sugar. Melt in some chocolate to reach a new level of decadence. Let’s say you’re looking for a peppermint flavor — swirl in a bit of peppermint extract and some crushed peppermint candy. For a thick hot chocolate, cornstarch is the magic ingredient. You can still use the same base recipe, but mix in a cornstarch slurry (a smooth mixture of cornstarch and water) and watch in amazement, as the hot chocolate suddenly thickens right before your eyes.
I’ve provided my own recipe below, though you can truly modify anything to your liking. It’s more of a starting place with a list of key ingredients and techniques that can be manipulated or tweaked. If you want more or less sugar, adjust as needed. If you want a richer hot chocolate, sub half-and-half.
Additionally, I highly recommend the homemade marshmallow recipe from Stella Parks’ Bravetart cookbook. Homemade marshmallows are so soft, light, and fluffy compared to their store-bought counterparts. The recipe requires a candy thermometer and a bit of time, but it is well worth the effort. Keep in mind, marshmallows are mostly sugar, so you may want to keep your drink slightly more bitter to offset their sweet taste.
Creamy Hot Chocolate Recipe
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 to 2 tablespoons cocoa powder, sifted if yours is clumpy
- 2 cups 2% or whole milk, non-dairy works too
- A pinch of salt
- 1 ounce 70% dark chocolate, finely chopped (optional, for a richer hot chocolate — use semi-sweet for a sweeter drink)
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
- cornstarch slurry, (recipe below)
- Homemade or store-bought marshmallows, for serving
Cornstarch slurry (optional for a thick, rich hot chocolate)
- 1 tablespoon cold milk
- 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
- Optional — Make the cornstarch slurry for a thicker hot chocolate: In a small bowl, whisk cold milk with cornstarch until no clumps remain.
- In a 3-quart saucepan, add sugar, cocoa powder, milk, and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, then let simmer for 5 minutes, whisking frequently to ensure the cocoa powder melts into the milk and the bottom of the pan doesn’t burn. If the milk begins to burn, lower the heat.
- Add chopped chocolate (if using) and cornstarch slurry and bring to a boil. Whisk constantly for 2 minutes at a boil. Note that cornstarch needs to be at a boil for at least one minute to activate and thicken.
- Taste and adjust the hot chocolate, then remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract. Serve hot and top with marshmallows.
Instructions for the caramel:
- In a 3-quart saucepan, add granulated sugar in an even layer and heat to medium. Swirl the sugar around the pan to ensure it cooks evenly, but do not stir (stirring can create unwanted crystallization). As it heats, the sugar on the sides of the pan will melt and caramelize faster; at this point, you can use a heatproof spatula to bring the liquefied sugar into the center of the pan to allow the solid sugar on the sides to melt. If your caramel burns, you’ll need to start again so be vigilant here.
- Once the melted sugar appears evenly amber, immediately remove the pan from the heat, and add in 1 tablespoon of butter. The butter will immediately sizzle in the pan.
- Proceed with the rest of the recipe, adding the sugar, cocoa powder, milk and salt, and bringing the mixture to a boil.
- For a creamier hot chocolate…replace milk with half-and-half or heavy cream.
- For a flavored hot chocolate…replace the vanilla extract with any extract you like, such as almond, peppermint, or vanilla just before serving.
- For a slight caramel flavor…make a caramel with the sugar first, then add the milk and let the caramel simmer with the rest of the ingredients. The caramel balances the sweetness of the hot chocolate nicely. Make sure to use both cocoa powder and dark chocolate here for the optimal flavor balance.