The terms hot chocolate and hot cocoa are used interchangeably, but they have different meanings.
Strictly speaking, hot cocoa and hot chocolate are two different things. Hot chocolate is technically made with melted chocolate, while hot cocoa starts with cocoa powder. However, either method will get you the creamy, chocolaty hot drink everyone loves in winter. That’s why we use the terms interchangeably.
Chocolate as a beverage was discovered in Mexico as an Aztec drink made from pounded roasted cocoa beans. The Spanish brought it back to Europe, where it was further refined to become the hot beverage made with milk or cream that we enjoy today.
Some people like the concentrated chocolate flavor that cocoa powder brings to hot cocoa. Because it lacks the creamy mouthfeel of melted chocolate, you might want to use half-and-half or whole milk instead of low-fat milk. Make sure you choose an unsweetened cocoa powder for this recipe since it also calls for sugar. You don't need to sift the cocoa powder for this hot cocoa. This recipe makes four to six servings.
In a 2- to 2-1/2-quart saucepan combine 1/3 cup sugar and 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder. Use a whisk to thoroughly combine the sugar and the cocoa. This will help prevent lumps from forming when the liquid is added.
Hot Chocolate Recipe for One: Prepare as directed, except use a small saucepan and use 4 teaspoons sugar and 4 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder when combining the dry ingredients. Use 1/4 cup milk when you combine the liquid and dry ingredients, and 3/4 cup of milk in the final step.
3. Ladle into Cups
Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in 1 teaspoon vanilla. Use a ladle or measuring cup to pour the hot cocoa into mugs or cups. If desired, serve with marshmallows or whipped cream.
Here’s our best hot chocolate recipe using melted chocolate. Before you roll up your sleeves to make this homemade hot chocolate recipe, make sure you have the right kind of chocolate pieces or chocolate bar. Semisweet chocolate is typical for hot chocolate. Milk chocolate is too mild. For a more intense cup, try using bittersweet chocolate, which usually has a higher percentage of cacao and less sugar. You can use 2 ounces of chocolate in bar form and coarsely chop it with a knife, or use chocolate pieces. You can use any kind of milk, depending on how rich you want the resulting drink to be. Or try part or all half-and-half or even a little heavy cream mixed with the milk. This recipe for hot chocolate makes four to six servings.
1. Heat the Ingredients
In a medium saucepan place 2 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped, or 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate pieces. Stir in 1/3 cup sugar and 1/2 cup milk. Cook and stir over medium heat until the mixture just comes to boiling. Stir in 3-1/2 cups additional milk and heat through but do not boil. Remove from heat.
Tip: To make hot chocolate coffee, add 1 tablespoon instant coffee crystals along with the 3-1/2 cups milk. This caffeinated hot chocolate is a fabulous indulgence on a winter morning!
2. Ladle into Cups
Use a ladle or measuring cup to pour the hot chocolate into mugs or cups. If desired, serve with marshmallows or Sweetened Whipped Cream.
Tip: For frothy hot chocolate, use an immersion blender or rotary beater to beat until bubbly or frothy. This is an optional step.
Tip: For cocoa hearts on marshmallows, place a heart stencil atop a large marshmallow. Sift sweetened cocoa atop and carefully remove the stencil. Repeat with additional marshmallows and sweetened cocoa.
Now that you know how to make hot chocolate with cocoa powder or chocolate pieces, it’s time to try a few flavor spins—some are for kids, others for adults only. Start with either the hot chocolate recipe or the hot cocoa recipe, above, and revise as follows:
Classic Mexican Hot Chocolate: Prepare as directed, except add 1/2 to 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon to the sugar mixture. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon almond extract before serving and, if desired, sprinkle each serving with additional ground cinnamon.
Irish Hot Chocolate: Prepare as directed, except add 1 tablespoon Irish cream liqueur to each serving.
Mint Hot Chocolate: Prepare as directed, except add 1 tablespoon peppermint schnapps or 2 or 3 drops peppermint extract to each serving. If desired, garnish each serving with whipped cream, chopped peppermint stick, and a drizzle of chocolate syrup.
TIP: Slow Cooker Hot Chocolate: The slow cooker keeps hot chocolate warm throughout an evening. Some slow cooker hot cocoa recipes call for sweetened condensed milk, which some cooks feel makes the drink too sweet. Here’s our recipe for Crock-Pot hot chocolate without condensed milk.