Make Hot Chocolate from Scratch that's Way Better Than a Mix

Scoring decadent hot chocolate—in just 15 minutes!—is easier than you think.

Whenever the weather starts cooling down, a steamy cup of hot chocolate is just the ticket for a warm and cozy night in. And while dumping a packet of hot cocoa mix (though we do have an excellent homemade mix recipe) into hot water might be the easier route, knowing how to make hot chocolate from scratch is a real treat. Below you can learn our Test Kitchen's tips for the best ways to make hot chocolate using cocoa powder, on the stove, and even in a slow cooker. Oh, and we'll also fill you in on hot chocolate vs. hot cocoa (yes, there's a difference). Then you'll find some fun ways to change up the flavor.

How to Make Hot Chocolate with Cocoa Powder

Some people like the concentrated flavor that cocoa powder brings to hot cocoa. Because it lacks the creamy mouthfeel of melted chocolate, you can use cocoa powder with half-and-half or whole milk instead of low-fat milk (though, technically this is hot cocoa, more on that to come). Or use your favorite nondairy milk for vegan hot cocoa. Make sure you choose an unsweetened cocoa powder for this recipe, as it also calls for sugar. You don't need to sift the cocoa powder. Follow these steps to make four to six servings of traditional hot cocoa from scratch.

stirring sugar and cocoa powder
Blaine Moats

1. Combine the Sugar and Cocoa

In a 2- to 2½-quart saucepan ($50, Bed Bath & Beyond) combine ⅓ cup sugar and ⅓ cup unsweetened cocoa powder ($4, Target). Use a whisk to thoroughly combine the sugar and the cocoa. This helps prevent lumps from forming when the liquid is added.

pouring milk into cocoa pan
Blaine Moats

2. Add the Liquid and Heat Through

Slowly add 1 cup half-and-half, light cream, or whole milk to the saucepan and whisk until the dry ingredients are thoroughly combined. Cook and stir over medium-low heat until the mixture just comes to boiling. There should be bubbles over the entire surface. Gradually add 3 cups additional half-and-half, light cream, or whole milk to the saucepan, whisking constantly. Heat through but do not boil.

Hot Chocolate Recipe for One: Prepare as directed, except use a small saucepan and use 4 tsp. sugar and 4 tsp. 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 tsp. vanilla. Use a ladle or measuring cup to pour the hot cocoa into mugs or cups. If desired, serve with marshmallows or whipped cream.

Double Hot Chocolate in white mug with whipped cream and chocolate shavings
Jason Donnelly

How to Make Hot Chocolate using Melted Chocolate

Here's our best hot chocolate recipe using melted chocolate. Before you roll up your sleeves to make this, make sure you have the right kind of chocolate pieces or chocolate bar. Semisweet chocolate is the typical choice 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 chips. You can use any kind of milk, depending on how rich you want your drink to be. Try using 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 Hot Chocolate Ingredients

In a medium saucepan place 2 ounces chopped semisweet chocolate or ½ cup semisweet chocolate pieces ($4, Target). Stir in a ⅓ cup sugar and ½ cup milk. Cook and stir over medium heat until the mixture just comes to a boil. Stir in 3½ cups additional milk and heat through but do not boil. Remove from the heat.

2. Ladle into Cups

Use a ladle or measuring cup to pour the hot chocolate into mugs or cups. If you like, serve with marshmallows or sweetened whipped cream.

Test Kitchen Tip: Make cocoa hearts (or another shape) on marshmallows by placing a heart stencil ($11, Amazon) atop a large marshmallow. Sift sweetened cocoa atop and carefully remove the stencil. Repeat with additional marshmallows and sweetened cocoa.

hot chocolate with peanut butter cup
Carson Downing

Slow Cooker Hot Chocolate

A slow cooker keeps hot chocolate warm throughout the evening. Some slow cooker hot cocoa recipes call for sweetened condensed milk, which adds a lot of sweetness (too much for some). Here's our recipe for slow cooker hot chocolate with half-and-half and heavy cream.

Chocolate Recipe vs. Hot Cocoa: What’s the Difference?

The terms hot chocolate and hot cocoa are used interchangeably, but they actually have different meanings. 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.

Mexican Hot Chocolate
Andy Lyons

Hot Chocolate Variations

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:

  • For frothy hot chocolate, use an immersion blender ($20, Target) or rotary beater to beat until bubbly or frothy.
  • To make hot chocolate coffee (aka hot mocha), add 1 Tbsp. instant coffee along with the milk. This caffeinated hot chocolate is a fabulous indulgence on a winter morning.
  • For Irish hot chocolate, add 1 Tbsp. Irish cream liqueur to each serving.
  • For mint hot chocolate, add 1 Tbsp. peppermint schnapps or 2 or 3 drops peppermint extract to each serving. If you like, garnish each serving with whipped cream, chopped peppermint stick, and a drizzle of chocolate syrup.

The hot chocolate possibilities don't stop there. Add some cinnamon to give it a bit of spice. Too warm? Try a frozen hot chocolate! Don't forget to make a fresh batch of cookies to go with your mug.

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