five spice hot chocolate
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‘Tis the season to learn (or re-learn) how to make hot chocolate from scratch—because it is a million times tastier than most powdered mixes.

It was the ancient Aztecs who first appreciated the virtues of a cup of cocoa, but the version they enjoyed would be barely recognizable to people who relish a cup of sweet hot cocoa on a cold winter’s day.

The Aztec version was prepared using finely ground roasted cacao beans that were combined with chile pepper-infused water to produce a fiery, bitter drink that was used for ceremonial purposes and during celebrations. There is some debate as to whether the drink was intoxicating, as some early Europeans claimed. Some culinary historians speculated that fermented cacao pulp or Aztec spirits were also added.

Amaretto Hot Chocolate recipe

Chowhound’s Amaretto Hot Chocolate

Cortez was the first to bring cacao beans back to Spain in the 16th century. The Spanish added sugar to their new beverage that they heated before serving. The nation went wild for the highly coveted drink and guarded it jealously from the rest of Europe until the English got wind of it in the 17th century.

The British swapped out water for milk and it become a luxurious beverage associated with the British aristocracy. Chocolate houses emerged a few decades later throughout the nation’s cities where patrons convened to discuss the day’s politics over a warm cup of cocoa.

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Related Reading: The Best Gifts for Chocolate Lovers

In the early 19th century, a Dutch chocolate maker was the first to develop a process that removed the fat from the cacao beans, enabling them to be transformed into powder, ushering in the chocolate bar and the term “Dutch-processed chocolate.”

Preparing your own hot chocolate from scratch is easy and rewarding, especially on a chilly fall or winter’s day beside a cozy fire. All you need are a few simple ingredients and a couple basic tools.

ice cream hot chocolate recipe

Chowhound’s Real Deal Hot Chocolate

Here’s What You Need for One Serving:

  • 4 ounces chopped chocolate (milk or dark)*
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • A pinch of salt
  • Additional flavorings, as desired**
  • Two saucepans
  • A wooden spoon
  • A whisk

*Hot chocolate is at its richest and most flavorful when it’s prepared using high quality chocolate instead of cocoa powder. Pick your favorite and experiment. While milk chocolate is wonderful, dark chocolate gives your favorite cold weather drink a sophisticated edge.

**Consider adding flavoring agents to your hot cocoa such as ground cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, or even flaked sea salt which adds a pleasing crunch.

How to Make Hot Chocolate From Scratch:

1. Chop your chocolate as finely as possible and add to a metal bowl.

2. Bring a saucepan of water to a vigorous simmer and place the bowl of chocolate on top. Whisk the chocolate as it begins to melt and continue to do so until it is glossy and smooth. Hold the side of the bowl with a side towel or hot pad because it will become hot. Remove the bowl from the heat.

3. In a second saucepan, add one cup of whole milk for every cup of cocoa you will be making. Don’t reuse the first saucepan because it will be too hot for the cold milk. Over medium-low heat while stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, heat up the milk. Do not let it boil or it could bubble over or scorch.

4. Once the milk is heated, add the warm melted chocolate along with a pinch of salt and whisk until combined. At this stage, add anything else you will be using to flavor your cocoa such as ground cinnamon, nutmeg, or ginger.

5. Pour the cocoa into mugs, top with freshly whipped cream or baby marshmallows and add a cinnamon or peppermint stick, if desired. Garnish with sea salt, powdered cinnamon, or leftover chocolate shavings and enjoy.

Homemade Hot Chocolate Recipes

Check out our variations for even more flavor inspiration:

Mexican Hot Chocolate

Easy Mexican Hot Chocolate recipe


Cinnamon-spiked Mexican chocolate isn’t as smooth and creamy (sugar gives it a more granular texture), but it’s packed with flavor, and whisks up into a frothy treat. Add a pinch of cayenne for some heat if you like things spicy. Get our Mexican Hot Chocolate recipe.

Tipsy Hazelnut Hot Chocolate

Hazlenut Hot Chocolate recipe


Instead of chopped chocolate, you can also stir rich Nutella into hot milk, with a little nip of liqueur for the adults. Get our Tipsy Hazelnut Hot Chocolate recipe.

Peppermint Hot Chocolate

Peppermint Hot Chocolate recipe


Have a surplus of candy canes? Melt some right into your cocoa for a simultaneously warm and minty treat. Get our Peppermint Hot Chocolate recipe.

Coconut Hot Chocolate

coconut hot chocolate recipe


Swap coconut milk in for some of the dairy for a subtle hint of the tropics, or all of it for a vegan hot chocolate drink (provided you use vegan chocolate too, of course). Get our Coconut Hot Chocolate recipe.

Almond Butter Hot Chocolate

Almond Butter Hot Chocolate recipe


Not only does a spoonful of almond butter stirred in make for an even richer texture, it tastes sort of like a melted peanut butter cup. (Incidentally, a good natural-style PB works wonders too, especially if it has a touch of salt.) Get our Almond Butter Hot Chocolate recipe.

Caramel Hot Chocolate

salted caramel hot chocolate recipe


Similarly, a little caramel sauce adds a fantastic twist to hot cocoa, and is even better if it’s of the salted variety. Get our Caramel Hot Chocolate recipe.

Five Spice Hot Chocolate

Five Spice Hot Chocolate recipe


Even without the Clément Créole Shrubb liqueur called for here, a dash of Chinese five spice powder in your hot chocolate makes it a whole new drink. Get our Five Spice Hot Chocolate recipe.

Jody Eddy is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education in Manhattan. She has cooked at Jean Georges, The Fat Duck, and Tabla and is the former editor of Art Culinaire Magazine. Her most recent cookbook was "Cuba! Recipes and Stories From a Cuban Kitchen", published by Ten Speed Press. Her cookbook "North: The New Nordic Cuisine of Iceland" was published by Ten Speed Press in 2014 and won the 2015 IACP Judge's Choice Award. She is the author of the James Beard nominated cookbook "Come In, We're Closed: An Invitation to Staff Meals at the World's Best Restaurants" and her upcoming book for Ten Speed, "The Hygge Life", will be published in November, 2017. She is writing a cookbook for W.W. Norton profiling the cuisine and food traditions of monasteries, temples, mosques and synagogues around the world which will be published in 2019 and a cookbook with the Food Network chef Maneet Chauhan profiling the cuisine of India via an epic train journey throughout the country. She writes for Travel+Leisure, Saveur, Food & Wine, The Wall Street Journal, Plate, and VICE, among others. She is the author of, leads culinary trend tours for food and beverage corporations in Iceland, Peru, Mexico, Ireland and Cuba and is the Vice President of Marketing, Partnerships and Events at Hop Springs, an 85 acre agritourism destination opening in Nashville in May, 2018.
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