‘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.
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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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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.