This rich creamy hot chocolate recipe has become a family favorite! It’s part of our annual Christmas Lights Scavenger Hunt tradition, one of our favorite cheap Christmas activities.
The Perfect Holiday Cocoa
I always loved the idea of hot chocolate. As a kid, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a warm mug of what I expected to be akin to a liquefied candy bar. Any time a restaurant or concession stand that had hot chocolate on the menu, I would beg to get some. When my mug of deliciousness arrived, I waited in agony for it to cool off. Why do they make it so scaldingly hot?!
Finallly, I could stand to take a sip of. . .disappointment. This was what I’d been waiting for.
I’d look guiltily at my parents. I’d made them buy this for me, but I didn’t want to finish it.
Hot sugar water. Barely a hint of chocolate. What should have been joy in a cup was nothing more than a shadow.
When I got old enough to mix up my own hot cocoa from the packets at the store, I thought I’d be clever and mix two packets in one cup for a richer cocoa experience.
No such luck. I soon discovered that those commercial packets are overloaded with sugar too, and more powder just means sweeter watery cocoa.
To get a rich cocoa, I would need to make my own, with milk.
As a teen, I tried Hershey’s syrup mixed with milk and heated up. Blech. Now intstead of hot water I had warm milk with but a hint of chocolate.
I tried mixing cocoa powder and sugar into milk only to get lumpy bitter bits of cocoa powder that didn’t fully incorporate. Alas, would I never find a decent cup of cocoa?
Then one day, my life changed when I discovered the recipe for stovetop hot chocolate on the side of the Hershey’s cocoa box. Now, I had the technique!
That basic recipe kept me satisfied for years until I began to improve and tweak my own tasty cup. Now, I’ve developed a signature style of cocoa.
Sometimes I make it a little richer and darker, a more Grown Up Drinking Chocolate.
For kids and crowds, this traditionally cocoa, amped up for the holidays, is the perfect thing. Totally hits the spot.
A more satisfying cup of cocoa won’t be found south of the Polar Express.
How to Make the Perfect Hot Chocolate
The secret really is in the technique.
See, cocoa powder is made by crushing roasted cocoa beans then separating out the fat (cocoa butter) from the solids (cocoa powder). To get the purest rich cocoa flavor, you need to add a bit of fat back to those solids. This creates a rich liquid chocolate to mix with the milk.
In a saucepan over low heat, combine cocoa powder, sugar and butter. Whisk until the butter is melted and begins to mix with the cocoa solids. Then add in a splash of water.
Whisk, whisk, whisk until the sugar and cocoa are dissolved and you have a rich, thick, chocolate syrup.
This really is a divine chocolate syrup. You can serve it over chopped fruit for a decadent dessert! But we’re working on cocoa tonight. Bring on the milk!
Before adding the milk, I whisk in a bit of cinnamon for added depth and richness. Just about a 1/4 teaspoon is plenty. You don’t want to overpower the chocolate. The hint of cinnamon actually enhances the cocoa. Most people don’t even notice that it is cinnamon in there.
Then, the milk! I use a combination of milk and half-n-half (since that’s what I have on hand for coffee). If you are going to go buy ingredients for this, you can use full heavy cream instead of the half-n-half, just don’t use quite as much. But I adore real cream in my cocoa. It’s truly indulgent!
Heat until wisps of steam begin to rise. You do not want to over heat the milk and cause scalding!
Turn off the heat and add a bit of vanilla extract before serving with the toppings of your choice.
Christmas Cocoa Traditions
We drink this cocoa at my house as soon as the weather is cold enough for a fire. In Texas, that’s not too often.
Chill in the air or no, we always have this hot chocolate in hand as we head out for our annual Christmas Light Scavenger Hunt, a favorite tradition!
You can also try serving this at a hot chocolate bar! Double or triple the recipe for a crowd, keep it warm in a slow-cooker and serve with an array of toppings: nuts, peppermint, chocolate shavings, sprinkles, whipped cream, marshmallows, etc.
Just be sure you tell your guest to stir the pot before serving themselves as it does have a tendency to separate just a little.
I wish you satisfying cups of cocoa and lots of happy holiday memories!
Cocoa & Cream,