5 Expert Tips for Making the Best Hot Chocolate Ever

s'mores hot chocolate

Coming in from out of the cold — whether you’ve been shopping, doing yard work or just playing with the kids — is the best excuse to whip up a batch of hot chocolate. For such a simple treat, however, it can be surprisingly tricky to master the technique of making perfectly smooth, silky hot chocolate. From clumpy cocoa powder to overly scalded milk, there are plenty of ways that homemade hot chocolate can fall short of coffee-shop-quality.

If you really want to make gorgeous hot chocolate, we’ve got some barista-approved tips to share! Just remember: A little bit of extra effort — and a commitment to quality, local ingredients — makes all the difference.

Expert Tip 1: Keep it Local

No matter what type of milk, chocolate and garnishes you desire, look to local brands for superior quality. Local PA farms provide the freshest dairy, and candy shops and specialty markets have artisan marshmallows, extracts and cocoa. These little tweaks and upgrades can really make a noticeable difference in your cup

peanut butter hot chocolate

Expert Tip 2: Whipped Cream

One easy way to take your hot cocoa to the next level is to make flavored whipped cream! Combine 1 cup cold heavy cream, 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon peppermint (or flavor of your choice) extract in a cold mixing bowl. Beat on high until stiff peaks form, about 1 minute. (This can be done while you’re waiting for your milk to heat up.) For an extra pro look, scoop it into a pastry bag fitted with a wide tip and pipe pretty swirls onto your cup!

Expert Tip 3: Milk

Your milk matters! The higher the fat content in milk, the creamier the hot chocolate will taste. Then, you’ve got to pay attention to temperature, too. For hot milk-based drinks, 140ºF is ideal, while 160ºF is best for extra-hot or to ensure that drinks maintain their temperature if they’re being transported. Slow, even heating ensures the milk won’t scald, so whisk often and don’t rush the process. Foaming also increases in overall volume so keep this in mind as you go. You can microwave your milk as well, but then you’ll have slightly less control over the temperature and the process of heating evenly.

Expert Tip 4: Foaming

If you’re looking for creamy foam, there are a few ways to try. It’s important to heat and froth your milk before you add any other ingredients to get the most consistent and delicious results. Once your milk is at your desired temperature and texture, pour a little over the mix-ins, whisk vigorously until combined and top with remaining milk. This helps create a smooth drink and preserves the foam (if you mix after you add all the milk, you’ll break down all the lovely foam you just created).

If you have a home espresso machine, steam the milk before pouring over the chocolate to ensure a velvety smooth drink. Divide the mix-ins evenly among the serving mugs, and pour about an inch of steamed milk into each mug. Whisk vigorously until ingredients are melted and incorporated, and top off with remaining steamed milk.

An immersion blender or handheld frother is an affordable alternative to get milk foam that’s similar to your favorite coffee shop’s. Heat your milk to the desired temperature, transfer to a tall, sturdy heat-proof container or pot. Completely submerge the head of the blender and blend until frothy. Then pour over other ingredients and whisk to combine.

You can even froth milk (and make whipped cream, actually) in a French press. Just pour heated milk into the French press about halfway, and pump vigorously until desired frothiness is met.

Expert Tip 5: Whisking

The whisk is your friend! The best way to incorporate ingredients into warm milk is with a whisk (not a fork or spoon!). Be sure to choose a whisk that is sized for the volume you’re working with, and whisk vigorously, especially to ensure chocolate melts evenly and doesn’t clump. If using a non-stick sauce pan, be sure to employ a plastic or silicone whisk, as metal can damage the surface.

red wine hot chocolate

Ready to mix up your best batch of hot chocolate ever? We’ve got four awesome recipes for you to try:

Do you have any secret tips to share for amazing hot chocolate? Favorite hot chocolate flavors or mix-ins? Let us know!