I Tried the Most Famous Hot Cocoa Recipe — And It's as Good as Promised (2024)

  • Recipes
  • Beverages

Recipe Review

Andrea Rivera Wawrzyn

Andrea Rivera WawrzynAssociate Food Editor, The Kitchn

Andrea is the Associate Food Editor at The Kitchn. She is a lifelong chef and full-time clog enthusiast. Her passions include grabbing more books at the library than she can read in the time allotted and the relentless pursuit of the perfect burrito. She lives in Salem, MA with her husband and two cats.

published Dec 19, 2023





We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.

I Tried the Most Famous Hot Cocoa Recipe — And It's as Good as Promised (1)

In This Article

  1. Meet Our Hot Cocoa Contenders
  2. How I Tested the Hot Cocoa Recipes
  3. Why You Should Trust Me as a Tester
  4. 1. The Basic Hot Cocoa: Ree Drummond’s Delicious Hot Chocolate
  5. 2. The Hot Cocoa with Complex Flavors: Carla Hall’s Snow Day Cocoa
  6. 3. The Sugary Sweet Hot Cocoa: Ina Garten’s Hot Chocolate
  7. 4. The Hot Cocoa That’s Too Much Work: Giada De Laurentiis’ Triple Chocolate Hot Cocoa
  8. 5. The Dead Simple Hot Cocoa: Nigella Lawson’s Mystic Hot Chocolate
  9. 6. The Dream Hot Cocoa: Jacques Torres’ Legendary Hot Chocolate





Hot cocoa is a classic, comforting treat that’s perfect for the cold winter months. While there are plenty of boxed hot chocolate mixes, hot cocoa bombs, and flavored kits available at the grocery store, we wanted to find the best recipe for making hot chocolate at home. We put six popular recipes to the test to see which has the perfect combination of creaminess, flavor, and ease.

Quick Overview

So, What’s the Best Hot Chocolate Recipe?

Jacques Torres’ famous hot chocolate recipe is worth the hype. It’s extra chocolatey, not too sweet, and has a deliciously silky texture, thanks to cornstarch and baking powder.

Meet Our Hot Cocoa Contenders

For this recipe showdown, we included six popular hot cocoa recipes from celebrity chefs. All six recipes were made on the stovetop. Most recipes used full-fat dairy as the base of the cocoa — either milk, half-and-half, or a combination, although one called for almond milk. Some included a topping or garnish, while others let the cocoa stand on its own. The recipes all yielded distinctive takes on classic hot cocoa.

  • Ina Garten: This recipe includes a combination of milk and dark chocolates, both whole milk and half-and-half, vanilla, and instant espresso powder. The cocoa is cooked on the stovetop and garnished with a cinnamon stick or a vanilla bean.
  • Carla Hall: This single-serving recipe employs a combination of dark chocolate, cinnamon, sugar, and whole milk. It’s topped with ginger whipped cream and a slice of orange peel for a more complex cocoa.
  • Jacques Torres: This deceptively simple cocoa includes some unexpected ingredients — milk powder and cornstarch — which are combined on the stovetop with whole milk and dark chocolate.
  • Ree Drummond: If you’re looking to make cocoa for a crowd, this recipe makes a whopping six servings and relies on mostly pantry-friendly ingredients like whole milk, half-and-half, vanilla, and semisweet chocolate chips.
  • Giada De Laurentiis: The only recipe in the lineup to use non-dairy milk, it also incorporates chocolate hazelnut spread, cocoa nibs, and dark chocolate, which are all combined with almond milk warmed on the stovetop and blended together.
  • Nigella Lawson: Possibly the simplest in a group of simple recipes, this is the only one to suggest using the microwave. Cocoa powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and honey are combined with warmed milk to make a single serving.

The yields of these recipes varied from one all the way up to six servings. Determining the serving size for something like cocoa requires a little bit of guesswork from a recipe developer. Mugs don’t come in a standard size — they can hold anywhere from 5 or 6 ounces to 10 or 12 ounces. That said, I think the sweet spot for a hot cocoa recipe would be two to three servings, so you could easily double or halve that amount to suit your needs. None of these recipes yield that amount, but that’s fine. We’re here to find the best hot cocoa recipe — leftovers welcome!

How I Tested the Hot Cocoa Recipes

  • I made all of the recipes on the same day. All recipes were prepared and tasted on the same day for a true side-by-side comparison.
  • I used the same two pots. I tested each recipe in Cuisinart saucepans, using a small size for recipes with smaller yields and a large saucepan for bigger batches.
  • I used the same brand of chocolate for every recipe. Each recipe was tested using Ghirardelli (milk, dark, and semisweet) chocolate, including chips, chopped bar chocolate, and cocoa powder.

Why You Should Trust Me as a Tester

I have been in the food industry for over a decade and spent four years as a recipe developer and food editor. I have developed, written, and tested hundreds of recipes. I know how to critique a recipe for accuracy, clarity, flavor, and overall end results.

1. The Basic Hot Cocoa: Ree Drummond’s Delicious Hot Chocolate

Overall rating: 7/10
Get the recipe: Ree Drummond’s Delicious Hot Chocolate

If you’re looking for a pantry-friendly recipe to make cocoa for a crowd, this is a good one to try. The no-frills ingredient list includes whole milk, half-and-half, semisweet chocolate chips, and vanilla — all things many households will have on hand. The recipe is well-written, instructing the reader to warm the milk and half-and-half on the stovetop over medium-low heat, then stir in the chocolate until melted, noting that there will still be particles of chocolate throughout.

The recipe serves six, which could be a bit much depending on your needs, although I did save leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge. The hot cocoa itself is tasty, but basic. It’s not overly sweet (there is the option to add a teaspoon of sugar if you like your cocoa sweeter), which I prefer, and it has a balanced chocolatey flavor from the semisweet chips. Overall, this feels like what you would throw together if you wanted hot cocoa, but hadn’t planned your grocery run ahead of time.

2. The Hot Cocoa with Complex Flavors: Carla Hall’s Snow Day Cocoa

Overall rating: 6/10
Get the recipe: Carla Hall’s Snow Day Cocoa

If you want more than your run-of-the-mill hot cocoa, this is the recipe for you. The ingredients include cinnamon, ginger, and orange, giving this cocoa a distinctly different flavor profile from the other recipes I tested.

While not the only recipe to call for whipped cream, it is the only one to include a recipe for it. That might feel like too much work for a single serving, but this could easily be doubled to serve two people. Carla’s whipped cream uses heavy cream, sugar, and ground ginger for an aromatic twist. The cocoa itself starts by briefly toasting ground cinnamon in a small saucepan before adding whole milk, dark chocolate, and sugar. The cocoa is garnished with the ginger whipped cream and a small piece of orange peel.

The final product was surprising and complex. Dark chocolate and orange are a classic combination, and the ginger whipped cream added another layer of depth. Unfortunately the texture was so thick I felt like I was trying to drink melted chocolate. Stirring the whipped cream into the mug loosened it a little, but I think I could have doubled the amount of milk here and still made delicious cocoa with a more drinkable consistency.

3. The Sugary Sweet Hot Cocoa: Ina Garten’s Hot Chocolate

Overall rating: 5/10
Get the recipe: Ina Garten’s Hot Chocolate

This is a relatively straightforward take on hot cocoa that comes together quickly. Milk and half-and-half are heated on the stovetop, followed by stirring in chopped chocolate, sugar, vanilla, and espresso powder. The cocoa is garnished with your choice of vanilla beans or cinnamon sticks. This makes a big batch that serves four to five people.

The combination of both milk and half-and-half and two kinds of chocolate (milk and dark) gives the cocoa both body and a more complex flavor. The result is a cocoa with a recognizable classic flavor profile reminiscent of a higher-quality Swiss Miss.

That said, it was very sweet and a tad on the rich side. I can’t imagine adding a classic topping like whipped cream or marshmallows to something already this sugary. I was disappointed to not pick up on the flavor of espresso powder, seemingly overwhelmed by the chocolate. If you’re looking for a really sweet treat or a good cocoa recipe for a group of kids (perhaps minus the espresso powder), this is it.

4. The Hot Cocoa That’s Too Much Work: Giada De Laurentiis’ Triple Chocolate Hot Cocoa

Overall rating: 3/10
Get the recipe: Giada De Laurentiis’ Triple Chocolate Cocoa

When I read the ingredient list for this one, I had high hopes. This recipe incorporates chocolate hazelnut spread in addition to dark chocolate, and is the only one to include a pinch of salt. A little bit of salt with your sweet is terrific! This is also the only recipe to lead with non-dairy milk. The curveball for me was the cocoa nibs, which don’t melt and seemed like a possibly problematic texture-add. This recipe uses the blender in addition to the stovetop, putting it squarely in a higher-lift category than every other recipe I tested. Still, I was hopeful it would yield a good cocoa with some added depth of flavor.

Before heating the milk on the stovetop you add dark chocolate chips, chocolate hazelnut spread, cocoa nibs, and salt to a blender. Once the milk is warm, you carefully pour it over the ingredients in the blender and allow them to sit for 30 seconds. Then everything is blended until smooth. Unfortunately, despite blending for over 3 minutes (well over the 30 seconds the recipe called for), I could not get the mixture totally smooth. The cocoa nibs remained stubbornly “nibby” and resulted in a gritty cocoa.

While blending heated milk and a few other ingredients is not necessarily a lot of work, it was noticeably more (and created more dishes to clean) than every other recipe I tested. Grittiness aside, the flavor of the cocoa was a tad on the bitter side and while the use of almond milk is great for non-dairy folks, the cocoa itself had a distinctly thinner texture than other cocoas I tested.

5. The Dead Simple Hot Cocoa: Nigella Lawson’s Mystic Hot Chocolate

Overall rating: 5/10
Get the recipe: Nigella Lawson’s Mystic Hot Chocolate

Nigella Lawson’s take on hot cocoa is startlingly simple. It starts with “1 mug” of whole milk — an imprecise but perfect measurement for this kind of recipe, allowing you to make as much or as little cocoa as you want. It is the only recipe that calls for heating the milk either on the stovetop or in the microwave, which saves you from dirtying a saucepan. It is also the only recipe I tested that calls for cocoa powder, rather than chocolate. To the heated milk you stir in cocoa powder, honey, ground cinnamon, and nutmeg.

The result is what I imagine you would get if a cup of tea became hot cocoa. While I don’t prefer my cocoa sickly sweet, 1 teaspoon of honey was not enough to make this taste balanced. I liked the flavors of nutmeg and cinnamon, and cocoa powder does make for a pleasingly chocolatey, if not deep, flavor. However, the use of just milk (rather than a combo of milk and half-and-half) resulted in a thin texture overall. I would try this again but skip the honey and just add a little sugar to achieve a more satisfying sweetness.

6. The Dream Hot Cocoa: Jacques Torres’ Legendary Hot Chocolate

Overall rating: 10/10
Get the recipe: Jacques Torres’ Legendary Hot Chocolate

This cocoa blew all of the others out of the water. I was suspicious at first of the inclusion of milk powder and cornstarch in the ingredient list, wondering if they were really necessary or the kind of thing that sometimes gets added to a recipe to make it stand out from the crowd. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the addition of these two ingredients to a simple mixture of milk and dark chocolate yielded the best cup of cocoa in the bunch.

The recipe is well written and clear, with instructions to bring the milk to a boil over medium-high heat, then lower to medium while whisking in the chocolate until it melts. The cornstarch and milk powder go in next while you continue to whisk until the mixture is smooth and thickened.

The flavor is uncomplicated, chocolatey, and balanced without being too sweet, with no need for added sugar. Where this one really shines is the texture. The cocoa is silky, thicker than milk alone, but not heavy. It feels indulgent, but not rich. This is what I wanted other cocoa recipes to be — classic, balanced, and smooth. I would be happy as a clam sipping a full mug by a fire, and I’m confident it could even take a few marshmallows or whipped cream without going over the edge into headache-sweet territory.

Filed in:


Recipe Review

I Tried the Most Famous Hot Cocoa Recipe — And It's as Good as Promised (2024)


What is the best cocoa powder for hot chocolate? ›

Unsweetened cocoa powder: a high-quality cocoa powder or cacao powder is essential. I highly recommend using Ghirardelli's 100% cocoa. I think it has the best flavor for hot chocolate (and trust me, I've tried quite a few!)

How do you make hot cocoa mix better? ›

Add an extract

A quick and easy way to add flavor to your hot chocolate is by adding a splash of your favorite extract. Coconut and almond extracts lend hot chocolate an Almond Joy-like taste, while vanilla adds dimension to the chocolate flavor. Peppermint extract instantly gives the drink a holiday flair.

Why do people put butter in hot chocolate? ›

So, the butter in this coffee is there to keep you fuller longer (so you don't crave a mid morning muffin), provide every cell in your body with the fuel it needs, AND to help this drink get nice and frothy.

What is the difference between hot chocolate and hot cocoa? ›

Hot Chocolate is made using solid chocolate melted in warm milk or cream. Hot Cocoa, however, is made from a powdered base of cocoa with added sugar and dissolved in hot water or hot milk.

What is the best rated hot cocoa? ›

  • Best for Dark Chocolate Lovers. Crow & Moss Honduras Wampusirpi Drinking Chocolate. ...
  • Most Nostalgic. Swiss Miss Milk Chocolate Hot Cocoa Mix. ...
  • Nostalgic Runner-Up. Nestle Rich Milk Chocolate Hot Cocoa Mix. ...
  • Best Spiced. Spicewalla Classic Hot Chocolate. ...
  • Most Spike-able. ...
  • Platonic Ideal. ...
  • Best for Gifting. ...
  • Allergy-Free.
Feb 1, 2024

What is the secret ingredient in gourmet hot chocolate? ›

Marshmallows: The Unsung Hero

Believe it or not, the secret ingredient in gourmet hot chocolate is none other than marshmallows. These fluffy, sweet confections are the unsung heroes of the hot chocolate world, adding a delightful creaminess and hint of sweetness that takes the drink to a whole new level.

Is hot cocoa better with water or milk? ›

Although hot chocolate doesn't necessarily need an even more creamy, decadent taste, using milk certainly enriches the experience. We suspect that milk adds a creamier taste than water alone, and when combined with the notes of chocolate, the smooth undertones of the milk simply add a delicious backdrop.

How do you make 100% cocoa taste good? ›

Yes, 100% cacao pairs well with ingredients like almond butter, coconut, cinnamon, vanilla, and fruits such as raspberries, strawberries, and bananas. These pairings can help balance the intense bitterness of the cacao and create a delicious flavor profile.

Why do people put cheese in their hot chocolate? ›

A little bit of salt enhances the flavors of chocolate and creates a much more complex gastronomical experience. Colombian hot chocolate is exactly the same. Adding a bit of salty cheese to the cup makes the chocolate's notes more pronounced.

What is chocolate and butter called? ›

Chocolate Ganache made with Butter is semi-sweet chocolate melted with butter to create a rich and shiny chocolatey topping, glaze, icing, or filling.

Why is everyone putting butter in their coffee? ›

Since fat takes longer for your body to process, the fat allows the caffeine to be released more slowly and evenly into your system. Voila! You get the energy boost from caffeine without the harsh spike and crash. Learn more at Bulletproofcoffee.com here.

What is true hot chocolate? ›

True HOT CHOCOLATE is a nutritionally rich collagen drink with a simple, all-natural ingredient profile. Quick and easy to prepare, HOT CHOCOLATE boasts a 60% protein content of 10.3g in every serve.

What kind of milk do you use for hot chocolate? ›

The best type of milk for making hot chocolate is whole milk. This is because the higher fat content in whole milk creates a creamier and richer hot chocolate. However, if you are looking for a healthier option, almond milk or oat milk can also work well as they add a subtle nutty or oaty flavor to the hot chocolate.

What is coffee and hot chocolate called? ›

What exactly is mocha? A mocha is a blend of a cappuccino and a hot chocolate. Like a cappuccino it contains espresso, warm milk and a frothy top but it also contains a sweet chocolatey twist using either chocolate powder, chocolate syrup or melted chocolate.

What cocoa powder do professionals use? ›

Some pastry chefs and professional bakers prefer the mild flavor of Dutch-process cocoas in baked desserts—it's the variety we use most often in our recipes—while others point to the bolder, almost fruity flavor that comes from natural, non-alkalized powder.

Is there a difference between cocoa powder and hot cocoa mix? ›

Cocoa Powder: Hot chocolate starts with cocoa powder, which provides a chocolatey flavour. However, hot chocolate mix is distinct from plain cocoa powder, as it often contains added sugar, powdered milk, and sometimes additional flavourings like vanilla or spices.

Does hot chocolate powder work the same as cocoa powder? ›

In short, you can use hot chocolate powder as a cocoa powder substitute in a pinch, but you may not experience the depth of flavour you want. Because most brands of hot chocolate powder include sugar or sweetener, you may wish to reduce the amount of sugar you add to your baking recipe.

Does the type of cocoa powder matter? ›

Because it's chemistry! Since cocoa powder can be acidic (natural) or neutral (dutched), always stick with the type of cocoa called for in that recipe. Using the wrong cocoa can result in a flat cake, bitter soapy flavor, sunken cupcakes, etc. If you're in a bind, you can use natural cocoa powder for dutch-process.

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Geoffrey Lueilwitz

Last Updated:

Views: 6541

Rating: 5 / 5 (80 voted)

Reviews: 95% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Geoffrey Lueilwitz

Birthday: 1997-03-23

Address: 74183 Thomas Course, Port Micheal, OK 55446-1529

Phone: +13408645881558

Job: Global Representative

Hobby: Sailing, Vehicle restoration, Rowing, Ghost hunting, Scrapbooking, Rugby, Board sports

Introduction: My name is Geoffrey Lueilwitz, I am a zealous, encouraging, sparkling, enchanting, graceful, faithful, nice person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.