The Best Homemade Hot Cocoa

For those who live in cities with cold winters like Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Boston, and Washington, DC, I’m sure many of us, like myself, have never encountered a single year of our lives thus far without snow.

Vertical image of a mug filled with a chocolate beverage on a plate next to marshmallows, with text on the top and bottom of the image.

And do you know what else we can always count on during the chilliest months of the year?

Aside from the biggest and puffiest winter jackets you’ve ever seen, – we’re channeling you, Randy Parker – we always have hot cocoa.

Warm, creamy, comforting hot cocoa!

You would think that after aaaaaalllllll the years spent:

  1. Begrudgingly shoveling our parents’ driveway with cranky siblings at six in the morning to clear a path, using old shovels Mom or Dad promised every year they would replace – which they never did – that would give us calluses and even crankier attitudes. Or…
  2. Trudging by foot through city sidewalks piled high with plowed snow to get to school – HOW was it not canceled?! Like, ever?! Or…
  3. White-knuckling the steering wheel and driving 5 miles an hour late at night, caught in an unexpected icy blizzard, just begging and praying to any and all forms of mythical creatures, gods, goddesses, even Kris Kringle himself, to make it home without crashing…

That we would want to move somewhere… warmer? Hotter? Tropical? ANYWHERE that would make winter seem like a distant bad dream?

Vertical top-down image of two mugs filled with a chocolate-based beverage, one on a white plate, next to mini marshmallows and pine cones.

Talk to any seasoned Citizen of Winter, myself included, and we’ll tell you with a shrug of the shoulders and a calm, knowing expression on our frostbitten faces that the trials and tribulations of winter inevitably come with the season.

But most of us will also always tell you that we love winter, no matter what.

And where there’s winter, there’s hot cocoa. And we adore hot cocoa.

With a drink as warm and sweet and chocolatey as this comforting beverage, the frustration over a few weather-related inconveniences melts away with the first steamy sip taken from our mug.

Vertical image of mugs filled with a chocolate-based beverage on plates dusted with powder.

This soothing recipe is the quintessential drink of the season, and it’s so quick to make when you need a fast pick-me-up after sledding, snowball-fighting, shoveling, snowman-building, caroling, hiking, and more.

An effortless mix of milk, granulated sugar, cocoa powder, and vanilla extract, my easy version is a simple recipe that involves nothing more than whisking and heating the ingredients together on the stovetop.

Making it is destined to become a winter tradition!

Vertical image of a hand holding a cup filled with a chocolate-based beverage on a plate next to a bowl of whipped cream.

No matter if you live in sunny Florida or chilly Maine – this recipe is yours to cherish whenever and wherever you need it.

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Horizontal image of mugs filled with a chocolate-based beverage on plates next to mini marshmallows.

The Best Homemade Hot Cocoa


  • Author: Nikki Cervone
  • Total Time: 15 minutes
  • Yield: 4 servings 1x

Description

The quintessential winter beverage, basic homemade hot cocoa is an easy recipe to share and enjoy with family and friends, from kids to adults.


Ingredients

Scale
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 2 cups half-and-half
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Marshmallows or whipped cream, for serving (optional)

Instructions

  1. Heat the whole milk and half-and-half in a medium saucepan over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the milk reaches a gentle simmer, about 5 minutes.
  2. Whisk in the granulated sugar, cocoa powder, and vanilla extract. Continue whisking constantly until the sugar and any lumps of cocoa powder are completely dissolved and the mixture is hot and smooth, for another 5 minutes.
  3. Remove the pan from the heat and distribute between 4 mugs. Serve hot, topped with marshmallows or whipped cream.
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 10 minutes
  • Category: Hot Chocolate
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: Beverage

Keywords: hot cocoa

Cooking by the Numbers…

Step 1 – Prep and Measure

Set out a medium saucepan, a whisk, a ladle, and 4 mugs.

Horizontal image of bowls of wet and dry ingredients next to tan napkins.

Measure out the whole milk, half-and-half, granulated sugar, cocoa powder, and vanilla extract.

Set out the marshmallows and whipped cream, if you are serving the drinks with toppings.

Step 2 – Heat the Dairy

Pour the milk and half-and-half into the saucepan and warm over low heat until the liquid starts to gently simmer without coming to a boil. This will take about 5 minutes.

Horizontal image of a pot filled with milk.

To prevent scorching, whisk the liquid occasionally and watch it carefully so it does not boil. Adjust the heat level as needed.

Step 3 – Mix and Heat the Remaining Ingredients

Horizontal image of whisking together cocoa powder in a milk mixture in a pot.

Add the sugar, cocoa powder, and vanilla to the saucepan.

Horizontal image of a chocolate and milk mixture in a pot.

Continue to whisk over low heat, stirring constantly to help the dry ingredients dissolve evenly with no lumps. This will take about 5 minutes.

Step 4 – Serve

Remove the pan from the heat, and ladle into the four mugs.

Horizontal top-down image of a cup filled with a chocolate-based drink next to bowls of whipped cream.

Serve immediately with marshmallows or whipped cream, if using. Enjoy every sip!

Never Too Old for Hot Cocoa

Whether you’re a happily exhausted kid coming back inside after a day spent sledding in the backyard, or an adult who’s finally able to relax on the couch after salting the steps, brushing snow off of the car, and wrapping the last of the holiday presents, you can never be too old for a big mug of something sweet and warm.

And this simple recipe is here to bring comfort and joy to people of all ages!

You’ll enjoy it for many winter seasons yet to come. And it’s heartwarming to imagine that this could become a drinkable tradition passed around from your family to friends, kids, acquaintances, coworkers, and others who could use a cozy cupful.

Horizontal image of mugs filled with a chocolate-based beverage on plates next to mini marshmallows.

Spread the enjoyment wherever and whenever possible!

Make a pot of this warm drink after a delicious dinner shared at home with the family, bring a thermos and extra cups with you to share with the neighbors when you go caroling from door to door, or serve it at your child’s end-of-the year holiday party at school.

You can easily double or triple the recipe – and it probably won’t come as any surprise to you when someone asks for seconds!

Do you have any favorite memories revolving around this wintry recipe? Do you like using cocoa powder or chocolate bars in your own homemade batch? Leave a comment below.

All I want for Christmas is an endless supply of chocolate recipes! Without seeming too greedy, here are a few more warm and tasty beverages to try next:

Photos by Nikki Cervone, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published by Ashley Martell on December 20, 2014. Last updated on January 3, 2023.

Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.

About Nikki Cervone

Nikki Cervone is a full-time cheesemonger and specialty foods buyer living in Pittsburgh. Nikki holds an AAS in baking/pastry from Westmoreland County Community College, a BA in Communications from Duquesne University, and an MLA in Gastronomy from Boston University. When she's not nibbling on her favorite cheeses or testing a batch of cupcakes, Nikki enjoys a healthy dose of yoga, wine, hiking, singing in the shower, and chocolate. Lots of chocolate.

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