How to Make a Proper Hot Chocolate (Using Some Pastry Know-how)

Like most kids, I grew up with a great love of hot chocolate. The majority of these drinks I enjoyed were put together using a convenient chocolate powder and some hot milk or water. Every now and then our family would receive a hamper at christmas time and occasionally one would contain a fancier, artisanal brand of hot chocolate mix. The main difference here was the more intense chocolate flavour and often much much thicker. This was the real stuff, somewhere between a chocolate drink and a pudding you could eat with a spoon. This was exactly what a hot chocolate should be.

Hot chocolate with whipped cream

Twenty years, a culinary arts degree and plenty of kitchen experience and I think I ‘m finally ready to make a strong attempt at the hot chocolate of my dreams. There are a few key criteria this theoretical drink should have.

  • It needs to be chocolatey enough in flavour that it feels like I’m drinking chocolate and not just a warm cocoa drink.
  • It needs to be both smooth and creamy, no graininess, lumps or undissolved powders
  • It needs to have a nice balance between the bitterness of the chocolate and the amount of sweetness

To satisfy the first of the two criteria, I’m using some pastry basics and decided to start by making a ganache. Ganache is essentially the combination of warm cream and chocolate. The chocolate melts into and combines with the cream to become this thick, chocolatey spread. It is a versatile pastry component that can be used for fillings, glazes, mousses, sauces, or turned into chocolate truffles.

We can thin out this super thick, delicious, chocolate goo by adding milk to the mixture and combining until you’ve reached your preferred consistency. Do not add water. Chocolate doesn’t like water and will become crystallized and grainy.

You can steep flavours into the cream like spices, herbs, citrus peels, booze and flavoured oils. Once they have infused their flavour you can easily remove them or strain the cream. This is a great opportunity to add flavour to the finished ganache while still keeping a smooth consistency.

For the most chocolate flavour I’ve opted for a dark, bittersweet chocolate. Since we are going to add so much cream and milk to it, starting with milk chocolate would leave us with too mild of a chocolate flavour. Quality chocolate will often have a percentage printed on the packaging. The higher the percentage the more actual chocolate is present. I’ve opted for 70% as it’s mostly cocoa solids but still has a little bit of sweetness to it. Anything from 54-70% would be a good choice for this sort of drink. To choose good chocolate start by reading the ingredients on the label. Short lists containing cocoa solids, cocoa butter, sugar, maybe some lecithin and salt are just fine. Steer away if there’s a laundry list of ingredients you don’t recognize.

In addition to the chocolate and dairy, a little bit of vanilla essence adds some nice supporting flavour. To add sweetness, I’ve opted for icing sugar as opposed to granulated. Icing sugar contains a small percentage of corn flour to avoid it caking together which when heated will help to thicken our drink slightly. Finally a pinch of salt to balance things out. Salt has the wonderful ability of toning down bitterness and bringing out the flavour in dark chocolate. I also wanted to try flavouring a more adult hot chocolate, half a shot of spiced rum or your favourite cold weather tipple goes really nicely with the flavour of chocolate.

250ml cream
250ml milk
300g dark chocolate, chopped
5g vanilla essence
45g icing sugar
Tiny pinch of salt

Optional 50ml spiced rum

Hot chocolate with whipped cream dripping

1. Begin by adding the milk and cream to a saucepan.

2. Bring up to the boil while keeping an eye on your pot. Milk and cream love to boil over and make a mess of your stove.

If you wanted to infuse any flavour in here like a stick of cinnamon or a few sprigs of mint, add them to the cream and milk combination as you bring them up to a boil. Turn off the heat and let the mixture sit for 15-30 minutes and strain off your herbs, spices, citrus peel, etc. through a sieve. Bring the cream and milk mixture back onto the heat and quickly bring up to a simmer before continuing to step 3.

3. Add the icing sugar and the vanilla essence, continue to heat until the sugar is dissolved. Turn off the heat and add all of your chopped chocolate. Allow it to sit for 5 minutes without heating it up.

4. Whisk to combine until the mixture is smooth, evenly brown and creamy. Continue mixing until there are no remaining lumps in the chocolate. Adjust the consistency with milk or alcohol if you prefer a thinner chocolate drink.

5. Serve immediately and top with lightly whipped cream and a grating of dark chocolate.

Hot chocolate with whipped cream


Hungry for more chef secrets?

If you found the tips in this article useful and are hungry to discover more chef secrets you can download my free ebook, Pantry Essentials for Maximum Flavour by signing up below. Stock yourself with these flavour bombs and learn to season like a chef to turn even the most mundane of meals into exceptional ones!