15 Best Ways To Upgrade Your Hot Chocolate

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There is perhaps no better cold-weather beverage than a nice hot chocolate. Mesoamericans were the first society to start drinking hot chocolate, per the Smithsonian Magazine, but the method of adding chocolate (or proto-cocoa) to a warmed liquid eventually became global in scope. The beverage didn't actually evolve into the sweetened version until much later in history when sugar was more widely available after the Industrial Revolution (via the Institute of Culinary Education).

The hot chocolate beverage as we know it today is typically made from commercialized powder with cocoa, milk, sweetener, and anti-caking agents. Once the liquid, typically milk or water, is warmed, the powder dissolves into the liquid. Although hot chocolate is frequently topped with sweet marshmallows or whipped cream, there are global variations in the way people around the world drink hot chocolate. Here are our favorite ways to upgrade the coziest of hot chocolate drinks this season!

Make it boozy

The easiest way to make something better? Add booze. You can make your hot chocolate boozy by adding your choice of rum, whiskey, or Kahlua to the cocoa mug. If you go the boozy route, we recommend finding compatible flavors between the alcohol and any extra additions you put in your hot chocolate. For example, Dominique Ansel's Dark and Stormy spiked hot chocolate combines crystallized ginger, dark rum, and sea salt for a crafty yet chocolatey night-time beverage. If you're craving the experience of an after-dinner mint, try a take on a mint julep by melting down mint chocolate with a splash of bourbon.

Although the No-Mad Bar in New York City has since closed, we still think about its fernet and Chartreuse spiked hot chocolate made with a salted hot chocolate base Angostura whipped cream. The hot chocolate base is a recipe you can still enjoy without the alcohol involved — you'll just need to combine cream, sugar, water, 55% chocolate, 72% chocolate (for a more pronounced chocolate flavor), and vanilla beans. You can allow vanilla beans to sit in the hot chocolate mix for several days for a stronger vanilla undertone.

Swap traditional marshmallows with flavored ones

Kraft's Jet-Puffed brand is one of our favorites for its texture, sweetness, and shelf stability. This year, the brand released two limited edition flavors: pumpkin spice and candy corn. If you're not feeling the fall vibes from these two flavors, you can look to Jet Puff's other flavors like strawberry, which we recommend pairing with a strawberry sauce drizzle for a play on a chocolate-covered strawberry. Peppermint is another popular marshmallow flavor for both Trader Joe's and Kraft. Add peppermint marshmallows with some shaved candy canes for a wintery hot chocolate delight.

If you are looking for vegan marshmallows (since most other brands contain gelatin), we recommend purchasing Dandies. Although we've found the Dandies brand to be a bit more gritty than the Kraft Jet-Puffed, the vanilla and the sweetness of these marshmallows really shine through. Plus, you can purchase Dandies in maple, peppermint, and pumpkin flavors.

If you're looking for a more local (and flavorful) marshmallow, we can't skip mentioning Nomadic Kitchen. Owner Alexx Shurman ships her crafted flavored 'mallows across the country in flavors including dulce de leche, spiced pumpkin, and gingerbread. Her recommendation for the best marshmallow flavor for hot cocoa? The nostalgic toasty vanilla  — because some things are just too perfect to change.

Use Nutella for a creamier chocolate flavor

Nutella is the perfect creamy chocolate spread for sandwiches and baked goods, but did you know you could also use Nutella to flavor your hot chocolate? Nutella imparts a wonderfully creamy and decadent level to hot chocolate you wouldn't expect from a powdered mix alone.

If you want to make hot chocolate with Nutella, you'll first want to bring your milk up to a simmering temperature. Simmering, rather than boiling, is important to ensure the ingredients are all incorporated into the milk without separation. Per PA Eats, you should slowly stir in your hot chocolate mix-ins (Nutella included) to help preserve the foam on top of the beverage. Alternatively, you can use an immersion blender to combine your simmering milk of choice with the Nutella. If you constantly keep the Nutella moving, it won't stick to the bottom of the pan and burn.

Add an element of heat with chili peppers

Chocolate and chili have known one another since the Mayans. Bringing the flavor of fatty chocolate with the heat of chili powder is widespread in many chocolate shops — mostly because the chocolate and the chili have a similar flavor profile (via MasterClass). It's the same reason why the chocolate and the spicy peppers in mole sauce work well together, or why folks will add cocoa powder to steaming beef chili.

Seattle Gummy Company recommends using powder from the ancho chili, chipotle, cayenne pepper, Aleppo pepper, or guajillo, while Brandon Kida, executive chef at Hinoki & the Bird in Los Angeles recommends adding dried pulla chilis to hot chocolate. These types of powders are not overly spicy, so you won't have to reach for a glass of cold milk to counteract the spices. You should mix your chili powder in with the hot chocolate mix as it's cooking to allow the flavors to incorporate.

Go rogue and make OREO hot chocolate instead

After Dunkin' released OREO hot chocolate in 2016, we haven't been able to stop talking about how perfect the flavors of the OREO cookie and hot chocolate are together. And you can make your own cookies and creme-inspired hot chocolate at home with a few simple ingredients. Heat milk in a skillet to a simmer before adding the hot chocolate powder. Then, you'll want to put a couple of sandwich cookies into a high-powered blender or food processor and pulse until super fine. Then, add the OREO powder to the hot chocolate mixture, constantly stirring to prevent the pieces from chunking up and sticking to the bottom of the pan.

After the mixture is mixed through, pour the hot chocolate into your favorite campfire mug and top with whipped cream and a couple of larger cookie chunks. You may not drink hot chocolate the same way ever again after you add OREOs!

Toast your marshmallow topping with a blow torch

You might not think of your blowtorch as a vital component to the most aesthetic mug of hot chocolate you've ever seen. Brûléeing your marshmallows provide both textural contrast and subtle burnt flavor notes to your hot chocolate. Alexx Shurman, the owner of Vermont's marshmallow confectionery Nomadic Kitchen, recommends skipping the fancy brûlée torches from online retailers, "Just go to Lowes, grab a canister of propane, and a Benzomatic torch head," Shurman notes. The resulting brûlée will be much more consistent — not to mention cheaper.

Getting the mechanics of toasting the marshmallow down can be a bit tricky. Shurman recommends placing the marshmallows on top of a ceramic mug and sticking to just toasting the tops. "A toasted marshmallow isn't going to melt easily in cocoa, so by just torching the tops, you'll get the gorgeous, brûléed, roasty-toastiness on top, but still create magical, melty goodness on the bottom," Shurman notes.

Add an espresso shot

Hey Joe Coffee notes that the espresso and hot chocolate combination was most recently recognized as a Dunkaccino after it was popularized by the Dunkin' franchise. The original Dunkaccino, Hey Joe Coffee notes, was made with a mixture of sugar, creamer, sweet cream, cocoa, whey powder, and instant coffee. This concoction allowed the beverage to be served frozen along with Dunkin's Fudgeaccino.

Although the Dunkaccino may be discontinued at the franchises, you can make your own at home by adding a shot (or more) of espresso to your hot chocolate. The flavor of the espresso complements the dark chocolate notes and gives the impression that you're actually drinking a mocha latte. Plus, who doesn't need an extra boost of caffeine to get through another long study session? Add your espresso shot to the hot chocolate mix while it's steaming. Then, pour the concoction into a glass and serve with whipped cream and dark chocolate-covered espresso beans.

Pour hot chocolate over ice cream for an affogato-style treat

An affogato is a traditional Italian coffee beverage made by melting a shot of espresso over a scoop of gelato. But what happens when you use hot chocolate for an affogato instead of espresso?

To make your affogato work, you'll want to be sure of a few things. First, your hot chocolate needs to be piping hot before it is poured over the gelato (or ice cream). Keeping your gelato as cold as possible is vital in preventing the affogato from turning into a soppy mess immediately. You can pre-scoop and freeze your mugs beforehand to help slow the melting process. Next, you'll want to be wary of your ratio of gelato to hot chocolate. Most cafe-style affogatos use one scoop of ice cream per shot of espresso. The Food Network recommends using 1 pint of ice cream per 2 cups of hot chocolate. When pouring the hot chocolate into mugs or teacups, pour small amounts at a time to prevent swamping the gelato.

Swirl salted caramel

Salted caramel is the perfect nuanced-flavor upgrade for your hot chocolate. Plus, adding a salted caramel drizzle to your mug gives off some ambient Twix vibes.

To make your own salted caramel sauce at home, you'll only need a few ingredients: butter, vanilla extract, brown sugar, heavy whipping cream, and, of course, sea salt. Fine sea salt provides a crunchier texture, but Kosher or table salt are suitable options as well. Whisk the ingredients together over medium-low heat to darken the caramel flavors and bring out stronger aromatics. If the heat is too high, the sauce may get grainy. After cooling the sauce to room temperature, you can drizzle it on the inside of a tempered glass, add your hot chocolate, and finish with whipped cream and more caramel drizzle. Oh, and we won't judge if you sprinkle some flaky sea salt on top of your finished beverage for good measure.

Substitute dairy-free milk

Most hot chocolate is made with 2% milk, although some folks add a combination of full-fat whipping cream or half-and-half for a creamier taste. But adding a plant-based milk substitute can make drinking hot chocolate a little easier on your stomach.  We recommend using oat milk or coconut milk for the creaminess. You can also add an extra bit of fat (and coconut flavor) by adding coconut cream to the saucepan as you're heating the milk. Almond milk contains fewer calories than the aforementioned substitutes, but overheating may cause the milk to emit a bitter taste. You can use any of these types of dairy-free milk instead of dairy milk with a 1-to-1 substitution.

If you're looking for a dairy-free hot chocolate powder, we recommend buying Swiss Miss' dairy-free hot chocolate powder. The flavors of this powder are just like a traditional Swiss Miss pack — just without the dried milk. It's a suitable hot chocolate mix for vegans, gluten-free, and soy-free folks as well.

Use a high-quality bar of dark chocolate for more flavor

Dark chocolate is a much more grown-up flavor than milk chocolate — and it can make all the difference in your hot chocolate recipe. If your chocolate is of high enough quality, you can omit using supplemental hot chocolate powder, per The Takeout. Chef Edward Kim recommends using dark chocolate between 65% and 75% cacao with a ratio of 3 ounces of chocolate per 8 ounces (1 cup) of milk (via The Takeout). Once the milk is steaming, Kim recommends breaking the chocolate into tiny squares before adding it to the milk and stirring until smooth and frothy.

Pastry chef Jennifer Paul, on the other hand, recommends adding a tiny piece of white chocolate to the mix (via The Takeout). Paul notes the white chocolate adds a bit of smooth contrast to the depth of dark chocolate — it's especially delicious with a few drops of vanilla extract steamed into the milk.

Try making whipped hot chocolate

Whipped coffee (also known as Dalgona coffee) was an early viral trend of the COVID-19 pandemic, but how does the method stand up to a beverage like hot chocolate? The answer, according to Instagramer Tatas and Tastings, is very, very well. While some of the exact recipes for this viral hot chocolate trend vary, most recipes require hot chocolate powder, heavy cream, and sugar. Some gurus, like TikToker @isolationbaking, recommend adding Cadberry powder to the mix for an additional chocolate flavor.

You'll want to use equal parts of all the ingredients in this whipped hot chocolate recipe — similar to Dalgona coffee. After the ingredients are mixed, whip with an electric whisk until the texture resembles that of whipped cream. After the hot chocolate is whipped, it can be added to the top of a traditional hot chocolate drink, or consumed cold with a pour of milk on top. Don't forget the marshmallows, either!

Add warming spices for gingerbread hot chocolate

Cinnamon is one spice commonly associated with hot chocolate — and for a very historic reason. According to Veggie Desserts, the Mayans and Aztecs commonly infused spices like cinnamon into xocolatl (the hot chocolate), likely for anti-inflammatory benefits and flavor. You can use cinnamon, along with other spices like ground ginger, nutmeg, and cloves, to make a gingerbread hot chocolate recipe at home. Besides the spices, you may notice another unconventional ingredient in the hot chocolate: molasses. Molasses is used as a thickener for the chocolate, as well as for a stronger, gingerbread-like flavor. The addition of a gingerbread spice mix to the cocoa, which includes cinnamon, allspice, cloves, cardamom, and nutmeg (via Happy Foods Tube), provides a subtle heat and warmth that makes the hot chocolate flavors more pronounced.

We recommend adding a cinnamon stick to your finished gingerbread hot chocolate, both for a hint of spice and its aesthetic value.

Freeze your hot chocolate

Frozen hot chocolate isn't exactly a milkshake, but rather a blend of icy pieces that is more-so like a creamy slushy from a convenience store. To make a frozen hot chocolate at home, you'll want to first cook and cool your hot chocolate before adding it to ice molds (or a baking pan, depending on the size of your blender). Freeze the cubes until solid before adding to a blender and pulsing until smooth. If you want to add a little bit of alcohol to make a wintery take on a frosé, the folks at The Roof in NYC recommend using reposado tequila and Grand Marnier along with a bit of spice from cayenne pepper and cinnamon.

If you plan on making hot chocolate at home but don't want to go through the laborious process of cooking and cooling the hot chocolate, you can use Pacific Foods non-dairy chocolate-hazelnut beverage. The drink is super creamy and great for cocoa in a pinch.

Play with the sweetness and fats for your perfect hot chocolate

Kevin Pang, former founder and editor-in-chief of The Takeout, swears by adding sweetened condensed milk to his hot chocolate. Condensed milk has much more sugar than evaporated milk, but both products have about 60% of their water removed during processing. If you plan on using sweetened condensed milk in your hot chocolate, you may want to play with the other sweetened ingredients in your hot chocolate, like if you're using semi-sweet chocolate or hot chocolate mix, to prevent crafting a beverage that is too sweet (although, we question if that exists with a hot chocolate).

If you want to have a hot chocolate with significantly less sweetness but the same level of creaminess, you're better off trying to add evaporated milk to your hot chocolate. The flavor of evaporated milk is more pronounced than heavy cream or half-and-half, plus the canned milk is more shelf-stable for you to have on-hand when you need it.