Homemade Hot Cocoa

By Ann Fulton

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Before I started The Fountain Avenue Kitchen, I had very little experience with photography. When I took the typical family snapshots, the camera decided how to focus and when to flash, and I had certainly never taken pictures of our meals. In fact, until recently, I took all of my food photos with my iPhone.

If I have one secret weapon in my ongoing quest to capture a half-decent picture, it is natural light. Friends and neighbors are often slightly amused when they see me hovering over a dinner plate with a camera—in my front yard. By the time the food is prepared, I rarely seem to have enough natural light indoors, especially during the short days of winter.

I could wax on about things blowing in the food or the food actually blowing away. I’ve had food snowed on, rained on, even stepped on by our dog, Angus. That puts a quick end to the photo session! In the warmer months, bugs and bees vie for their moment in the spotlight, and popsicles and other frozen treats can be problematic.

While snow shoveling or sledding are the likely cold-finger culprits for most people this time of year, I often have frozen fingers after taking my pictures. Whatever the cause, there is no better remedy than a warm cup of cocoa.

In the name of creating the perfect cup of homemade hot chocolate, I have sampled many different versions. In the end, I gave the ultimate decision on what constituted the best cup to my kids. This was one recipe where I figured the kid vote really should trump the adult vote!

Some versions were tasty but had “sediment” on the bottom of the mug due to cocoa powder that didn’t completely dissolve.  Other attempts involved grating semi-sweet chocolate or using the food processor to whiz bar chocolate into a powdery mix. I even tested the notion of adding a little cornstarch for a thicker, more velvety cup of cocoa. I am happy to report that the more complicated recipes didn’t garner the high marks that the following easy concoction did.


By the way, do you call it cocoa or hot chocolate?


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Along with this super easy recipe, there are a few helpful tips that ensure no lumps or undissolved cocoa powder and no scorched milk. I've also noted how I make a rather tasty homemade cafe mocha!
Homemade Hot Cocoa
Boiling the dry components with a small amount of water before adding the milk is the key to fully incorporating the ingredients--no clumps of cocoa powder that don't dissolve and no scorched milk. The recipe may easily be doubled or tripled, and any leftover can be stored in the refrigerator and gently rewarmed. For a speedy homemade cafe mocha, I like to combine equal parts coffee and cocoa.  Feel free to adjust the proportions to your liking.

Yields 2-1/2 cups or about 2 servings.
  • 2 to 2-1/2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (see notes)
  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons hot water
  • 1/16 teaspoon (a pinch) kosher salt
  • 2 cups milk (any fat content will produce good results; a non-dairy milk of choice may be substituted, as needed)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Optional for serving: mini marshmallows or whipped cream
  1. Combine the cocoa powder, sugar, water, and salt in a small saucepan. Place the pan over medium heat.
  2. Stir constantly until the mixture boils. Allow the mixture to boil, still stirring, for about 45 seconds.
  3. Add the milk, stirring as you pour, and then add the vanilla. Heat, stirring occasionally, but do not boil once the milk has been added.
  4. Remove the pan from the heat and serve with the optional mini marshmallows or whipped cream.
  • In a variety of taste tests, adults tended to prefer the higher amount of cocoa powder (resulting in a slightly more “dark-chocolatey” taste) while kids preferred the lesser amount.
  • Although the mixture takes just a minute to whip up, you can mix the dry ingredients and store in a small jar to have on hand whenever the mood strikes.
  • In addition to the mocha option mentioned above, other adult variations include adding a shot of Kahlua or Bailey’s Irish Cream to each mug. A dash of chili powder and a quarter teaspoon or so of cinnamon will turn the basic recipe into a Mexican hot chocolate. For a minty spin, add a drop or two of peppermint extract and a peppermint stick (or candy cane) stirrer.
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  1. Stacie

    Perfect cocoa for a cold snowy day! I opted for the homemade version of a Mean Cup (local coffee shop) “dirty girl” today, but with a twist – a drop of peppermint extract. Tastes like a thin mint cookie with a touch of coffee!

    1. Ann Post author

      I love that suggestion, Stacie. I made a batch this afternoon and have half a cup left – totally adding a drop of peppermint to it!