Gourmet Hot Chocolate

I love hot chocolate.  Like, really love it. I also love flavored steamed milk.  I buy it in the middle of the summer and the Starbucks employees ask me if I’m aware they sell iced drinks.  I don’t drink coffee so I guess this is my vice.  One of my favorite things to do during the holidays is host a hot chocolate bar.  Sometimes we’ll invite another family over, sometimes we’ll host an adult get together, and sometimes I kick my husband and kiddos out of the house for a few hours and have a girls night in.  Today I’m going to show you how to step it up a notch and put something together that’s super trendy and super gourmet!  And you don’t need to throw a party to enjoy these, it’s a fun after dinner treat for the family, or just a cup for one on a chilly day.

I put together these flavor combinations with normal ingredients you can find in your own cupboards and at the grocery store.  I’m not listing ingredient amounts because it’s really a to-taste thing.  If you’re setting up spread for a get together, try putting all of these combos in little stations where people can put the add-ins in themselves.  I use little espresso sized cups so people can grab several tastes without feeling an overload!  First I’ll show you my creations, and then I’ll give you my hot chocolate tips.  Here we go…

Holiday Spice:  White hot chocolate, pumpkin pie spice,
gingerbread marshmallows, cinnamon sprinkle. Optional: cinnamon oil or cinnamon syrup
I’m a sucker for raspberry and chocolate together so this was a natural choice.  This is great with both white or dark hot chocolate.
Raspberry Truffle: A couple chunks of dark chocolate on the bottom of the mug, hot chocolate or white hot chocolate, raspberry syrup or oil, whipped cream, raspberry drizzle, chocolate sprinkles.  For the raspberry drizzle either puree fresh raspberries or mix a little raspberry jam with warm water until smooth.
Possibly my favorite (and the least ingredients!)
Chocolate Hazelnut: Hot whole milk, Nutella, chocolate whipped cream, chocolate shavings.
Yes, I’m putting chunks of fudge in my hot chocolate.
Caramel Fudge:  A chunk of fudge on the bottom of the mug, hot chocolate, caramel syrup, marshmallows, caramel sauce drizzle.
Can’t go wrong with this classic.  If I’m at a coffee shop ordering hot chocolate, 9 times out of 10 I’ll go with something like this!
Peppermint Stick:  White or Chocolate hot chocolate, peppermint oil, extract, or syrup, pink peppermint whipped cream, crushed candy canes.
Tips: When setting up a hot chocolate bar I think of the following things:
Pour it: This is your base.  I like to have a hot chocolate, a white chocolate and plain milk.  I always use whole milk because it has such great flavor and a creamy texture.  If you’re concerned about calories, c’mon we’re dunking straight-up fudge in this stuff.  Since you’re going to have lots of sweet things to add to your drink, I strongly recommend you take the time to make your own hot chocolate (as opposed to using a pre-made mix).  That way you can control the sugar and keep it low so it’s not overly sweet with the add-ins.
Flavor it: Think of things you can both stir in and melt in.  Extracts and oils work great but keep a tiny spoon or dropper so people don’t add too much.  You can find a large assortment of flavored syrups in the coffee isle of the grocery store.  Also there are fantastic coffee creamers available during the holidays in all sorts of great flavors like gingerbread, peppermint, hazelnut, french vanilla, etc.  In addition to the normal flavors think of solid chocolate, peanut butter, nutella, etc.  Search through your pantry and fridge and be creative!
Top it:  Whip your own cream and you can add flavors and or colors.  Try cocoa powder for a chocolate whipped cream, or peppermint extract and pink food coloring for a candy cane twist.   Use spices, shavings, crushed candy or candy bars to add an extra touch.  Ice cream syrups like caramel and chocolate, or berry toppings are easy and show-stopping!
Stir it:  With all of these add-ins you’ll need something to stir with!  Try dipping spoons in caramel or chocolate and rolling in crushed candycanes or toffee and then let them harden.  Or use candy canes or cinnamon sticks for extra flavor.
You’ll notice in my pictures I have tiny cups!  That’s one of my best tips.  Use espresso cups (available for pretty reasonable prices, my set was under $10!) so people can try a few different flavors and enjoy the richness of a small serving.
Related Recipes
Hot Chocolate: I love Hershey’s classic recipe.  Use whole milk and decrease the sugar just a bit to allow for add-ins.
White Hot Chocolate: Melt 1 C white chocolate chips with 6 C whole milk and 1 tsp vanilla.
Chocolate Whipped Cream: add in a few tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder
Peppermint whipped cream: add in peppermint extract to taste and pink food coloring
Fudge: Here’s an easy recipe that has all of the ingredients of a good hot chocolate (just skip the nuts!)  Or for a less sweet option, just make super thick ganache.  Try this recipe and cut the cream down to about 1/4 cup.  You can make it with dark, bittersweet, semi sweet or milk chocolate.  Place in a small dish in the fridge to harden and then cut into cubes.
Marshmallows: Make your own and flavor with any extract your heart desires!
This just might be one of my most favorite posts ever- hope you enjoyed it!  If you’ve got a flavor combo in that head of yours, leave a comment below and share!

Here’s a video segment of these recipes, along with my s’mores hot chocolate, on Studio 5 tv.

Sara Wells
Meet The Author

Sara Wells

Sara Wells co-founded Our Best Bites in 2008. She is the author of three Bestselling Cook Books, Best Bites: 150 Family Favorite RecipesSavoring the Seasons with Our Best Bites, and 400 Calories or Less from Our Best Bites. Sara’s work has been featured in many local and national news outlets and publications such as Parenting MagazineBetter Homes & GardensFine CookingThe Rachel Ray Show and the New York Times.

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Questions & Reviews

  1. Oh, I am SO in love with this post! Your blog is AMAZING! I think I may just have to get some of those espresso cups…love them. Thanks for sharing all these great ideas.

  2. You ladies are A MA ZING! This looks so good! Thanks for another fabulous idea. Just a heads up for those looking for the gingerbread mallows I saw some at my local (Sandy,UT) Walmart.

  3. I love hot chocolate with any flavor! I used to work at a coffee shop and I can't drink coffee due to a caffeine intolerance, so hot chocolate is my thing 🙂 The one thing you have to watch out for when dealing with raspberry syrup is that it will curdle when it is mixed with milk (the acidity of the flavor causes a reaction.) To solve the problem you can add it to the chocolate syrup or mix it with a shot of espresso prior to mixing it with the coffee.
    As for why whole milk: fats carry flavor, so the higher the fat content in the milk, the better it will taste 🙂

  4. Great ideas! I don't think I can manage to fit this in before Christmas, but wouldn't a hot chocolate bar girls night be a great way to beat the January doldrums?

    To the person that asked about eggnog-flavored hot chocolate, what if you made hot chocolate by substituting egg nog for the whole milk. I bet that would be yummy!

  5. One of my favorites is white hot chocolate with peppermint syrup and caramel ice cream topping.
    (I'll have to try it with that pink peppermint whipped cream and crushed candy canes!)

  6. Eeee! I plan on having a December wedding next year (or 2012, we haven't decided yet ^_~ ) and this would be a great idea to set up at the reception. Instead of a dessert or candy bar, do a hot chocolate bar! Tiny espresso cups (love that idea so you can try a few different flavors), carafes with hot milk chocolate, white chocolate, or hot milk mixed up, items placed out, and then a chalk board with "recipes" for inspiration behind the table. This is so exciting, I love this!

  7. A hot chocolate bar! What a great idea. I love hot chocolate; Hershey's recipe is definitely a favorite and I make it almost every night. Can't wait to try these yummy variations!

  8. We were planning a Polar Express party and of course, the Polar Express needs Hot Chocolate. This post came just in time to give me a few more ideas! Yummy!

  9. Your creativity blows my mind! You are a true genius in the kitchen. Can you think of a way to make an egg-nog flavored hot chocolate? It is my husbands absolute favorite and I would love to make it into a yummy hot drink for him this Christmas 🙂
    Thanks for the awesome post.

  10. Wow, what creative ideas. I've never heard of a hot chocolate bar before. Looks awesome!

    Instead of hot chocolate, I usually drink vanilla milk.

    hot milk with either vanilla torani syrup or a teaspoon or so of vanilla and a little sugar.

  11. Love this!! Now I want to plan a Hot Cocoa Bar party!

    A note for Cher who asked about Silk….

    In my experience (at home and when I used to work at Starbucks), soy milk does heat up well, but it heats up faster than cow's milk so you have to watch it closely so it doesn't burn.

    Thanks again! I can't wait to try some of these.

  12. I seriously LOVE you for this post! I'm not a coffee drinker either and hot chocolate is totally my favorite winter treat. For my wedding, I got a hot chocolate machine, which mixes up the hot chocolate and dispenses with foam. Thank you for posting the recipes! I am definitely going to try to make my own hot chocolate next time.

  13. Any suggestions for us lactose intolerant types? I've heard 'Silk' doesn't heat up too well.

  14. I think that hot cocoa is one of my favorite things in the entire world! I think I'll put together a hot chocolate bar this holiday season now!

  15. Like you, I don't like coffee and hot chocolate is my "vice". I keep it low-fat, though, except when it is my dessert. I, too, use the classic Hershey's recipe but with skim milk, one packet of artificial sweetener, and about 1/2 spoonful of caramel syrup with a dash of vanilla extract (for 1 cup). Sometimes I'll treat myself with a splash of half-and-half (esp. in the winter) just to "richen" it up. My son will be so excited to see a recipe for white hot chocolate (thank you!!!) and I've never thought to host a hot chocolate bar but I think it's in my future!!! Thanks for the great ideas — can't wait to try the Nutella version.

  16. lisa- LOVE the toasted coconut idea!

    Alyssa- ok I should have specified, you don't *have* to use whole milk, it just tastes really really good 🙂 Also, because it has a little more creaminess (aka fat aka yumminess) things tend to melt in a little better.

    Jasey- yup, your two ingredient fudge is thick ganache, that's actually my *favorite* kind! That would work great in there too 🙂

  17. I cannot find those cute gingerbread marshmallow's here anywhere! Love this post – everything about it!

    Happy Day,

    1. You could buy a gingerbread cookie cutter and make your own marshmallows. There’s a post on how to do that too. 🙂

  18. This is an amazing post! I love hot cocoa.
    I have been looking for something special to so for our friend Christmas, and I think this will be perfect! Thanks.

  19. This post makes you hungry!

    I am having my first giveaway on my blog – a gift card sponsored by CSN Stores. please do come over and enter

  20. I'm hosting a hot cocoa bar later this month so I appreciate the tips. I was just going with boring hot chocolate so I may try to spice it up. Thanks,

  21. My local coffee shop has a hot chocolate called The Snowball. It has coconut syrup and is topped with toasted coconut. It is yummy!! My boys would love the one with Nutella.

  22. Oh, my. This post just killed me! SO YUMMY! 🙂

    I will defintely watch you on Studio5 on Monday! Good luck!