With this guide, we’ll walk you through making everything from custom boozy hot chocolate to your own dry hot cocoa mix.

If your upbringing was anything like mine, then you largely know hot chocolate as a drink that originates from two sources—Swiss Miss and roadside diners (who also, as it happened, largely serve Swiss Miss). And when it comes to satisfying a sudden urge for warm, chocolatey goodness, there’s nothing wrong with commercial hot cocoa mix. Besides, nearly any cup of cocoa can feel gourmet when quality marshmallows are piled on top. But if your experience with hot chocolate has largely been of the Swiss Miss variety, then we implore you to make this the fall where you experiment with your own custom, chocolatey cup.

If for no other reason, making your own cocoa at home is worthwhile because each cup can be personalized. Not only can you decide how heavy (or light) you want your hot chocolate’s chocolateness to be, but you can also provide a small smorgasbord of sauces, sweets and accents that can be used to top each cup. And if you’re not feeling up to making a custom cup of cocoa every time, you can even make your own mix to speed up the process. By the time the holidays come around, you’ll be the master of magical drinks.

Step One: Make Your Base

Before getting started on your hot chocolate, you’ll want to make two major decisions: what kind of milk you’d like to use and what kind (or kinds) of chocolate you prefer. Pretty much any type of chocolate will work, but if you’re unsure where to start, try using a mixture of semi-sweet and and bittersweet chocolate morsels. Of course, you can also use unsweetened or sweetened cocoa if you prefer a more powdery mix-in (which will ultimately result in a slightly less decadent mug of hot chocolate). And if you’re looking for a different take on hot chocolate, you can always use white or ruby chocolate.

As for milk, whole milk will give you your creamiest simple base, but you can use whatever type of milk you prefer. If you prefer an even creamier base, you can enhance your milk base by mixing in evaporated milk or dry milk. Ice cream (preferably chocolate or vanilla) can also make a thick base once melted down. For vegetarians and vegans, coconut milk will likely provide the creamiest, richest base.

Once you’ve chosen those fundamental ingredients, you’ll want to decide how best to combine them. Cocoa can be combined on the stovetop over a low temperature, but an even easier method is to use a slow cooker on its lowest setting. Whichever method you use, make sure to stir frequently so that the chocolate fully emulsifies into the milk fat. While learning to make your base, you can also get a feel for what ratio of chocolate to milk you prefer. An equal ratio will generally work, but more or less chocolate can be used as desired. Experiment with one (or more) of the recipes above to find the right balance for you.

Step Two: Choose Your Add-Ins

Now that your base has been made, you can decide what other additions you might like to make your cocoa even more delicious. A couple of tablespoons of nut butter can add a salty and delicious twist, while mixing hot chocolate with chai tea can create a unique and toasty blend. You can also experiment with using various spices, like cinnamon and ginger, or with adding in peppermint or orange extract. As always, feel free to play around and discover what flavors you like best in your hot cocoa.

Step Three: Choose Your Toppings

You’ve given your hot chocolate time to come together in the slow cooker or on the stove; now you’re ready to portion it out into mugs. Before you do that, however, make sure you have a few toppings on standby to complete your homemade cocoa. Peppermint sticks, graham crackers, whipped marshmallow topping and crushed nuts or candies can all add delicious ornamentation to your mug. If you can, try finding or making some edible glitter to add a dash more sparkle to your cup.

Additional Hot Chocolate Styles

Boozy Buttermint Hot Chocolate image
Toasted Coconut Hot Chocolate image
| Credit: Greg Dupree; Food Styling: Catherine Crowell Steele; Prop Styling: Heather Chadduck Hillegas

Toasted Coconut Hot Chocolate image Photo: Greg Dupree; Food Styling: Catherine Crowell Steele; Prop Styling: Heather Chadduck Hillegas

How to Spike Your Hot Chocolate

What’s better than hot chocolate? Hot chocolate with a bit of booze, of course. If you’re looking for an adult side to cocoa, try mixing in a shot of peppermint Schnapps or a dash of Bailey’s. You can also add in brandy, hazelnut liqueur or any other drink you might have on hand. After a cup or two, you’ll definitely be in the mood to celebrate the holidays.

How to Make Mexican Hot Chocolate

Get the Recipes: Mexican Hot Chocolate

If you’re a fan of sweet and spicy mixed, then you’ll adore Mexican hot chocolate. For this variation, make a base hot chocolate with semi-sweet chips and add in cinnamon and cayenne to taste. If you have access to one, a cayenne-flavored chocolate bar or a pre-made Mexican hot chocolate brand like Abuelita can greatly enhance the flavor.

How to Make European-Style Hot Chocolate

European hot chocolates only differ in two respects: they tend to use a higher chocolate to milk ratio, and they also often add in coffee or espresso. To make these drinks, try mixing strong coffee or espresso powder into your base; if desired, you can also increase the ratio of bittersweet chips in your chocolate mix.

How to Make Frozen Hot Chocolate

If you’re already using ice cream in your base, then you might a well turn your hot chocolate into a frozen drink. For this variation, either make up your hot chocolate and pour it over ice once it’s cooled, or add hot chocolate mix to a blender before adding in your milk and ice cream. That second variation will make for more of a traditional milkshake, especially if presented in glasses with a chocolate drizzle. For the adults, a shot or two of booze in the blender also won’t go amiss.

How to Make Hot Chocolate Mix

Homemade hot chocolate is great, but it’s not always convenient to whip up on the spot. If you find yourself missing hot chocolate mix, then you can always make up your own by combining non-fat dry milk, non-dairy creamer and cocoa powder. Chocolate chips, mini marshmallows and broken up peppermint sticks can also be added to make the mix more special. Once you’re ready to use, just combine 2 or 3 tablespoons with hot milk, stir and enjoy.