Thick, rich and decadent European-Style Hot Chocolate is the ultimate wintertime indulgence after a day spent on the slopes or out in the snow! This recipe can be made in the slow cooker or on the stove top and is sure to warm you from the inside out!
My kindergartner had a Polar Express class party last week before going on Christmas break. Thankfully, I wasn’t in charge of the party this time around, but when I was asked to provide the hot chocolate for the party, I jumped at the chance to do a little experimenting and refine my recipe without having to consume entire batches of hot chocolate all by my little old self. Kindergarten metabolisms are much better suited than mine to downing large quantities of hot chocolate, especially the super rich kind made with plenty of cream, whole milk, and sugar!
Did you know that for many people there is a distinction between hot chocolate and hot cocoa? From my (minimal) research, it seems like there is an unofficial consensus that hot chocolate (sometimes referred to as European, French, or Belgian-style sipping or drinking chocolate) is a thicker, richer cup of chocolate made with milk, cream, and real chocolate that gets chopped up and melted down to create rich, decadent cups of merry wonderfulness. Hot cocoa, on the other hand, is made with water and cocoa powder for a thinner drink that is less sweet (possibly – there was some disagreement between my sources) but more intensely chocolaty (because the chocolate flavor isn’t diluted by the milk and cream).
It turns out that my favorite cup of hot chocolate is probably somewhere between the two. My first batch of hot chocolate had plenty of cream, milk, and chopped semisweet chocolate but was too sweet for my taste, with too much vanilla added in. In fact, I felt like the chocolate didn’t come through as much as I wanted because I was overwhelmed by the sweetness. My next batch was more of a hot cocoa where I dissolved cocoa powder and sugar in water, then added it to some milk (but left out any cream). It definitely had the more intensely chocolate flavor that I was striving for and the sweetness was better, but I was missing the richness and decadence of the first batch. But by mixing the two batches together in different amounts, I was able to get just the right texture, flavor, and richness that I was looking for.
So I jotted down my notes and a few days later on Christmas Eve, I made another big batch of European-style hot chocolate in the slow cooker for our get-together with Paul’s relatives, combining elements of both my previous batches, and wow, it turned out just how I hoped it would! Sweet, for sure, but not too sweet, and intensely chocolaty with a richness that is so far beyond any packet of Swiss Miss that they aren’t even in the same universe of cold-weather beverages.
And that, for me, is where the real distinction between hot chocolate and hot cocoa comes in. A cup of Swiss Miss is the kind of stuff you might guzzle in between runs on a ski slope or while on a break from sledding down a snow-covered hill. It’s utilitarian – meant to warm you up from the inside out and get you ready for your next run down the slopes – but you don’t really take the time to savor the stuff and let your eyes roll back in your head at how it tastes and feels on your tongue. Mostly you are just blowing on it enough to get it to cool down to a point where you can chug it and get back to the snowy fun. Whereas this stuff – the European-style hot chocolate I’m posting about here – is the kind of stuff you want to take your time with and sip slowly later in the day, after you are done sledding or making your snowmen or hitting the slopes and have come inside to peel off layers of cold, wet clothes and are ready to curl up with a cup of something sinfully decadent. You drink them both, but one seems more like a beverage and the other seems more like a dessert.
This is my perfect cup of hot chocolate. It’s made with both whole milk and cream, with just the right level of sweetness without the sugar overwhelming the flavor of the chocolate. I combined both approaches of melting chopped semisweet chocolate in the milk and cream along with adding in a mixture of cocoa powder, sugar, and water to give it the intensely chocolate flavor that I was looking for. I mean, doubling up your chocolate just makes sense when making hot chocolate, don’t you think? There are even some miniature marshmallows added in while the hot chocolate is cooking that melt down and give it just a bit of toasted marshmallow flavor that I love. And of course you can add more marshmallows to each cup of hot chocolate as you are getting ready to drink it. I fully endorse this approach.
For our Christmas Eve get-together, I set out a hot chocolate bar with a crock pot full of this hot chocolate with bowls of mini chocolate chips, marshmallows (both big and small because I really love marshmallows and sometimes the small ones melt too fast for me!), peppermint sticks, whipped cream, and chocolate syrup. It was so much fun and I’ve pretty much decided that it is going to have to be a new Christmas tradition in our house.
With the cold months ahead, I’m sure we will be having more of this European-style hot chocolate because I am definitely NOT waiting until next Christmas to enjoy a mug of this again!
- 2 cups water
- 1/2 cup cocoa powder
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup miniature marshmallows
- 6 cups whole milk (or 2% or 1% if you don't want it quite as rich)
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 8 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- marshmallows, whipped cream, crushed candy canes, chocolate syrup, salted caramel, sprinkles, orange slices, cinnamon, etc.
Combine the water, cocoa powder, sugar and marshmallows in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Cook and stir until marshmallows are dissolved.
In a slow cooker, combine the milk, cream, chopped semisweet chocolate and vanilla. Stir in the cocoa powder mixture. Heat on low for 4-6 hours, stirring well once an hour so that the chocolate that settles on the bottom does not burn.
Like what you see here? Be sure to sign up to join my mailing list so you don't miss out on more recipes like this one!