This spiced hot cocoa recipe combines cinnamon, nutmeg and star anise to create a hot cocoa drink that’s full of comforting flavours.
Once the cooler weather hits, I start to crave all the warm drinks that Starbucks and Tim Horton’s have to offer. They always sound so enticing! I mean who doesn’t want a Caramel Brûlé Latte or a Candy Cane Hot Chocolate?
Heck, I’ll even drink a pumpkin spice latte once in a while, even though I think it tastes more like a candle than a coffee beverage. I’m sure it has to do with how these drinks are marketed, but drinking them makes me feel like I’m actively taking part in the season, whether it’s fall or Christmas.
The problem is that these drinks are LOADED with sugar. A tall Caramel Brûlé Latte from Starbucks, with 2% milk and whipped cream, has 42 grams of sugar. For reference, that’s more than a can of Coke (at least here in Canada).
While I enjoy both of those drinks once in a while, I know I can’t indulge in them too often (no one really should, but I’m pre-diabetic so I have to be careful). Besides, coffee shop drinks aren’t exactly cheap, so I needed a better option. That’s how I came up with this spiced hot cocoa recipe.
I had actually never made cocoa from scratch before… I’ve always used nice hot cocoa mixes like Camino’s Original Dark Hot Chocolate powder or Godiva’s Hot Cocoa mix. But making hot cocoa from scratch is actually pretty easy once you know what to do.
Just a quick note: I know the terms are often used interchangeably, but since this recipe is made with cocoa powder and not shaved chocolate, I’m calling it spiced hot cocoa, not spiced hot chocolate.
Which Cocoa Powder Should You Use?
To start, I used Dutch-processed cocoa powder, which sounds fancy but it’s really not. Fry’s cocoa powder, which is well-known here in Canada, is Dutch-processed. Camino has their own version too.
All Dutch-processing does is raise the pH of the cocoa to 7 (neutral) or 8 (basic/alkaline), which creates a mild (less bitter) flavour. My friend Janice from Kitchen Heals Soul has written an entire article about when to use Dutch-processed cocoa powder that you can check out if you’re interested in learning more.
How Much Sugar Should You Add?
I used a ratio of 1:1 for the cocoa powder and sugar in this recipe, because it creates the amount of sweetness that most people will want from hot cocoa. When I make this for myself, I cut the sugar down a bit as I prefer my hot cocoa to be less sweet. A pinch of salt helps to bring the flavours out, but you can leave it out if you prefer.
How to Dissolve the Cocoa Powder:
Technically, you could just toss all of the ingredients into a pot, mix the, heat it up and call it a day. I did that the first time I tested this recipe, and the result was fine. However, I noticed on the Fry’s cocoa can that they recommend dissolving the cocoa and sugar in a small amount of cold milk before adding the hot milk, so I tried that.
I found that by dissolving the cocoa and sugar in a bit of cold milk first, the resulting hot cocoa was smoother and well-incorporated. So if you have time, try following the extra step and see if it makes a difference to you.
Another point to make note of is that you might end up with a skin or film on your cocoa once you take it off the heat. This is normal, and happens often when you heat milk up and then let it cool down again without stirring. It has to do with the proteins in the milk, which you can read about in this article about milk skin from the Kitchn.
If the film bothers you, you can skim it off. I just whisk it back into the drink and it usually melts away (but I don’t mind any clumps that stay behind either).
How to Add Spices to Your Cocoa:
Now, this wouldn’t be a spiced hot cocoa recipe without some spices! Cinnamon and nutmeg are classic warm spices, and if that’s all you have on hand, you could just use those and still have a really nice cup of cocoa.
I’ve been wanting to add star anise to a chocolatey recipe for a while now though, and I had a feeling it would work well in spiced hot cocoa.
Keep in mind that the longer you leave the star anise in there, the stronger the flavour will be. 15 minutes will give you a mild liquorice flavour, and 2 hours will create a pleasant but more intense taste. I wouldn’t leave it in there overnight though, as the drink may become bitter.
The Best Toppings for Spiced Hot Cocoa:
The best part of hot cocoa (or hot chocolate) is the toppings! I’m a whipped cream person myself, but I won’t say no to a handful of mini marshmallows. A dusting of cocoa and/or ground cinnamon can be really nice, or you could stir the whole thing with a candy cane and see if that works for you.
I sometimes stir my orange pekoe tea with a candy cane around Christmastime. It’s good!!!
Spiced Hot Cocoa
- Add cocoa powder, sugar and salt to a small saucepan, and stir to combine.
- Add 2 tbsp of cold milk, and whisk until the cocoa powder is dissolved.
- Add the remaining milk to the pot. Turn the heat on to medium, and whisk to combine the ingredients.
- Add the remaining ingredients, and simmer gently over medium heat, stirring often, for about 10 minutes.
- For a mild flavour, remove from heat and serve immediately. For a stronger flavour, remove from heat and allow to cool before placing in the fridge or 1-2 hours. See notes for more details.
- Garnish as desired and refrigerate unused portions promptly.
Tips & Notes
- If you don't like star anise, or anything liquorice flavoured, you can omit it from the recipe.
- For mildly spiced hot cocoa: don't let the mixture sit with the spices in it for more than 15-20 minutes. You can leave the mixture on the stove until ready to serve if you're only going to wait a short amount of time.
- For strongly spiced hot cocoa: after simmering for 10 minutes, remove the pot from the stove and allow it cool down. Then pour the liquid into a bottle or pitcher, leaving the spices in the mixture, and set it in the fridge for an hour or two. Remove the spices and reheat before serving.
- If you're going to put the hot cocoa into a thermos, remove the spices before doing so as it may end up tasting too strong by the time you get to it.