Winter has officially locked its arms around us with its icy embrace, but there are a few ways to make this frosty season more bearable. One of my favorite winter-coping treats is a steamy mug of thick, creamy hot chocolate. I use regular boxed cocoa mix most of the time, but one little trick allows me to make a hot chocolate that rivals even the most bougie cafe’s drinking chocolate: I make my cocoa with cornstarch.
Cornstarch is a versatile and forgiving thickener you can easily incorporate into your cooking repertoire. You don’t need much; just a teaspoon or two can be enough to help suspend ingredients, like melted chocolate with low-fat milk or whisked eggs in egg drop soup. The only thing you have to be aware of is controlling when you activate the starch’s thickening properties.
Cornstarch is a super-fine powder you can buy in the baking aisle of most grocery stores, but you can’t simply plop a spoonful into boiling soup or hot cocoa. Cornstarch will gelatinize in temperatures just below boiling (starting around 60°C, and reaching full potential at about 90°C), but if you don’t mix the cornstarch with another ingredient to disperse the powder, you could get lumps when you add the boiling liquid. Avoid this by either making a “slurry” with the cornstarch and a cold liquid (cold liquid won’t start the gelatinization process), or mix the dry cornstarch with another powder or granulated mix, like sugar, or hot chocolate mix.
I respect a scratch-made hot cocoa powder mix as much as the next person, but, personally, I’m crushing the store-bought boxed pouches this winter. Luckily, you can use this cornstarch trick with any version of hot chocolate to give it a more luxurious and thick consistency.
How to make thicker hot chocolate from a store-bought mix
Credit: Allie Chanthorn Reinmann
For powdered mix, add the cornstarch directly to the powdered ingredients, and whisk these dry ingredients together thoroughly for about 30 seconds. There should be no identifiable bits or clumps of white cornstarch hiding anywhere. Then heat up your liquid of choice to boiling, or near boiling. I usually use a mixture of water and almond milk, but with this trick you can use water alone and it still tastes decadent. I heat up my electric kettle of water until boiling and immediately pour it into my cornstarch spiked powdered mixture. Whisk it in and the mixture will be smooth and chocolatey with that cafe-worthy silken consistency. I use between one and two teaspoons of cornstarch for every six ounces of liquid, depending on how luscious I want my drink.
How to make thick hot chocolate from scratch
Credit: Allie Chanthorn Reinmann
You can also use cornstarch to thicken stove-top hot cocoas, or, if you’re looking to smother yourself in comfort, drinking chocolates. Instead of mixing the cornstarch into the dry ingredients, because there may not be any, make a cornstarch slurry. For a cup of milk or water, pour three-quarters of it into a small pot. Turn the heat on medium-low.
While that heats up, with the other quarter cup of liquid, make a slurry. I use a teaspoon and a half for one cup of liquid if the recipe has chocolate in it. If the recipe uses cocoa powder, I’ll use two teaspoons of cornstarch. Add the cornstarch directly to the small amount of liquid and stir it until dissolved. Once the pot of liquid begins to boil, stir in the cornstarch slurry. The milk will thicken slightly within 10 to 20 seconds. Turn the heat off and whisk in the other ingredients until fully combined.
The following recipe is for a rich, decadent cup of drinking chocolate. Although any chocolate chips or chunks will work, I use slightly better quality chocolate than TollHouse for this recipe. Often the melting point of bar chocolate or Ghirardelli chips is lower, so you won’t have to work as hard to whisk the mixture into a thick, silken chocolate potion. 72% chocolate will create a velvety, bitter chocolate drink, but if you think it should be sweeter, simply stir in a spoonful of sugar or honey directly into your mug to adjust.
Easy Drinking Chocolate Recipe
- 1 cup of cold liquid (water, milk, or a combination), divided
- 1 ½ teaspoons cornstarch
- ⅓ cup good quality chocolate chips
- Pinch salt
- 1 tablespoons sugar (optional, if your chocolate is very bitter)
1. Divide the cold liquid. Three quarters into a small pot over medium-low heat, and one quarter of the liquid in a small bowl with the cornstarch. While the pot heats, stir the cornstarch and water to dissolve it fully.
2. Once the milk begins to bubble strongly around the edges, stir in the cornstarch mixture. Stir continuously until it thickens, about 10 to 20 seconds. Turn off the heat and add the salt and chocolate chips. Let the mixture sit for one minute to soften the chocolate. Whisk until smooth. Taste the drinking chocolate. Add sugar if desired, and enjoy immediately.
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