It’s easy to love long, lazy summer days, but the arrival of cooler weather brings along a whole range of new pleasures. The air smells fresh and crisp, you have an excuse to wear your favorite cozy clothes again, and best of all it’s time for a whole different palette of cool-weather treats. Hot chocolate is high on the list of seasonal favorites, and its velvety richness lends itself to a number of creative variations.

Personalized Mugs with hot cocoa

Have S’More

Difficulty: Easy

Perfect for: Camping, Holiday party or Christmas morning.

Things You Need

  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup chocolate, melted
  • 1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs
  • Straws or long stir sticks
  • Marshmallows
  • Hot chocolate, mix or homemade

One cup of good hot chocolate often tastes like another, the precise attribute that gave campfire classic “s’mores” their name. The combination of chocolate, marshmallow and graham cracker is somehow more than the sum of its parts — at any age. Since your mug is already filled with chocolate and marshmallows are already a canonical addition, it’s just a matter of finding creative ways to bring all the elements together. Serve these at your festive gatherings or outdoors around a campfire or fire pit.

One simple method calls for no more than a bit of melted chocolate, small dish of graham cracker crumbs and a stack of large marshmallows. Skewer each marshmallow on the end of a straw or extra-long stir stick and dip half into the chocolate. While the chocolate is still melted and sticky, roll the dipped end in graham crumbs so it’s lightly coated. Fill your kids’ personal mugs with their favorite hot chocolate and stand the “s’more pop” in the mug with the marshmallow to act as a garnish.

chocolate and graham crackers in bowls

Grown-Up S’More

Difficulty: Moderately Easy

Perfect for: After dinner cocktail and dessert all in one.

Things You Need

  • Graham cracker crumbs
  • Mugs
  • Mini-marshmallows
  • Sheet pan
  • Small decorative towels or potholders
  • Creme brulee torch (optional)

For a more elegant, grown-up take on the theme, moisten the lip of each mug and rim it with graham crumbs. Pour in hot chocolate and float a layer of mini-marshmallows on top. Arrange the mugs carefully on a tray and place them under your broiler for a few minutes to toast the marshmallows. The mugs will be hot, so give each guest a small towel as a holder. Alternatively, if you have a creme brulee torch, use that instead of the broiler to brown your marshmallows.

Two mugs in an oven

Real Chocolate

Difficulty: Moderately Easy

Perfect for: Holiday treats, Girls night in.

Things You Need

  • Bittersweet or semi-sweet dark chocolate
  • Milk
  • Water (optional)
  • Small saucepan
  • Whipped cream
  • Selection of spirits and liqueurs (optional)

For purists, “hot chocolate” isn’t a powder that comes out of a can or a pouch. It’s real chocolate — the authentically dark, healthful-but-decadent article — transformed into a rich beverage. Any good-quality chocolate will work, but the darker and more intense it is, the more mileage you’ll get from it. You can let your guests add sugar, if they feel the need, when it’s served.


Two standard-sized 3- to 3.5-ounce bars will flavor 2 to 3 cups of hot chocolate, depending how intense you want the end result to be. Use all milk as your liquid for a richer, creamier flavor or follow the advice of pastry chef Alice Medrich and use water for up to half of the total for a cleaner, more intense chocolatey flavor. In either case, start by chopping your chocolate coarsely or grating it.

chocolate and cinnamon grated

Heat roughly a quarter of the liquid — if you’re using water and milk, start with water — in a small saucepan and add the chocolate. Stir until it’s melted and smooth, then add the remaining liquid and bring it to a simmer. Once it’s hot, froth it with a whisk or milk frother and pour into decorative cups for you and your most-prized friends. (If you weren’t one of theirs before this, you will be now). Garnish each mug with a dollop of real whipped cream.


When the weather outside is truly frightful, take your “girls’ night in” that one extra step. Offer the option of spiking real hot chocolate with a selection of suitable spirits and liqueurs. Irish cream, brandy, rum and Bourbon are all highly compatible with chocolate, but feel free to cast your net wider. Coffee-flavored liqueurs enhance the chocolate’s dark tones, while orange, mint, almond or hazelnut liqueurs add notes reminiscent of popular chocolate treats.

Raising the (Chocolate) Bar

Difficulty: Easy

Perfect for: A crowd, kids.

Things You Need

  • Hot chocolate mix, ideally in multiple flavors
  • Thermal carafe or kettle
  • Mugs
  • Serving dishes
  • Whipped cream
  • Cinnamon, nutmeg or other spices in shakers
  • Pretzels, cinnamon sticks or other large garnishes
  • Toasted nuts, chocolate shavings, crushed candies or other sprinkle-type toppings

For maximum entertainment value with minimal preparation, turn your chocolate into a social occasion by setting up a hot chocolate bar. You can take a hot chocolate mix kit for a classic option, or add flavored mixes such as hazelnut or caramel, which adds to the fun. Either way, your guests get a choice and you get the credit. Set out a tray of mugs and a thermal carafe of hot water, and let the personalization begin.

Personalized mugs and a carafe with chocolate mix

This is the fun part. Set out bowls of real whipped cream for garnishing, along with ground cinnamon, nutmeg or allspice in small shakers. Serve whole candy canes, cinnamon sticks, pretzels or broken-cookie garnishes on decorative seasonal plates and toasted almonds, chocolate shavings, crushed candy canes or other crushed hard candies from small bowls with spoons. The variations are endless, so let your creativity run free.

5 Hot Chocolate Recipes_7

Chili-Infused Cocoa

Difficulty: Easy

Perfect for: Grown ups.

Things You Need

  • Hot chocolate mix, or prepared hot chocolate
  • Cayenne or other ground chili pepper
  • Whipped cream or other garnishes

The ancient Aztecs enjoyed their chocolate with the added kick of chili peppers, a tradition that featured memorably in the movie “Chocolat.” You don’t need to appreciate its historical authenticity to enjoy this combination — it’s just plain good. Ideally you’d do this with real hot chocolate, but feel free to use a mix if you want to keep things simple. Nobody will tell.

Make up your chocolate by either method, adding your choice of powdered chili in tiny pinches until it’s perceptible. Cayenne is a good choice, adding heat without changing the flavor of your chocolate perceptibly, but feel free to experiment. The earthy, fruity flavor of ancho chili, for example, complements chocolate wonderfully. Garnish the mugs with whipped cream and another pinch of chili powder, then a cinnamon stick or other garnishes if you wish. For an elegant touch, wrap the base of each mug in a colorful fabric napkin.

sprinkling chili on hot chocolate

White and Frozen

Difficulty: Moderately Easy

Perfect for: Warm-weather holidays, Winter dinner party dessert, Frozen-themed kids party.

Things You Need

  • Heatproof bowl
  • Saucepan to act as double boiler or microwave oven
  • White chocolate
  • Hot chocolate mix
  • Milk
  • Ice
  • Blender
  • Mason drinking jars, or other mugs

If you live in the Sunbelt, magazine pages’ constant barrage of hot chocolate and other seasonal treats might feel like a cruel joke. Never fear — just because you still need air conditioning in December doesn’t mean you can’t get in on the fun. Hot chocolate can also be prepared in frozen form, and opting for white chocolate gives the resulting treat both its rich flavor and an appropriately frosty, wintry appearance.

The proportions of the mixture are easy to remember, so you can make as much or as little as you need. For every half-cup of milk, you’ll need an ounce of good white chocolate, a cup of ice, and a teaspoon or two of regular hot chocolate mix to deepen the flavor. Start by melting the white chocolate over a double boiler or in your microwave, zapping it for just a few seconds at a time and stirring until it’s melted. Then stir in the chocolate mix and a third of the milk until it’s fully combined.

White chocolate in the bowl half melted from microwave with a teaspoon or two of coco powder being added

Pour the rest of the milk into your blender — break it up into smaller batches if you’re making a lot — with the cold white chocolate mixture and ice. Blend until the mixture is thick and smooth, like a convenience-store slush drink or a frozen margarita. Pour it into festive Mason jars and garnish the drink with whipped cream and chocolate shavings. For a more holiday-ish feel, rim the mugs with crushed candy canes and use a full-length candy cane and fresh mint leaves as your garnish. You could also add mint extract to the blender, if you wish.

Hot chcolate in a red mason jar mug

Run With It

Hot chocolate can be whatever you choose to make it, from a casual indulgence for you and the kids to a dinner-party showstopper for grown-up guests. As always, these suggestions are offered just to prime the pump of your own creativity. Use the comments section below to step up and share your own best ideas with the PC community. Don’t be shy; you’re among friends here.