French hot chocolate, or chocolat chaud, is thick and ultra-chocolaty and easy to make with just two ingredients. Once you try it, you'll never go back to a powdered mix again!
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Why have I not made French-style hot chocolate at home before? Honestly, because I thought there was some sort of mystery to it. I thought it was complicated. It had to be, right? Right???
Nope. You know how many ingredients French hot chocolate has? TWO. Whole milk and very good chocolate.
Like everything French, it's about simplicity and quality. I'm sure they think we're nuts by trying to make things "easier" and "more convenient" with our packets full of fake stuff. What could be easier or more convenient than heating up some milk on the stove? So now it's your turn.
Chocolat chaud is a classic French treat that's easy to make at home!
- The French have been enjoying hot chocolate in cafés and chocolateries for hundreds of years. That's classic!
- It's ready in 10 minutes.
- You only need two ingredients, a sauce pan and a whisk to make it.
What makes French hot chocolate so thick and rich?
You may be surprised by the answer, but it's the CHOCOLATE! Using a LOT of really good dark chocolate equals lots of cocoa powder which equals structure. The darker the chocolate, the thicker the hot chocolate.
So should you also make it with heavy cream? NO! The extra fat in the heavy cream will turn it into ganache and coat your tongue with too much fat so you can't taste the chocolate. French hot chocolate is supposed to be thick, yes, but also drinkable.
Drinking French hot chocolate in Paris
The first time I had Parisian hot chocolate was at Ladurée in Paris several years ago. We sat down in the "salon de thé" at the location on Place Madeleine that originally opened in 1862. I think the area where we sat is now a private room, it was so beautiful, with original frescoes on the walls and ceiling. I ordered a pastry with rose cream (why can't we get that here? soooo good) and a chocolat chaud.
I'd heard about this thick, chocolaty, dreamy Parisian drink, but I had no idea that it would be so amazing. How did hot chocolate come from this magnificence, but then turn into the not-worth-burning-your-tongue-over, mostly water stuff we drink in the States?
I pity the poor French child who comes to visit us here and is handed a cup of what is basically brown hot water. Can you imagine the disappointment and bewilderment? Poor thing.
A trip to Paris gave me another chance to revel in the glory that is Parisian hot chocolate in its native environs. My mom and I went to La Chocolaterie Cyril Lignac in the St. Germain de Pres neighborhood.
I had read about this place in The New Paris by Lindsey Tramuta. If you're going to Paris, or just love the city, I highly recommend this book. She looks at the new wave of creators in restaurants, bakeries, coffee bars, mixology, fashion, design and more, who are transforming the city. She has a whole chapter on chocolate!
On this particular day, it was pouring down rain, and a perfect day for hot chocolate. Although honestly, I would have had one regardless of the weather. Even if it was 80 degrees outside.
This stuff is thick, and very rich, so you generally aren't getting a giant serving. Maybe like, a coffee cup in a fancy hotel-sized serving. But this chocolat chaud came out and it was HUGE. A full large coffee mug full of it.
Probably 12-14 ounces? Maybe 16 ounces? I was shocked. It was like a challenge had been thrown down. And I accepted. And I prevailed. And I needed a walk after.
Ingredients you'll need
- Whole milk: Yes, it must be whole milk. This is part of the magic.
- Dark, bittersweet chocolate: Use a good chocolate, I like Ghirardelli 60% cacao chips, Guittard baking wafers would also be good. Sometimes Guittard chips don't melt that well, so stick to the wafers if you're going with that brand.
How to make French hot chocolate
Adapted from David Lebovitz.
This recipe makes two very generous, American-sized hot chocolate servings (or four reasonably-sized French ones.)
Use a kitchen scale to weigh the right amount of chocolate. If you don't have a scale, just eyeball it and err on the side of a little less, then you can always taste it and add more chocolate if you need to.
Step 1: Warm the milk
In a medium saucepan, warm the milk over low heat.
Step 2: Whisk in the dark chocolate
Remove from heat, then add the chocolate and whisk until melted and fully incorporated.
Step 3: Gently simmer and thicken the hot chocolate
Return the sauce pan to the stove over low heat and bring to a low boil. Stir constantly for 2-3 minutes until mixture thickens.
Some kind of magic happens in the pan during this part of the process. I can't explain how it all of a sudden gets so thick and rich. But we shouldn't question these things. Just let it be magic and leave it at that.
Allow to cool slightly, then pour into cups. If desired, add a few flecks of coarse salt on top.
Tips for the best French hot chocolate
- I know not all of you have a kitchen scale. And I tried to figure out what the amount of chocolate would be if you used measuring cups instead. But here's the deal: If you're using chocolate chips, different brands are different sizes; if you're chopping up some dark chocolate yourself, well, who knows what kind of chunk-sizes you'll come up with? Once you have one, you'll find more uses for it than you think. They don't take up much space and they aren't that expensive. I love my Escali Primo Digital Scale. It comes in all kinds of colors.
- Keep the heat LOW. You don't want to scorch the milk or cause the hot chocolate to split.
- Now be careful - this is hot and it's THICK. So that means burning your tongue or your throat is easy to do. So sip slowly and enjoy it. Like the French do.
More French chocolate dessert recipes
Try these chocolaty French treats that also all happen to be gluten free!
- Chocolate Mousse is another French classic that is easier to make at home than you think.
- A Flourless Chocolate Torte seems fancy, but it's a simple cake that French grandmothers make all the time!
- Flourless Chocolate Cookies with Chocolate Chips and Hazelnuts have a beautiful, crackly exterior that would look good in the window of any patisserie.
French Hot Chocolate (Chocolat Chaud)
- 2 cups whole milk
- 5 oz high-quality bittersweet chocolate
- In a medium saucepan, warm the milk over low heat.
- Remove from heat, then add the chocolate and whisk until melted and fully incorporated.
- Return the sauce pan to the stove and bring to a low boil. Stir constantly for 2-3 minutes until mixture thickens.Some kind of magic happens in the pan during this part of the process. I can’t explain how it all of a sudden gets so thick and rich. But we shouldn’t question these things. Just let it be magic and leave it at that.
- Allow to cool slightly, then pour into cups. If desired, add a few flecks of coarse salt on top.
- Now be careful – this is hot and it’s THICK. So that means burning your tongue or your throat is easy to do. So sip slowly and enjoy it.
- This recipe is adapted from The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz. If you plan to visit Paris, I highly recommend it. It's an indispensable guide to Parisian customs and all of its idiosyncrasies.
- Another must-have book is The New Paris by Lindsey Tramuta. I found all of the amazing chocolate shops featured in this story in her book, along with all of the hot new restaurants, bars, patisseries, and retail shops.