This French hot chocolate is thick, rich and chocolaty, enhanced with the delicate sweetness of vanilla and a hint of salt, and can be easily be made traditionally or vegan and paleo.
The weather is certainly taking its toll on the US, and here in Germany, it’s also been quite cold. So, I wanted to share this irresistible treat so we can indulge while we wait for spring.
I have more hot drinks that will keep you cozy and warm, but today’s French hot chocolate is one of the most decadent and perfect for Valentine’s Day (as is this Chocolate Heart Cake if you’re looking for a chocolaty dessert!).
What you need to make this hot chocolate
You only need 5 basic ingredients: whole milk, heavy cream, vanilla extract, finely chopped semi-sweet chocolate and a pinch of salt.
I top it off with whipped cream, but that’s optional. And I like to use a little shaved chocolate as garnish.
I talk about the ingredients you need to make it paleo and vegan below.
What makes it French hot chocolate?
French hot chocolate and regular hot chocolate are both warm, chocolaty drinks, but there are some distinct differences between the two.
French hot chocolate is known for its rich, bittersweet flavor, whereas traditional hot chocolate tends to be sweeter. This is because French hot chocolate typically uses high-quality dark chocolate, and regular hot chocolate commonly uses a blend of chocolate and cocoa powder, which is usually on the sweeter side.
The texture is another difference. French hot chocolate is known to have a thick, creamy texture because of the chocolate and cream used, which gives it that smooth, velvety texture. Regular hot chocolate is mostly thinner and made with milk and sometimes cream (although not always, like in the case of this Christmas Hot Chocolate!).
French hot chocolate is often served unsweetened, which allows the bitterness of the chocolate to shine through. In contrast, regular hot chocolate is usually sweetened with sugar, maple syrup or other sweeteners.
Today’s recipe uses semi-sweet chocolate, making it a little sweeter than if using dark chocolate. Still, it has the taste and texture of an authentic French hot chocolate.
How to heat the milk
The best way to make this hot chocolate is on a stovetop. Heat the milk, cream and vanilla extract with a pinch of sea salt in a small pot over medium heat.
When bubbles appear, lower the heat and stir in the chocolate until it melts.
Why use salt?
Adding salt enhances the natural flavors of the chocolate, making it taste richer and more complex. It also activates taste receptors on your tongue that are responsible for detecting umami or savory flavors, enhancing the chocolate’s flavor.
Sea salt is usually made from evaporated seawater and contains trace minerals. These minerals can add subtle flavors like sweetness and umami, and because sea salt has coarser crystals that slowly melt on the tongue, the flavor is released gradually (though that’s not relevant to this recipe where the salt is dissolved).
Table salt is made from mined salt and is typically refined to remove impurities. It gives a cleaner, more neutral flavor but still enhances the chocolate.
You can use either sea salt or table salt, but if you’re reducing salt intake, you can also leave it out.
Can I omit the vanilla extract?
Yes, you can leave it out. But the hot chocolate tastes better with it.
You could use vanilla sugar, seeds of a vanilla bean or vanilla bean paste if you have it. Just add a tiny bit and add more to taste.
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This drink can be made vegan using plant-based milk, coconut cream, and vegan chocolate. My favorite is Enjoy Life Semi-sweet Chocolate Chip, and they’re tiny enough that you don’t need to chop them.
But if you’re paleo or vegan, I actually prefer this Vegan Hot Chocolate. It’s also super decadent, and it calls for cocoa powder and coconut sugar or granulated sugar, so you can better control the sweetness.
If you need a paleo version of today’s recipe, use unsweetened cashew milk, or whatever nut milk you’d like, coconut cream and paleo chocolate. I get these paleo chocolate chunks, and chop them up as it’s much cheaper than buying paleo chocolate chips.
And my very favorite hot chocolate is this Paleo Vegan Hot Chocolate. It’s insanely rich and thick, but you must use a high-speed blender for it.
It’s entirely date-sweetened, and it’s so thick that it actually turns into mousse if you refrigerate it. It’s too rich for some people, but I just love it.
If you don’t want something over-the-top, then this Hot Chocolate with Frothed Milk is my favorite non-special occasion hot chocolate. It’s what I usually make. I consider the other recipes I’ve mentioned to be special treats and not an everyday kind of thing.
More warm beverages
Don’t want chocolate or don’t need something so rich? These are all great options.
I hope you’ll enjoy this French hot chocolate. If you make it, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Thanks! :)
French Hot Chocolate
- Prep Time:
- Cook Time:
- Ready in:
- Yield: 2-3
- 1 cup (236 ml) whole milk or cashew milk for vegan/paleo
- 1/3 cup (78 ml) heavy cream or coconut cream for vegan/paleo
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, optional
- pinch of salt
- 1 cup (170 grams) semi-sweet chocolate, somewhat finely chopped (vegan/paleo, if needed)
- whipped cream + chocolate shavings (coconut cream for paleo/vegan)
For the topping:
- In a small pot over medium heat, heat the milk, cream, vanilla extract and salt until very hot and steamy. When you see bubbles, turn the heat to low and stir in the chocolate, stirring occasionally, until melted.
- Top with whipped cream and chocolate shavings.
- Serve immediately. This is very rich, so you'll probably want to serve it in rather small cups.
- If you have leftovers, you can cool, cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days.