Salted caramel hot cocoa is so good that it changes minds and changes lives. That’s only a slight exaggeration.
Case in point: my husband, Dan, has both a sweet tooth and an aversion to hot liquids. But he’ll hit the override button on said his “no hot liquids” rule for a mug of salted caramel hot cocoa every time.
Because yes, technically cocoa is a hot liquid in form, but it’s made of chocolate! It’s not like a bowl of offensive broccoli bisque or a cup of bitter coffee.
And when hot cocoa is loaded up with an indulgent amount of freshly made salted caramel, resistance is futile.
For Dan, this cocoa is sweet enough to satisfy his sky-high sugar satiation levels, especially when he adds caramel-dipped marshmallows and whipped cream to his mug.
And for me, salted caramel keeps the drink from being too saccharine. The pairing of deeply caramelized sugar with the tannic undercurrent of high-quality cocoa powder gives the drink a whisper of bitterness and depth.
Historically, I’ve always preferred the straightforward flavor of a cocoa powder-based drink rather than the intense hot chocolates flavored with chocolate shavings.
But even those who love the so-thick-it’s-almost-a-candy-bar style of hot chocolate will be satisfied by the rich, creamy mouthfeel of this salted caramel hot cocoa.
By starting with a simple caramel sauce and whisking milk and cocoa powder into it, you’re getting intense body and flavor built into the cocoa. And it’s not that much more difficult than whisking up a pot of plain old hot chocolate or hot cocoa.
And making caramel in a pan requires nothing but a good, heavy-bottomed pan and a patient eye. Let the sugar do its work and don’t stress over the process, which might include a few clumps or lumps. They’ll melt themselves out in the end.
Speaking of melting… if you’re having a particularly tense family standoff over the holidays, maybe it’s time to bring in the peacemaker. Let a few mugs of salted caramel hot cocoa make the point that we can all find something to agree on.
- 1/2 cup (100 grams; 3 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon flaky sea salt
- 1/4 cup heavy cream or whipping cream
- 2 cups whole milk
- 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (use the best you can get, like Valrhona)
- Pour the sugar into a heavy-bottomed saucepan that will comfortably fit the sugar with some headroom.
- Place over medium-low heat and stir gently with a wooden spoon or silicone spatula to keep the sugar heating evenly.
- As the sugar heats, it will turn from fine grains to white shardy pieces to golden shards to a melted amber puddle. Be patient!
- When the sugar is fully dissolved and a deep golden caramel, stir in the sea salt and take the pan off the heat.
- Pour the cream into the caramel in a thin, steady stream while stirring; the caramel will hiss, bubble and harden, so this is where it's crucial to have a pan with enough room to prevent boil-over.
- Return the pan to the stove over medium heat.
- Slowly whisk in the milk, stirring until the caramel is fully incorporated.
- Whisk in the cocoa powder.
- Continue to heat, stirring occasionally, until the cocoa is steaming.
- Serve immediately, with or without marshmallows.
If you want to dip your marshmallows in the caramel, do so after whisking the cream off heat.