Jacques Torres' Secret Ingredients For Indulgent Hot Chocolate

No one likes a cup of hot chocolate that is flat, watery, pale, and liquidy enough that it could pass off as lukewarm chocolate milk at best. The kind of hot chocolate that you seek comfort from on a cold and rainy day is a thick, smooth, and velvety drink — the kind that's more like melted chocolate that you could very well polish off with a spoon. But simply whisking together some hot milk and cocoa powder isn't enough to get that rich flavor and texture: A good cup of hot chocolate requires a couple more ingredients from your pantry. For pastry chef, chocolatier, and "Nailed It!" host Jacques Torres, the secret for such hot chocolate is in two things: milk powder and cornstarch.

While Torres replaces cocoa powder with top-quality dark chocolate to make his sweet drink more luxurious, he also recommends using milk powder and a teaspoon of cornstarch. He whisks the two dry ingredients in a bowl and adds it to his pot of hot chocolate bubbling away on the stove before letting the mixture come to a boil once more. The result is an ultra-thick hot chocolate that is luxurious, thick — an indulgent exploration of chocolate — and perfectly nappant, aka it can coat the back of a spoon without dripping off.

Toast the milk powder for extra flavor

Cornstarch and milk powder can make all the difference in a hot chocolate. Milk powder can upgrade the overall flavor of your hot chocolate while also giving it a silky and creamy body — whereas cornstarch will bring that rich, velvety thickness without adding any flavor of its own to the drink. This may be why when The Kitchn put Torres' hot chocolate to the test along with those from the likes of Barefoot Contessa, Nigella Lawson, and Giada De Laurentiis; his was the only recipe of the lot with a perfect score.

Besides, Torres isn't the only chef who swears by these ingredients. Anne Burrell's super thick hot chocolate features a mighty two tablespoons of cornstarch, and  Alton Brown is a big advocate for using both cornstarch and milk powder in his reloaded hot cocoa. In fact, Brown recommends going one step further: He says that toasting the milk powder first makes the "best cup of hot chocolate ever" (via Alton Brown).

Toasting milk powder is fairly simple — all you have to do is gently heat it on the stove until the white powder darkens into a golden brown. This one easy step, however, can unlock a boatload of flavor. Think of toasted milk powder as a flavor enhancer that can bring nutty, caramelized, malt, and toffee-like notes to the mix. So while cornstarch will thicken the hot chocolate, toasted milk powder will bring deeper and more complex flavors to the drink.

More hot chocolate wisdom from Jacques Torres

When Torres traveled from France to New York in 2000, he was met with a city that needed to be coaxed into thinking of hot chocolate as more than a child's drink. As Torres turned folks into fans of thick French-style hot chocolate with free samples, he also gained invaluable knowledge about the winter drink along the way — he is called Mr. Chocolate after all. For one, Torres says that hot chocolate is not to be confused with hot cocoa. While the latter is a thin drink made with milk, sugar, and cocoa powder, hot chocolate is a richer beverage that uses actual chocolate.

Because chocolate is the star of the drink, it's important to splurge on quality for a truly indulgent cup. Look for chocolate with more butter and fat as that will give the drink a smoother texture and better flavor. Torres also recommends sticking to a 60 to 70% dark chocolate rather than a milky one whose sugar could easily overpower the rich chocolate flavor of the drink. Likewise, it's best to be tightfisted with any other ingredients such as spices that could overpower your hot chocolate — while you may want a hint of contrast from other flavors, you don't want that to come at the cost of the chocolate now, do you?