A 3-ingredient hot chocolate with a buttery secret

The richest, easiest winter treat you'll make

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published February 19, 2022 4:30PM (EST)

Brown Butter Hot Chocolate (Mary Elizabeth Williams)
Brown Butter Hot Chocolate (Mary Elizabeth Williams)

When I was in college, the coldest and snowiest days were always an excuse for my roommates and me to trudge to the Dollar Store and stock up on sugar free instant hot cocoa. While this was far from the most questionable of my life choices from that era, I do look back and wonder, why? Why drink a thin, watery, gritty, powder-flecked beverage when there are so many better options?

In the battle between hot cocoa (made with duh, cocoa) and hot chocolate (made with melted chocolate) I will always be team chocolate. My platonic ideal hot chocolate will forever remain the thick, decadent version that Maury Rubin perfected at the now defunct City Bakery. Over the years, I have aimed to recreate Rubin's masterpiece in my home kitchen, a mission that becomes harder and harder the more time passes since tasting the original. So instead, I now chase my own personal best.

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Thick hot chocolates usually rely on the Italian technique of adding cornstarch or the Viennese one of adding an egg yolk. They often also rely on additional sugar. I prefer to sacrifice some of that density for a simpler and utterly foolproof process, but one that throws one unexpected flourish nevertheless.

If butter can show up in coffee and rum, It deserves a place in a recipe that's basically  drinkable ganache anyway. You know how a pat of butter just somehow finishes whatever it touches? That. And when it's browned? Oh my God, forget about it. You can pull this beauty together in less than 15 minutes, by the way, if you're looking to impress in a hurry.

RELATED: A chocolate sandwich tastes exactly as comforting as it sounds

Several great recipes for European style hot chocolate call for both milk and heavy cream, so I just split the difference here and use half & half. You can play with proportions of milk and cream to suit your own taste, or use the milk of your choice here. (Just don't use skim milk and expect to have your mind blown.) Top with whipped cream or marshmallows, and if by some remarkable chance there's any left over, treat yourself to some amazing cold chocolate milk tomorrow.


Recipe: Brown butter hot chocolate
Inspired by The Stay at Home Chef


2 servings
Prep Time
5 minutes
Cook Time
10 minutes


  • 2 tablespoons of butter 
  • 2 cups of half and half, or milk or your choice
  • 1 cup chopped dark chocolate or chocolate chips (I like Ghirardelli 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate Premium Baking Chips and Lindt 70% Cocoa Dark Chocolate 
  • Optional: pinch of sea salt and/or 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract



  1. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over low heat, until it turns a deep amber color.
  2. Slowly pour in the milk. Simmer, stirring constantly.

  3. Add the chocolate and stir until melted and thoroughly combined.

  4. Add salt and vanilla, if using. Enjoy immediately.

Cook's Notes

If you have a hand blender or milk frother and are so moved, it's a nice touch to give your chocolate a solid whipping before serving, just to incorporate everything and make it extra voluminous.


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By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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