Hot chocolate in Italy is serious business. Every café serves it and it’s always deliciously thick. Even if it’s made from a bag, you can always count on the fact that it’s thick. Lusciously thick. Even instant hot chocolate that you get at the grocery store, you make it at home and it’s thick. Italians like their hot chocolate thick. The level of thickness may vary, generally it is still runny enough to drink, but you may also get hot chocolate so thick you need to eat it with a spoon. Real thick hot chocolate.
When I was too young to have coffee my parents would order hot milk for me. They would get cappuccino, but that was not for me. On special occasions, when they would get their coffee with a splash or whisky or something, they would order a cup of thick hot chocolate for me. And I loved it. I would always ask it with a dollop of whipped cream on the top, and marvel at the cream deliciously melting and creating this runny lather on top of the chocolate. Some people stir it in, but I liked to keep them separated. There is a whole culture of how Italian kids drink their hot chocolate. I have a little story of how I acted as a chocolate connoisseur as a kid myself, you can read on or jump to the recipe.
One day, I think it was my first or second Christmas in Poland, we were at a very fancy café in the very centre of Krakow and I ordered a cup of hot chocolate. It was the first time I was having hot chocolate in Poland, as I normally visited in the summer and it was always too hot to order that. But on that dreadfully cold day there was nothing I craved more. Plus, it was the fanciest bar I had ever set foot in, so I was literally drooling in anticipation as I sat there waiting for the waiter to come back with my divine order.
I can still remember the disappointment I felt when my hot chocolate arrived. It was super runny. It was like milk with cocoa. Now, how posh of me to complain, right? I used to drink milk with cocoa powder every morning, and that required no effort. Warm up the milk, add sweetened instant cocoa mix, stir. Done. I was 8 and I was able to prepare it myself. That’s not what I had come to the café for. From a professional I was expecting hot chocolate, not cocoa. I was expecting that magical thing I was not able to achieve with my instant cocoa powder: thickness. Where was my thickness?
Faced with this disappointment, I came to realize that not all places in the world make hot chocolate the same way. Apparently, thick hot chocolate was not much of a thing in Poland. That runny hot chocolate I got in Krakow was probably delicious, even though my stubborn brain only remembers the disappointment at the wrong texture. It was certainly not just made with instant cocoa powder like I used to make it at home. Hot chocolate can be not thick. But not in Italy. So if you want to sample thick hot chocolate, just like Italian kids love it, gather the following ingredients and follow my recipe.
Thick hot chocolate recipe
- 400 ml milk
- 200 ml whipping cream
- 200 g dark chocolate (50% cocoa or more)
- 4 tsp granulated sugar
- 2 tsp potato starch
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
In a saucepan combine 300 ml of milk and 200 ml of cream and set on medium heat. Add the sugar and stir it in until it dissolves. As it warms up, in a small bowl combine the remaining 100 ml of milk with the potato starch and stir well to remove lumps.
Back to the saucepan, when the milk and cream mixture has warmed up, lower the heat to the minimum and add the chocolate. Stir to melt the chocolate pieces. When the chocolate mixture is smooth, pour in the vanilla extract and the milk and starch mixture. Increase the heat to medium-high and keep stirring until the mixture reaches boiling temperature and thickens. Serve hot, the 8-year-old connoisseur that I was would recommend a dollop of whipped cream on top.
These quantities yield enough hot chocolate to feed 4 people as after dinner dessert. Or three eager Italian kids who expect a humongous mug full of the delicious stuff.
I may have indulged a little too much and turned this photo shoot into a serious mess. This hot chocolate really put me into childhood mood and I decided to have a little fun and mess around. For once I figured I’d forget my ambitions at creating spotless sets. I have very much enjoyed taking these photos, and cleaning up may or may not have involved licking the table (sayonara, dignity!).