Hot chocolate in Italy is a beloved winter beverage. What makes Italian hot chocolate special is the fact that it’s thick. Much thicker than most hot chocolates you find elsewhere in the world. If you want to try a new hot chocolate recipe this winter, here’s how to make thick hot chocolate – Italian style.
Hot chocolate in Italy is serious business. As serious as coffee, I’d dare to say. Every café has it on the menu – it’s called cioccolata calda – and it’s always thick. Even instant hot chocolate that you get at the grocery store, the one from a bag. You make it at home and it’s lusciously thick. Italian hot chocolate is always thick.
The level of thickness may vary, generally it is runny enough to drink. But even so, I always prefer to eat it with a spoon. Some Italian hot chocolates are almost pudding-like and the use of a spoon is a necessity. But never so thick that the spoon will stand in it. Never, chocolate is still classified as a beverage, after all.
How to make thick hot chocolate
To make Italian hot chocolate you need to add a thickening agent to the chocolate when you are making it. The most common would be cornstarch or potato starch. Then you bring the mixture to a boil and the thickener will do its job delivering a lovely texture.
Many hot chocolate recipes use cocoa powder as main flavouring. I like to use actual chocolate. It adds to the thick texture. I also use a mix of milk and cream, again for both flavour and texture. Although the addition of starch would thicken even a simple cocoa and milk base, in my world the richer the base the better.
Italian hot chocolate recipe
To make this delightful chocolate drink you just need a small saucepan, measuring cups and spoons (or a kitchen scale) and a hand whisk. Here’s the ingredient list:
- Dark chocolate (50% cocoa or more)
- Cream (30% fat)
- Brown sugar
- Cornstarch (or potato starch)
- Vanilla extract
A quick explanation of the method follows. Please refer to the recipe card below for exact quantities.
- Combine part of the milk with the cream and sugar in a saucepan. Set on medium heat and stir to dissolve the sugar.
- In a small bowl aside, combine the rest of the milk with the cornstarch and stir to dissolve.
- When the mixture has warmed up lower the heat to low. Add the chocolate (chopped, or chips) and lightly whisk to help the chocolate melt.
- When the mixture is homogeneous, pour in the vanilla extract and the cornstarch mixture. Increase the heat to medium and keep whisking until the mixture reaches boiling temperature and thickens.
Hot chocolate in Italy often comes two ways: plain or with whipped cream. I’ve always preferred having it with the cream. Cream contrasts with the sweetness of the chocolate, giving it a very delicate flavour.
Marshmallows are not a common topping for hot chocolate in Italy. Some cafés have caught up with the trend and may keep them for customers who ask, especially in more touristy cities. But they never come as a standard.
Cookies are a lovely side to chocolate. Nothing beats dipping a cookie in this glorious thick goodness. I like to top my chocolate with crushed cookies, too. To up the Italian factor here I have served my thick hot chocolate with crushed amaretti. The one topped with cream just got a dusting of cocoa powder, but whipped cream and crushed amaretti sound like a delicious idea, too!
Can I make this ahead?
Surprisingly, this chocolate drink works very well as a make-ahead recipe. Being basically a liquid chocolate ganache, this drink hardens as it cools. If you place it in the fridge, it will harden even more. But place it on a source of heat and it will magically revert to its creamy texture.
If you have a microwave oven I would recommend to portion it out into the serving cups that you will use, cover with cling film and store in the fridge. Then you can directly proceed to microwave the chocolate when you want to serve it. I recommend to use a lower wattage power and stir from time to time to distribute the heat.
If you don’t have a microvawe, keep it in the saucepan, cover with the lid and store in the fridge. When you want to serve it, reheat it on low heat, stirring to prevent it from sticking to the bottom. You can store this chocolate for up to 4 days in the fridge. For best results add any toppings just before serving.
Did you ever try Italian thick hot chocolate? Let me know in the comments!
Thick hot chocolate
Italian hot chocolate: a delicious thick chocolate beverage made with dark chocolate, cream and cornstarch. Top it with cream and enjoy it by the spoonfuls!
- 330 ml milk divided
- 250 ml cream 30% fat
- 100 g dark chocolate 50% chopped, or chocolate chips
- 2 tsp brown sugar
- 2 tsp cornstarch
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
Combine 250 ml milk (1 cup) with the cream and sugar in a saucepan. Set on medium heat and stir to dissolve the sugar.
In a small bowl aside, combine the rest of the milk with the cornstarch and stir to dissolve.
Lower the heat to low. Add the chocolate and lightly whisk to melt.
When the mixture is homogeneous, pour in the vanilla extract and the cornstarch mixture. Increase the heat to medium and keep whisking until the mixture reaches boiling temperature and thickens.
Serve with your favourite topping. Classic Italian hot chocolate is served with whipped cream.
Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days. To reheat, microwave on low or set on low heat and stir to prevent burning.
This post was originally published in January 2018 and has been updated with new pictures and a recipe card in December 2020.