Cioccolata calda

We're nearing the end of December, which means it's time for the last round of Cucina Conversations of 2017! Our theme this month is, perhaps not surprisingly, Christmas. Here are the posts from my fellow bloggers:

Daniela of La Dani Gourmet will be sharing her recipe for torrone morbido, a classic Italian Christmas sweet;

Carmen of The Heirloom Chronicles will be making ciascuni, a Sicilian sweet made with figs and nuts;

Lisa aka Italian Kiwi will be making risotto al prosecco, or risotto made with Prosecco;

Flavia of Flavia's Flavors will be making struffoli, a Calabrian Christmas dessert;

Marialuisa of Marmellata di Cipolle will be making fichi secchi ripieni, or stuffed figs;

Last but not least, Rosemarie over at Turin Mamma will be preparing sp
รคtzle from the North of Italy, as well as panna cotta for dessert.

Let's jump a moment from December 2017 to December of 2009, all the way back when I was a student abroad in Bologna, Italy, and wrapping up my first semester of university. By the time the holiday season rolled around, I had been living in Italy, a foreign country, for nearly five months, and flourishing, if I don't say so myself -- my Italian language skills had improved considerably, and I had made Italian friends (!!!) plus friends from my language school, from all over the world. Exciting new friendships aside, I had passed all of my first semester exams at the University of Bologna, started an Italian cooking course, and Christmas, my favorite holiday, was just around the corner. Bologna -- by then crowned my Favorite Place Ever -- rose the the occasion, and was decorated beautifully for the holidays, complete with a little ice skating rink and Christmas market in the piazzaIt was an exceptionally exciting, joyful, and happy time in my life -- as my whole year in Bologna was -- made even better by a single discovery: Italian hot chocolate. 

I discovered Italian hot chocolate, or cioccolata calda on a snow-dusted December evening in a cafe on Via Indipendenza, the city's main street. I was with my sister, plus our friend Anna (who you may remember from this post and this one) and we all ordered cioccolata calda with a few cookies on the side. I placed my order without much thought -- after all, hot chocolate was hot chocolate, not much of a novelty, something that, unlike cornetti or tigelle, I had already been acquainted with in the U.S. The hot chocolate I was expecting had a present but sometimes subtle chocolate flavor, with a thinner consistency, and was served in a big mug and topped with mini marshmallows, if you were lucky. Though you could get it homemade, it was often made from a mix, which didn't detract from it -- it was comforting and tasty nonetheless.  

But this was not that. The hot chocolate that was ushered to our table, was curious, different, exotic. Upon further inspection, we discovered it was thick, so thick it was served with a spoon because it toed the line between eatable and drinkable, and was bittersweet, so much so that adding a teaspoon of sugar or two wasn't unreasonable. It was served in smaller cups that took into account its richness, topped with a dollop of unsweetened whipped cream to cut the darkness of the chocolate. It was, in short, divine, yet another wonderful thing I'd discovered about Italy, and so different from what I was accustomed to -- cioccolata calda, I decided, was American hot chocolate's exotic, wiser, slightly moodier older sister, one who had lived a year abroad in Europe, studied philosophy, and spent lots of time writing, or thinking deep thoughts. I was happy to have met her, and we became good friends during my colder months in the north of Italy. Our friendship remains strong today, in Rome, where the weather is not exactly snowy but can be at its worst gray and rainy, and cioccolata calda is still welcome.

A couple of notes: Unlike American hot chocolate, where you're like to get a whole mug-ful, Italian hot chocolate is much thicker, darker, and richer, so a small cup is all that you'll really need -- I used particularly small cups for serving as a matter of preference, but feel free to use whatever you have on hand. There is a good amount of cornstarch in here to ensure the cioccolata calda gets nice and thick -- one of my taste testers likened it to "thin chocolate pudding" -- but if you'd like yours a bit thinner, feel free to decrease the cornstarch to 16 or so grams (2 tablespoons). Do sift your cornstarch and whisk the milk in well and continuously to avoid any lumps as well. This is really delicious with unsweetened whipped cream -- I didn't have any on hand when photographing this and regretted it!


2 cups (500ml) whole milk, tepid 
4 ounces (100 grams) semi-sweet chocolate
6 tablespoons (80 grams) sugar
4 tablespoons (30 grams) cocoa powder, sifted
2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons (20 grams) cornstarch, sifted
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Fresh whipped cream, for serving, if desired

Put the cocoa powder, vanilla, cornstarch in a medium pot and whisk together. 
 Add the milk a little at a time, whisking the whole while, until everything is smooth and no lumps remain. Place the pot on the stove over low heat, and whisk everything together constantly. 

When the milk/cocoa mixture begins to bubble and then add the semi-sweet chocolate and whisk until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Let the mixture cook for about a minute, or until it becomes dense. 
Spoon into cups, top with a dollop of freshly whipped unsweeted whipped cream, if desired. Serve immediately. Serves 4-6, depending on how large your serving mugs or cups are.


  1. Perfect for Christmas no matter which hemisphere one is in. This was the first sweet I learnt to make as a child and allowed to cook. I would build layers of chocolate between biscuits and wait for it to soften before eating with a spoon. Love it!

  2. I never realized what it meant to have a proper hot chocolate until I put the first spoonful of an Italian hot chocolate in my mouth the first time I went to Italy. It makes the drink they call hot chocolate in the rest of the world look like a very poor imitation! :D

  3. Lisa I completely agree! It really is worlds apart from what we have in the U.S! Carmen -- I think the chocolate/biscuit layering idea is a good one at any age, I might give this one a try...hahah :)