Italian Hot Chocolate (Cioccolato Caldo) is a thick, rich chocolate drink unlike any other. If you want a special hot chocolate that feels fancy and just a little bit indulgent, this recipe is for you. This recipe uses good dark chocolate, a little bit of sugar, and no cream!
Throughout Italy, when the weather turns cold, hands are warmed with a small cup of rich, thick, and creamy Cioccolato Caldo, or Hot Chocolate. A little biscotti or a cookie on the side makes the perfect after dinner (who am I kidding) anytime treat.
Although drinking chocolate or hot chocolate is common all over Europe (and the world) this Italian-style hot chocolate stands out for its thick creamy, texture as well as its richness. You may think something this decadent is made with heavy cream, but it's not!
With real chocolate, cocoa powder, 2 percent milk, and cornstarch used to thicken it, this Cioccolato Caldo is much richer, and enjoyed in smaller quantities than American-style hot cocoa. It’s so deeply satisfying that a little goes a long way — you will not down a whole coffee mug of this!
Italian Hot Chocolate is, hands down, the drink for true chocolate lovers.
Table of Contents
- What is in Italian Hot Chocolate?
- How to Make Italian Hot Chocolate
- What’s the Difference Between Hot Cocoa and Hot Chocolate?
- Variations & Modifications
- How to Serve an Italian-style Hot Chocolate
- More Recipes to Satisfy Your Chocolate Cravings
- The Mediterranean Dish Cookbook
- Italian Hot Chocolate (Cioccolato Caldo) Recipe
What is in Italian Hot Chocolate?
The ingredients are pretty basic and you might have most of them in your pantry. Italian-style hot chocolate consists of:
- Chocolate: A combination of bittersweet chocolate and cocoa powder.
- Milk: I use 2 percent because it has body but not too much fat.
- Sugar: A little sugar sweetens the drink just a bit.
- Salt: Balances the sweetness.
- Cornstarch: This thickens the drink. To adjust the thickness of the drink, reduce the amount of cornstarch added.
You don’t typically see marshmallows add to this like an American-style hot cocoa, however, it is common to dollop some freshly whipped cream on top and/or sprinkle some chocolate shavings if you’re so inclined.
How to Make Italian Hot Chocolate
All you need is about 10 minutes, and a few ingredients to make this luxurious Italian hot chocolate.
Combine the dry ingredients: In a small bowl, combine the dark chocolate, cocoa powder, cornstarch, and salt. Set aside.
Warm the milk: Pour the milk into a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, and bring to a simmer (watch for bubbles forming around the edges).
Add the dry ingredients to the milk: Dump the dry ingredients into the simmering milk and stir with a wooden spoon or heat-proof spatula until the chocolate is melted and smooth, 4-5 minutes.
Let cool: Remove from heat and let cool for 5 minutes. If any skin starts to appear on the surface, whisk the mixture.
Serve: Pour into heat-proof cups. Garnish with chocolate shavings and/or whipped cream if desired. Serve immediately.
What’s the Difference Between Hot Cocoa and Hot Chocolate?
Although hot chocolate and hot cocoa are often used interchangeably, they’re actually different drinks! Italian Hot Chocolate is not the sweet, milky kids drink that you know as American-style hot cocoa.
- Hot chocolate uses melted chocolate (and may or may not include cocoa powder although this recipe does).
- Hot cocoa relies solely on cocoa powder for its chocolate flavor, which tends to make it not very chocolatey at all, in my opinion!
Variations & Modifications
Looking for something even creamier? Want to add in some flavorings? Try these variations the next time you make a Cioccolato Caldo.
- Use whole milk: Give your hot chocolate an even creamier mouthfeel by using whole milk instead of 2 percent.
- Add some spice: A ½ teaspoon of cinnamon, a pinch of cayenne pepper, or a quick grating of nutmeg all add a touch of spice and add extra warmth to your hot chocolate. Add these at the dry ingredient stage.
- Flavorings: Try a ¼ teaspoon of peppermint extract when making your hot chocolate for a cooling holiday flavor, or a ½ teaspoon of pure vanilla extract (this works well alongside the spices too!). Or go with a drizzle of syrup like caramel or raspberry too!
- For adults only: A splash of spiced rum, brandy, or even whiskey all will accompany the rich, chocolatey taste. Keep in mind that the additional liquid may alter the consistency and lessen the thickness.
How to Serve an Italian-style Hot Chocolate
Remember, this drink is hot! Use your coffee mugs, or heat-proof mugs when serving up a cup of Cioccolato Caldo. And then top with fresh cream or chocolate shavings (or both). The drink will continue to thicken as it cools, so serve it right away or keep it on very low heat and stir occasionally.
Traditionally a small cookie like a biscotti is served alongside the drink, get a little festive and try this jam-filled cookie called pizzicati or sip your Italian Hot Chocolate sans treat.
This recipe serves 4, but you can scale up and serve in a heatproof terrine if you’re looking to serve a crowd.
More Recipes to Satisfy Your Chocolate Cravings
The Mediterranean Dish Cookbook
The Mediterranean Dish Cookbook: 120 Bold and Healthy Recipes You'll Make on Repeat. In her book, Suzy brings cross-culturally inspired dishes from throughout the Mediterranean to you, using easy-to-find ingredients and easy-to-follow, to make your meals more vibrant, delicious, and yes — even a little healthier, too!
Italian Hot Chocolate (Cioccolato Caldo)
- 6 ounces dark chocolate 70-74%, chopped small
- 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
- 4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- pinch of salt
- 2 cups 2% milk
- chocolate shavings for garnish, optional
- Combine the dry ingredients: In a small bowl, combine the dark chocolate, sugar, cocoa powder, cornstarch, and salt. Set aside.
- Warm the milk: Pour the milk into a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, and bring to a simmer (watch for bubbles forming around the edges).
- Add the dry ingredients to the milk: Dump the dry ingredients into the simmering milk and stir with a wooden spoon or heat-proof spatula until the chocolate is melted and smooth, 4-5 minutes.
- Let cool: Remove from heat and let cool for 5 minutes. If any skin starts to appear on the surface, whisk the mixture.
- Serve: Pour into heat-proof cups. Garnish with chocolate shavings and/or whipped cream if desired. Serve immediately.
- Italian hot chocolate will continue to thicken as it cools. To reheat it warm it gently over low in a small saucepan or eat it with a spoon like pudding. Either way works!
- This drink is rich! When looking for serving cups the smaller the better. No big coffee mugs for this hot chocolate recipe.
- Visit our shop to browse quality Mediterranean ingredients including olive oils, honey, jams and spices.