Thick Italian Hot Chocolate, or Ciocolatta Calda in Italian, is a delightfully easy dessert that is rich, creamy, and comforting. Like all authentic Italian cooking, it focuses on the quality of the ingredients like good dark chocolate melted into rich whole milk (or a mixture of coconut milk and water for the dairy-free version).
This recipe is not to be missed! It makes the perfect simple dessert to impress guests or unwind after dinner.
While Italian Hot Chocolate can be enjoyed year round, I like it best after holiday meals or for a special date night treat with my partner or a friend. We often enjoy it after a Christmas or New Year's dinner, or as an easy dessert for special occasions.
If enjoying this luxe hot drinking chocolate in the winter, I love pairing it with my Gluten-Free Gingerbread Cake.
And if you're looking for more Italian classics to enjoy along with or before this treat, check out our Dairy-Free Tiramisu, House Favorite Minestrone Soup, Dairy-Free Zuppa Toscana, Vegan Vodka Pasta and Easy Chicken Cacciatore!
What is Hot Chocolate in Italy?
In contrast to thinner American hot chocolate, Italians enjoy a thick hot drinking chocolate that is usually served in smaller portions and often with a dollop of whipped cream. In addition to chopped good quality chocolate, it uses whole milk, sugar, and starch for a rich and creamy texture.
You need only 5 common ingredients for this easy recipe:
- good dark chocolate - For the best luxury hot chocolate, choose a nice bar of dark chocolate that is 60% cocoa or more.
- whole milk - You can also use 2% milk, lite coconut milk, or a 50/50 split of full fat coconut milk and water for a dairy-free and vegan version.
- confectioner's sugar - This has a very neutral flavor that melds right into the hot chocolate mixture. You can also use regular white sugar or coconut sugar.
- cocoa powder - You can leave this out if you don't have it, but it give a super velvety chocolate taste!
- corn starch - Potato starch in the same amount will work great here too. I do not recommend using tapioca starch as it can get gloopy and have a texture more like pudding.
See the recipe card for quantities.
When you see how easy this recipe is, you'll understand why it's one of my favorite fancy desserts. It takes no time at all to whip together and is super decadent and feels fancy!
Milk and Starch: In a small saucepan on medium low heat, warm the milk, stirring frequently to prevent burning, until it begins to steam. Then reduce heat to prevent boiling.
Meanwhile, mix the corn or potato starch in 1 tablespoon of cold milk or water and set aside.
Mix it together: Add the dark chocolate, sugar, and cocoa powder to the pot. Whisk together until smooth and the chocolate has melted.
Thicken: Add the corn starch mixture to the pot and whisk until the liquid is smooth. Use the whisk in one direction only (clockwise or counterclockwise) with a mix of large and small circular motions.
You want to remove the hot chocolate from heat before it reaches your desired thickness because it will continue to cook and thicken.
Serve: Serve immediately by itself or with a dollop of whipped cream and enjoy!
Hint: Soak the pot and whisk immediately after serving for easier clean-up.
Because our house is primarily gluten-free and dairy-free, we make our Italian hot chocolate using the substitutions below. We tested the recipe as listed too -- all versions are delicious and taste nearly the same!
- Dairy-Free and Vegan - While you can use any plant-based dairy-free milk for this recipe, our recipe trials found that lite coconut milk or a 50/50 split of full-fat coconut milk and water made the most authentic Italian Hot Chocolate.
- Without corn starch - Potato starch will yield the exact same result and is what we usually use in this recipe to make it corn-free. Arrowroot and tapioca starch will have a similar effect but can get a little chewy, so avoid them if possible.
- Gluten-Free - Select gluten-free chocolate, cocoa powder, confectioner's sugar, and milk (if using dairy-free) brands and use a starch that is safe for gluten-free eaters. Since corn starch is commonly produced with wheat, I prefer to use a gluten-free labeled potato starch.
- Refined Sugar-Free - Swap the confectioner's sugar with coconut sugar or maple syrup.
Here are some of my favorite ways to change up this recipe:
- Without cocoa powder - The hot chocolate will be a little less rich, but you can completely omit the cocoa powder if you don't have it. Using a very dark chocolate (70%) will work better in this case.
- More or less sweet - If you like your drinking chocolate a little less sweet, start with less sugar and add to taste.
- French Hot Chocolate - the French make hot chocolate very similarly! Simply leave out the starch for a creamy drinking chocolate that is less thick than the Italian version.
- small pot
- mugs (I like a 5 ounce size for this recipe)
- measuring spoons
- measuring cups
I recommend enjoying this recipe as soon as you make it. If you choose to store it, allow to cool to room temperature then keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Reheat in a small pot on the stove on medium heat, whisking frequently to break up any clumps.
Adjust the starch amount and cooking time to reach your desired thickness. I recommend starting with 2 teaspoons of starch and removing the mixture from heat as soon as it is smooth and well-incorporated.
If you prefer it only slightly thickened, use 1 teaspoon of starch. If you like it very thick, almost like pudding, you can double the starch and heat the mixture longer.
Frequently Asked Questions
This recipe will still be thick, rich, and delicious without starch. However, if you want the most authentic Italian hot chocolate, the starch is essential.