Cioccolata calda is an extra thick and creamy Italian hot chocolate that tastes almost like a warm, sippable chocolate pudding. Lots of rich chocolate flavor! This recipe is easily scalable and can be made with any variety of milk.
Somehow as a child I convinced myself that I didn't like hot chocolate (despite loving all other kinds of chocolate). I'm still not sure why I thought that, but the good news is I've more than made up for it in the decades since.
This Italian hot chocolate has now become my go-to homemade hot chocolate recipe. Ultra thick and quite honestly luxurious tasting, it's a drinking chocolate that blurs the line between beverage and dessert in all the best ways.
Reasons to Love Italian Hot Chocolate
- Because cornstarch is the thickening ingredient here, you can use any kind of milk you like, either dairy or non-dairy. There's no need for the thickness (and heaviness) of cream.
- It bears repeating: the flavor is truly decadent. Melted dark chocolate combines with cocoa powder for a big, bold chocolate taste that isn't overly sweet.
- This cioccolata calda recipe is simple, made with pantry/fridge staples, and is easily scaled up or down.
- Milk: The beauty of this cioccolata calda recipe is that any milk will do. I've personally made this Italian hot chocolate with 2% dairy milk, almond milk, and oat milk and any which way is delicious. Oat milk is used in these photos.
- Chocolate: Dark chocolate adds a great depth when paired with the cocoa powder, and adds a modest amount of sweetness when compared to other chocolate varieties. I recommend chopping up a bar of chocolate vs. using chocolate chips as bar chocolate melts easier.
- Cocoa powder: Unsweetened cocoa powder, also known as natural cocoa powder, is used here. It's the usual kind you can find in the supermarket. I have not tried this recipe with a Dutch-process variety.
- Cornstarch: This is crucial in thickening this drink. Don't skip it!
- Whisk together the dry ingredients in a saucepan until no large clumps remain. The pan pictured in this post has a 1.5 quart capacity and this recipe doesn't come close to filling it up, so a smaller pan can likely be used no problem.
- In a separate small bowl, whisk together a bit of milk and the cornstarch until smooth. Keep this on the side for now.
- Pour in the rest of the milk and place the pan on the stove.
- Whisk periodically as the mixture heats to combine everything and smooth out any clumps.
- Once the hot chocolate is heated, whisk in the cornstarch slurry. Continue to cook and whisk as it heats.
- Once the hot chocolate has thickened to the point it can coat the back of a spoon, whisk in the chopped chocolate.
- Continue to whisk/heat until the Italian hot chocolate is smooth and is just about thickened to your liking, keeping in mind once it's off the heat it'll thicken a tiny bit more. Remove the pan from the heat and add the vanilla extract.
- Whisk the vanilla extract in, let it cool for a minute or two, and then it's ready to serve.
Recipe Tips and Tricks
- With all the whisking here, if using a non-stick pan it's important to use a silicone-coated whisk to prevent scratches along the bottom and sides.
- This recipe has wiggle room in that you can cook it as long as you like to achieve your preferred texture. Do keep in mind that the cornstarch will continue to thicken the longer it's heated, which means you can end up with something that more closely resembles pudding than a drinking chocolate if left too long.
- Because cioccolata calda will thicken up a bit more once it begins to cool, I recommend removing the pan from the heat just a tiny bit before it reaches your ideal texture.
Yes. Use your favorite non-dairy milk, such as oat milk (my favorite), almond milk, or soy milk. I wouldn't go with coconut milk as its thickness isn't necessary and the flavor may not mesh well. Also be sure to verify that the kind of dark chocolate you're using is dairy-free as some brands may add milk ingredients.
Refrigerate any leftover portions in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for up to 2-3 days. To reheat, transfer to a heat-safe bowl or mug and microwave in intervals until well-heated, stirring after each burst. You may also reheat it in a small pot on the stove. The consistency will thin out again as it heats.
For a festive variation consider adding a few drops of peppermint extract along with the vanilla. Peppermint is a potent extract so start with a drop or two and see if you'd like more. Otherwise fun additions to add to the finished cioccolata calda are brewed espresso, peppermint schnapps, Irish cream or coffee liqueur, rum, bourbon, etc.
If you’ve enjoyed this recipe, I’d love for you to leave a star rating in the recipe card and/or a comment review below!
Cioccolata Calda (Italian Hot Chocolate)
- 4 Tablespoons (50g) granulated sugar
- 3 Tablespoons (15g) unsweetened cocoa powder
- Big pinch of salt
- 1 ½ cups (355 ml) plus 2 Tablespoons (30 ml) milk divided (any variety)
- 4 teaspoons (12g) cornstarch
- 2.5 ounces (70g) chopped dark chocolate (just under ½ cup)
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- Whisk together the granulated sugar, unsweetened cocoa powder, and salt in a small saucepan until mostly smooth. Set the saucepan on the stove over low-medium heat and whisk in 1 ½ cups (355 ml) of the milk. Let the mixture heat for about 5-6 minutes.
- While the mixture is heating, whisk together the cornstarch and the remaining 2 Tablespoons (30 ml) of milk in a small bowl until the cornstarch has dissolved and the cornstarch slurry is smooth.
- Once the hot chocolate mixture is well-heated, drizzle in the cornstarch slurry and whisk until combined. Continue to heat the mixture for 8-10 minutes, or until the consistency has thickened up to coat the back of a spoon. Whisk periodically throughout, and adjust the temperature if needed so that the hot chocolate doesn't bubble up or come close to a boil.
- Add the chopped chocolate and whisk in until melted and smooth. Continue to heat for several minutes, or until the hot chocolate is just about as thick as you'd like it, keeping in mind that it will thicken up a tiny bit more as it cools down.
- Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the vanilla extract. Serve warm.
- I recommend a silicone-coated whisk if using a pan with a non-stick surface so you don't scratch the surface.
- Remove the pan from the heat once the cioccolata calda has thickened up nearly all of the way as you'd like. It will continue to thicken a slight bit as it cools off.
- Storage Instructions: Store leftover portions in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for up to 2-3 days. Reheat it over low heat on the stove or in short bursts in the microwave, stirring after each increment. The consistency will thin out again as it reheats.
- Variations: Add a few drops of peppermint extract along with the vanilla extract (start with one or two as it's strongly flavored!), or add brewed espresso, coffee or Irish cream liqueur, peppermint schnapps, rum, bourbon, etc. to mugs when serving.
Nutritional information is provided as an estimate. As it can vary due to many factors (brands used, quantities, etc.), we cannot guarantee its accuracy.Food Safety and Nutrition Disclaimer
Note: This post was updated in January 2022 from its original publish date in December 2015. The only changes to the recipe were increasing the yield and adding dark chocolate for an extra luxurious feel.
This was outstanding! It’s my new favorite hot chocolate recipe. The instructions worked perfectly, and the hot chocolate turned out thick and delicious. Next time, I would try swapping half of the cocoa powder for dark chocolate cocoa powder. It may also be good with a couple drops of peppermint extract instead of the vanilla. Thank you for the great recipe!
So glad you liked it, Christina! Those adjustments sound delicious - love the idea of a few drops of peppermint! 🙂
Update: I made the hot chocolate again using half regular cocoa powder, half Special Dark, and I replaced the vanilla with 1/8 tsp peppermint extract. It tasted great! I recommend trying it that way too. If I come up with more variations (maybe raspberry, caramel, or peanut butter), I’ll make sure to report back when I try them.
Yum!! Thanks for the update - I'm definitely trying that next time. 🙂 And I like the way you think...those flavors sound so good, too!
Nicole Anderson says
Alyssa this is just what I've been looking for! I used to work in an Italian coffee shop and they would have Italian hot chocolate like this but it usually came from a big packet and stayed in the Brewer all day...despite this, it was my favorite deink there and I'm so excited to try out your recipe! Thanks a bunch!
Thanks so much Nicole! Some of those coffee house drinks are tough to recreate at home. My boyfriend used to work in a coffee shop and has been trying to recreate one of his favorite cold drinks but all he knows about the recipe is that it came straight out of a big bag haha. This Italian hot chocolate is pretty simple though, and customizable! 🙂
This looks so rich and creamy Alyssa! I'm a huge chocolate fan, so I know I would love this!
Dear Alyssa, this hot chocolate sounds splendid! I would love to try this...my family would love it! xo, Catherine
Thank you Catherine! We've made quite a few batches already. 🙂
Kathy @ Beyond the Chicken Coop says
This hot chocolate looks so thick...you need to scoop it with a spoon! Yum!!!
Jess @ Flying on Jess Fuel says
Oh man, this looks SO thick and amazing! Any drink you need a spoon for has got to be good. Yes, please!
I agree! 🙂 Thanks Jess!
Rebecca @ Strength and Sunshine says
Spoonable hot chocolate....o man 😉