Cioccolata Densa (Super-thick Italian Hot Chocolate)

I’ve been on something of an obsessive mission to make good, proper hot chocolate ever since I unwittingly ordered the BEST hot chocolate I have ever had in my life while on holiday in Paris. This mind-bogglingly good stuff came in a silver pot and was accompanied by chantilly cream; it was so thick you could practically stand a spoon in it. It was pure decadence and I have never found anything to truly rival it. The closest I’ve found is at Paul (a small chain of French coffee shops dotted around London), but it still wasn’t quite right. So I decided to take matters into my own hands. I researched hot chocolates to death. Mesmerisingly rich hot chocolates that are sauce-like in consistency are commonplace all over Europe; I had a bash at French, Spanish, Dutch and Italian versions (plus a delicious Mexican one) – turns out I’ve been fobbed off my entire life with watery, funny-tasting stuff from sachets! There are two ways of approaching a mega-thick hot chocolate. To achieve the desired thickness you either need a very large amount of chocolate and either full-fat milk or cream, or you use a little trickery with a silky cornflour and milk base (a bit like the beginnings of a roux) with some chocolate added. The latter is now my standard method; it is certainly more economical, and also more do-able on a whim. I tend to stick a hand blender into the pan to really get a smooth consistency at the end, but if you sift the cornflour and cocoa powder into the pan and are exceptionally determined with a small hand whisk, it’s not strictly necessary. A little tipple added at the very end gives a wonderful kick (I’m particularly fond of brandy in my hot chocolate) and you can flavour as you please; cinnamon and/or vanilla are popular, and for an authentic Mexican kick you can add a tiny pinch of chilli powder.

This makes two small tea/cappuccino cup sized servings (each one about 200ml) or one giant hot chocolate for one (remember it is really rich!)

2 tbsp cocoa powder
3-4 tbsp white sugar, depending how sweet you want it
1 tbsp cornflour
350-400ml milk (any kind – the amount you need depends on how thick you want it)
50g dark chocolate, chopped (any will do, but dark is best.)

Optional flavour suggestions: A shot of brandy, whisky, rum or Irish cream; 1/4 tsp vanilla, almond or orange extract; a pinch of cinnamon and/or chilli or cardamom

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In a dry saucepan large enough to hold everything, whisk together the cocoa powder, sugar and cornflour. If you are using any spices, whisk those in, too. Measure out the milk into a separate jug before hand so you can keep an eye on how much you are using. Add a slosh of the milk – about 50ml or so – to the saucepan and whisk to make a dark chocolatey paste. Place on a low heat and keep whisking until it has thickened (this can happen very suddenly so keep an eye on it!) then add another slosh of milk – about 50ml at a time – and allow to thicken again while stirring continuously. When all the milk has been added, allow to simmer very gently (keep stirring though) for a few minutes. This will ensure that you ‘cook’ the cornflour (for want of a better term) and you won’t have a floury tasting drink. The process is not unlike making a white sauce.

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After a few minutes of bubbling and stirring, you should have a pan of smooth-looking hot chocolate. Remove from the heat and stir in the chopped chocolate. Keep stirring – the chocolate will melt pretty quickly. Add any tipple you please and, if necessary, blitz – really carefully, obviously – with a hand-blender. Pour into small mugs or cappuccino cups and enjoy!

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