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 melted in at the end. The latter is now my standard method; it is certainly more economical, and also more do-able on a whim. I sometimes 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.

For the grown-ups, 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.

2 tbsp cocoa powder
2-3 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 dairy-free dark chocolate, chopped

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 medium saucepan, whisk together the cocoa powder, sugar and cornflour. If you are using any spices, whisk those in, too. Add a slosh of the milk to the saucepan and whisk to make a dark chocolatey paste, then stir in the remaining milk. Place the pan on a low-medium heat and keep stirring until the mixture bubbles and thickens – this will take a few minutes so be patient! Reduce the heat and continue to bubble for just a minute more, then remove the pan from the heat and add the chopped chocolate, plus any vanilla or tipples you like. Keep stirring until the chocolate has melted, then pour into small cups. *** 2023 update: We still love this recipe, topped with vegan squirty cream and mini marshmallows! ***

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