Friday, December 11, 2009

Don't Try This Unless You're Cold

Cioccolata Calda –Italian Hot Chocolate

Do not attempt to drink this unless it is cold outside!

On October 25, 2008, my daughter married her love in our back yard. It had not rained for the entire month of October. As we prepared, working on the garden, stringing lights, planning the where the tables would stand each day passed in autumn glory, warm sunshine, cool, cloudless, blue skies.

During the preparation time, I suggested serving our guest one of my specialties – Cioccolata Calda after dinner. Val thought it would be too much work and she didn’t want to stress me out. But I wanted to treat my guests as if they were coming to the house any old day. And, I had a secret weapon. My friend and former student Jackie Ross. I knew if she were free to come and help with the hot chocolate all would be well.

Some of my helpers at the wedding: Travis, Jackie, Cal and Jonathan.  Thanks to these and those not pictured.
When Jackie said yes, I made 3 triple batches of the recipe, got the cups and borrowed the pump thermoses.

I had stumbled upon this amazing drink when my husband and I visited Italy 5 years earlier. On July 7, after wandering around the ancient mountain town Aosta, we drove up into the Alps to the St. Bernard Pass. You know what July is like.
Not at the pinnacle of the Alps.

In July snow lies melting  across the road
The weather was clear and shivery cold.
We saw a small alpine garden,

the hospice that St. Bernard established, little stone huts and a chapel where a person the size of a gnome place flowers at the slab of a wooden door. I was enchanted, but freezing.

At twilight, we drove down winding mountain roads, past vistas to brighten your heart if it didn’t stop when a car roared past so close you could smell the driver’s cigarette.

And then we saw the village. We stopped at the only café.

Inside was wooden, warm and simple. I saw the hot chocolate machine on the counter, stirring the thick, dark chocolate and said, “We have to try that.”
We did.
Served with a small spoon stuck into a rounded cup without handles, the cioccolata calda was topped with a mountain of thick whipped cream. Using hand motions, the café owner explained that we were to drink it by stirring the cream into the chocolate spoonful at a time.
I lifted the spoon to my lips and the rest is history.
Back at home, I was determined to duplicate the recipe. This took awhile, during which time Val and Andrew fell in love.
The wedding day dawned – a rare day in October. It was raining and every single forecast predicted more rain.

rain pouring from the top of the reception tent
When our guests arrived, the rain redirected them in through the house. Here they were greeted by our wonderful team of helpers and Jackie served the fragrant hot chocolate in tiny paper espresso cups. Instead of being enjoyed after dinner, it helped keep our loved ones warm all through the day.

Everyone said they loved it on that cold, rainy, wonderful day.

This week, Val and Andrew’s little baby girl came to stay with me for a few hours. After her nap, I held her in her baby carrier and she helped me make some Italian Hot Chocolate. We enjoyed the task immensely. I hope you’ll try the recipe below for a special cold weather treat for your family.

This recipe is not exact and it is certainly not authentic. I made it up based on trial and memory. I would suggest serving the cioccolata calda in small (2 oz capacity) cups filled about half full with lots of whipped cream (make whipped cream refills available). If you do not use dairy, use soy whip available at Whole Foods and etc..

Do not drink it unless it is COLD outside. It’s simply too strong. But when you are shivering and tired, it will warm and delight you in a way you never knew possible.

Cioccolata Calda

In a double boiler or a bowl set over a pot of hot water, melt 2 oz of semi-sweet chocolate.

In a sauce pan, stir together, ½ cup unsweetened cocoa, 1/3 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon cornstarch, ½ teaspoon sea salt.

When stirred, add ½ cup water and mix with a wire whisk until smooth.

Now stir in another 1 ½ cups water.

Cook this mixture over medium low heat until it simmers, then bubbles, stirring continually. It will burn if you leave it alone. This will take about 20 to 30 minutes.

When it has thickened so that it looks like a thick, chocolate pudding, add another ½ cup of water and cook again until thick again. This will take another 10 minutes.

Stir into this ½ teaspoon vanilla.

Spoon the thick mixture into jars (this recipe will make about 2 cups)and store in the refrigerator. You can make this ahead of time and save it for a cold day. 

notice the desired consistency
To serve:

Heat a small amount of milk in a pan or in cups in the microwave. By small amount I mean enough for about ¼ cup at the most or 1/8 of a cup for each serving. If you cannot tolerate dairy, you can use water, but if you can I would recommend using milk at this step as it makes the drink a little less powerful.

Heat the chocolate gently in the warmed milk or water and stir. You can use the microwave or the stovetop.

Serve in small cups with generous mountains of whipped cream and a spoon.

F.Y.I --this incomparable drink makes an appearance in my novel "Solomon's Puzzle."


  1. This sounds wonderful! Will you Post your Yule Log recipe? I would love to make one this year. and yours was just beautiful last year!

  2. It sounds good! What consistency should it be when you serve it?

  3. When you serve it, it should be a little thinner than pudding, but still thick. Enjoy!