Cioccolata calda: Or, Italian-style Hot Chocolate

Italian-style hot chocolate

In Italy, I drank a lot of tea. Too embarrassed to order the proper coffee and how many packets of sugar I used; I got mine from vending machines on campus anyway. I would nurse it while craning my neck to look at a fresco, taking notes, doodling in the margins when my teacher would switch to Italian. I did not know Italian. I never thought to learn before moving there.

Italy is a blur now, I remember it in fragments. In some ways, I can't remember much of anything except the cafeteria, the silent nuns who nodded their heads. The liturgical smell of the monastery that was a mix between parchment and antiseptic solution. I remember the art in vague metaphors of form and color. I think I cried seeing the David, but it could have been an eyelash. My contacts were old that day too, I do remember that.

October was a blur. I took trips to Belgium, Ireland, Spain, and Tunisia. I didn't bother to answer my phone when my mother called to wish me a happy birthday. I ended an email to a professor with "Besos". I was not myself, but I was a lot of things. I ate with my hands, standing up, quickly with my head down. I smoked a joint on a statue with two friends and fell asleep in the cab home. I didn't get the hang of it all, but I thought I did.

By November of that year, I started to figure out how to order coffee, the rules and rituals of calling Rome my home. We had a fake Thanksgiving and then Christmas rolled in lazily. Marketplaces and stands selling witches and baubles. I bought nothing but a ticket to the carousel and the icy air turned my cheeks red and dry during finals week.

It's six years ago today since I left for a flight to JFK. The morning before my bus left, I ordered a hot chocolate. Something to keep my hands busy and warm, as impatient as they were back then. The drink was thick, nearly a pudding, its silken warmth coating my throat. It was spiked with an alcohol I never quite tasted again but it hung on my tongue like a whispered prayer.

And this is my approximation, with Reddi-wip and chocolate sprinkles and smooth peanut butter. Made on the stovetop in a saucepan I found at a Texas flea market. It all comes full circle, it just took a few years and a few thousand miles to get there.

Italian-style Hot Chocolate!

Italian-style hot chocolate


  • ¼ cup cocoa powder
  • ½ cup white sugar
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • ½ cup almond milk
  • 2 TB cornstarch
  • 2 TB whole milk or water
  • 6 oz milk chocolate, best quality you can afford, chopped
  • 2 TB smooth peanut butter
  • 1 TB pure vanilla extract
  • ½ TB almond liqueur
  • Whipped cream, marshmallows, and sprinkles, if desire


  1. In a saucepan, whisk together cocoa, sugar, cream, and milk
  2. Heat on medium until sugar is dissolved, but making sure to stir frequently so the cocoa doesn’t clump
  3. While the saucepan is heating, in a small bowl, mix together cornstarch and milk to create a slurry
  4. Next, heat your cream mixture until bubbles form around the rim, then immediately take off heat and stir in your slurry, chocolate, peanut butter
  5. Continue to stir with a wooden spoon or spatula until everything is well-mixed
  6. Finally, stir in extract and liqueur
  7. Now, if you feel your chocolate was a bit clumpy, you didn’t stir enough, or your slurry did not fully incorporate into your mixture, I recommend running your entire mixture through a sieve to make it extra silken
  8. Serve immediately, top as desired. This recipe doesn’t not store wel
Italian-style hot chocolate
Italian-style hot chocolate
Italian-style hot chocolate