European Hot Chocolate is the ultimate treat when you need a cup of cozy! This recipe for hot chocolate with real chocolate, milk, and a touch of cream is inspired by thick Italian hot chocolate.
It was a cool misty morning when our train pulled into Milan. Still half asleep, I clumsily followed as my parents found a cafe in the shadows of the Duomo. There weren’t a lot of restaurants open at such an early hour, but it turned out, this cafe was the only one we needed.
I may not remember what I ate that morning, but I will never forget what I drank. That memory is permanently etched in my mind and on my tasebuds forever.
As I sat at an outdoor table, listening to the early morning bells of the cathedral rousing the town, the server placed cups of steaming hot chocolate in front of us. The aroma roused me better than the strong coffees he poured for my parents. I brought the cup to my lips and was shocked by how thick and rich it was – each sip was like a melted chocolate bar, decadent and divine!
A far cry from the packages of Swiss Miss that until then defined my ideas of hot chocolate back home in New York, this hot chocolate was magical, and I carried those memories back home. It was one of those precious gifts, more meaningful than any souvenir found in a silly tourist trap.
This was the hot chocolate I would encounter time and again as we traveled throughout Europe over the years. From that Cioccolata Calda in Italy to cups of Warme Chocolademelk in Holland and Heisse Schokolade in Germany, it was one of my favorite indulgences.
Fast forward many years later. I was in New York with my family, and we ducked into Eataly on the lower west side for a bite. Craving a pick-me-up to cap off our savory snack, my husband and I ordered espressos while the kids opted for hot chocolate.
I wondered how it would compare to the European hot chocolate I remembered.
I saw my son’s eyes first. With that first sip, his eyes grew as large as the saucer the hot chocolate cup rest on. And I knew. He passed me his cup, and I took a sip. Oh the bliss! The familiarity! I was transported back to Milan, on that little street next to the Duomo. It was the hot chocolate I remembered, luxurious, thick, and absolutely perfect.
European Hot Chocolate
What makes European-style hot chocolate so special?
For starters, real milk. You won’t find hot chocolate made with water, but with whole milk, and sometimes even a touch of heavy cream.
And then there’s the chocolate. Real, good-quality chocolate is chopped and melted into the milk until it is liquified bliss. Use dark chocolate with 70% cocoa content. I also like to add a good cocoa powder, such as Dutch-process cocoa, for double the deliciousness, but in theory, this is optional.
A touch of sweetness comes in the form of sugar. I use powdered sugar, but you can certainly use granulated sugar.
Lastly, you may find a thickener, such as cornstarch. I have learned that the secret to thick Italian hot chocolate is a touch of cornstarch, which lends to its thick and velvety texture. Again, feel free to leave this out if you’re in a pinch.
How to Make European Style Hot Chocolate
This real hot chocolate recipe is just as simple as – and definitely better – than opening up a packet of powdered hot cocoa. Start with the best ingredients you can find – use good quality milk and excellent chocolate. This recipe also adds a touch of heavy cream to replicate some of the rich whole milk you can find in Europe.
Heat the milk in a saucepan until just scalding. Once it is hot, sift and whisk in the powdered sugar, cocoa powder, and cornstarch. Continue stirring as it heats and thickens.
Stir in the chopped chocolate and continue to whisk until the hot chocolate reaches your desired consistency. Remember, the cornstarch will continue to thicken after you remove the hot chocolate off the heat, so don’t allow it to get too thick!
Taste the hot chocolate and sweeten to taste with additional powdered sugar, if you wish. Remove from the heat and divide the hot chocolate into two mugs.
Top the hot chocolate with whipped cream and chocolate shavings, if you wish.
European Hot Chocolate
For European-style Hot Chocolate
- 1 3/4 cup whole milk
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- 1 1/2 tablespoons cocoa powder (such as Dutch-process cocoa powder)
- 2 tablespoons powdered sugar to taste (see notes)
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch optional (see notes)
- 3 oz dark chocolate (70% cocoa) chopped
- 1 oz dark chocolate (70% cocoa) shavings
- whipped cream for serving, optional (recipe below)
For Whipped Cream
- 1 cup heavy cream chilled
- 2 tablespoons powdered sugar or more, to taste (see notes)
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the European-style Hot Chocolate
- Pour the milk and heavy cream into a saucepan and place over medium-low heat. Slowly warm the milk until it is hot, but not boiling.
- While the milk warms up, sift the cocoa powder, powdered sugar, and cornstarch through a sieve and into a small bowl to remove any lumps.
- When the milk is hot, whisk in the cocoa mixture, and continue to heat the milk, whisking constantly, until the mixture starts to thicken, about 5 minutes. The cornstarch will add body to the cocoa, but be careful that you don’t allow it to cook for too long or it will be too thick.
- Stir in the chopped chocolate and continue to whisk until the hot chocolate reaches your desired consistency. Taste the hot chocolate and sweeten to taste with additional powdered sugar, if you wish. Remove from the heat and divide the hot chocolate into two mugs.
- Top the hot chocolate with whipped cream and chocolate shavings, if you wish.
For the Whipped Cream
- Chill the bowl and whisk of a stand mixer beforehand in the freezer, if possible, for at least 30 minutes prior to making the whipped cream.
- Place the heavy cream into the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment. Whisk at high speed until peaks begin to form.
- Gradually add the powdered sugar and vanilla and continue to whisk until the cream is soft peaks. Store in the refrigerator in an air-tight container until ready to serve.
- Is this hot chocolate very sweet? This European-style hot chocolate is not very sweet, especially in comparison to American-style hot chocolate. It is very chocolate-forward, however, if you prefer a sweeter flavor, add more powdered sugar to suite your tastebuds! (This also applies to the whipped cream – feel free to whisk in more powdered sugar if you prefer a sweeter whipped cream.)
- Do I need to use cornstarch? Many Italian hot chocolate recipes incorporate cornstarch to give the hot chocolate a silky thick consistency. But it certainly is not necessary! Feel free to omit it, but know that you won’t have as thick a hot chocolate.