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Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Cioccolata Calda - Italian Hot Chocolate

You can’t compare the cioccolata calda, hot chocolate, that you get in Italy with anything you may be used to or have had anywhere else. The Italian version is thick, as thick as chocolate syrup almost, thick enough for a little spoon to stay centered in without falling over, and certainly as sweet as syrup, but with richer, denser chocolate. The first cup I had, at Caffe degli Artisti, in Stresa, took me completely by surprise, and to my American taste was almost too rich, too forbidden, like eating the cake batter from the bowl, or frosting straight from the can.

But fortunately it’s not forbidden, it’s encouraged and readily available at bars and restaurants, and I highly recommend it. Start with the classic, cioccolata extrafondente, but then get adventurous and try some of the dozens of other decadent flavor combinations. Here's a very, very partial list of the flavors that can be combined with the basic chocolate: amaretto, lemon/pinoli, orange/vanilla, coconut, walnut, pistacchio, wild berries, rum, and zabaione! Or how about hot chocolate with whiskey... That’s one way to warm up on a chilly Italian winter morning.


If you'd like to try this at home here’s the basic recipe:

· 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa

· 1/3 cup sugar

· 1 teaspoon cornstarch or arrowroot

· 2 cups milk or half milk-half water

1. Mix the cocoa, sugar and cornstarch together until thoroughly blended.

2. Add 1/2 cup liquid to a medium saucepan and set over low heat. Whisk in the cocoa mixture until thoroughly incorporated and no lumps remain. Add the rest of the liquid.

3. Cook, stirring constantly, over medium-low heat, until the mixture is thickened (it coats the back of a spoon), about ten minutes.

4. The cornstarch is a great thickener - it won't clump like flour will, it's smooth and tasteless. Don't use regular flour to thicken this.

5. Serving-wise, once the cocoa has thickened, you can stir in a hint of additional flavorings before serving. 1/4 tsp vanilla or almond extract or Grand Marnier would be nice. Dust with cinnamon or nutmeg. Alternatively, you can make this, substituting half the liquid with coffee, to make a nice mocha.

6. Double or triple the amount of the dry ingredients, mix, and keep in a sealed jar in the cupboard. To make, it's one part mix to two parts liquid. Just remember to give the mix a shake before using, to reintegrate the sugar.

The above amount will make two nice sized cups. I’m sure you can find a friend to share it with…

Where are the hot chocolate hot spots in Stresa? I like these:
Caffe degli Artisti, via Principe Tomaso 42/44
Caffe Moka Stresa, via A.M. Bolongaro 26



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