Italian Thick Hot Chocolate Recipe

The richest, most decadently thick, Italian-style hot chocolate imaginable.  Filled with cocoa powder, chopped chocolate, and heavy cream, this is the ultimate cold-weather melted chocolate treat!

two mugs full of hot chocolate topped with marshmallows and chocolate shavings.

If you know me, you know I’m not the biggest fan of chocolate. But on a cold, winter night, I enjoy a hot chocolate now and then, and many years ago, my husband and I stopped in a Max Brenner’s for dessert. We were intrigued by the sound of the Italian thick hot chocolate, so I ordered one.

Not to be overly dramatic or anything, but I think that hot chocolate changed my life. I had never had any drink as luxuriously, delightfully thick as that hot chocolate. I have no recollection of what we split for dessert (a sweet waffle? fondue? dessert pizza?), but that hot chocolate became the standard to which I have compared all other hot chocolates since.

So of course, I immediately set out to make an equally thick version at home. After much trial and error, this recipe has been my go-to extra thick, extra decadent hot chocolate recipe ever since. (It was even featured on our holiday cards years ago – cute photo at the bottom of the post!)

So if you’re looking for the ultimate cold weather warming treat, or also a Max Brenner hot chocolate fan looking to recreate the magic at home, you’re in the right place.

thick italian hot chocolate being poured into a white mug.

Italian Hot Chocolate

I tried it all on my quest to replicate that super-duper thick texture at home. Adding eggs, starting with a flour roux, using evaporated or condensed milk, etc. But the winning combination? Cornstarch and melted chocolate – the true basics of Italian hot chocolate!

This is made of mostly pantry staples, which means you can whip this up all winter long! I always keep some heavy cream in my refrigerator and a block of chocolate just in case – there is no better way to welcome guests into our home than a steaming mug of this Italian hot chocolate!

To make this, you’ll need the following:

  • cornstarch
  • salt
  • confectioners’/powdered sugar
  • milk (2% or whole milk are my standards)
  • heavy cream
  • bittersweet chocolate
  • cocoa powdered (natural unsweetened OR Dutch process)
  • vanilla extract
  • marshmallows (optional – but not really!)
overhead view of ingredients necessary for the best hot chocolate.

Secrets for the Thickest Hot Chocolate

After lots of testing, I’ve found the following “rules” for the best hot chocolate:

  1. Use melted chocolate. You’ll notice I use both melted chocolate and cocoa powder for this recipe.  The cocoa powder gives the hot chocolate a super rich chocolate flavor.  But the melted chocolate gives this the texture of, well.. drinking liquid chocolate.  Because you are.
  2. Add extra fat. There are plenty of places in life to cut calories. But if you want a mug of perfect hot chocolate, this is not the time to skimp.  There is both milk -and- heavy cream in this recipe and yes, you should absolutely include the heavy cream.
  3. Start with a little cornstarch.  No, this does not make it veer too much into a pudding.  Trust.  Add the cornstarch.
  4. Add a pinch of salt. Just a tiny pinch of salt at the end.  Nothing makes chocolate taste even more chocolatey than a tiny pinch of salt.
  5. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. After you bring the initial mixture to a boil, let it reduce to a simmer while you whisk in the chocolate.

Why don’t we want to let the hot chocolate boil for too long? The answer is, of course, all in the kitchen chemistry!

Kitchen Chemistry

Cornstarch molecules absorb water, expanding to over six times their original size when heated, thickening liquids. To achieve this expansion, cornstarch requires heat (205 – 210 °F) for the starch gelatinization to occur. However, if cornstarch is exposed to temperatures that are too high or held at these temperatures for too long, the starch molecules deflate and the liquid will become runny again.

step by step photos of how to make hot chocolate from scratch.

Best Chocolate for Hot Chocolate

Milk? Dark?  Semi-sweet?  Bittersweet?  What kind of chocolate makes the best hot chocolate?!

We like our chocolate dark, so I use bittersweet chocolate for the solid chocolate.  If you have more of a sweet tooth, use semisweet chocolate. Remember, you can always make hot chocolate sweeter.. but you can’t really go the other way.  If you start with bittersweet chocolate and find it’s not quite sweet enough for your taste, stir in a little more sugar.

For the cocoa powder, you can use either natural unsweetened or Dutch process cocoa powder. Dutch process tends to have a more intense chocolate flavor and is darker in color, but I often have more natural unsweetened on hand. I’ve made this with both and you can’t go wrong either way!

steaming mug of thick Italian hot cocoa next to marshmallows and chocolate.

Add Spices for Extra Zing

I don’t include any here in this recipe, but consider this your template for all your future hot chocolate adventures.  I like mine with marshmallows floating on top and a cinnamon stick to stir around.  

Cinnamon, nutmeg, and cardamom are all excellent choices (just be sure to actually grab cardamom, because I once accidentally grabbed coriander and… not good).  If you want to move in the Mexican hot chocolate direction, add a pinch of chile powder, cayenne pepper, or (my favorite) ground chipotle.

Other ideas for topping include chocolate shavings, a drizzle of melted chocolate or hot fudge, or whipped cream.

Whatever you add, be prepared for the richest, most decadently thick hot chocolate you’ve tried.  It’s kind of like drinking a liquid chocolate bar.  It’s a total splurge – but it’s worth every last delicious calorie.  And of course, serve your hot chocolate with a slice of this hot chocolate bundt cake!

This little cutie (↓↓↓) gives it two big thumbs up.  (Part of our 2017 holiday card – a very willing participant once he heard hot chocolate was involved!)

young child holding a mug of hot chocolate

Tips & Tricks for the Best Hot Chocolate

  1. Don’t skip the heavy cream! If you want the truly delectable thick texture of the best Italian hot chocolate, use both milk and heavy cream.
  2. Make sure the cornstarch is fully dissolved and no clumps remain. Sufficient whisking will remove the clumps, but you can speed up the process with a hand-held milk frother.
  3. Use a bar of good quality eating or baking chocolate, not chocolate chips. Chocolate chips contain additional stabilizers which prevent the chocolate from melting with a silky smooth texture.
  4. Don’t boil the mixture for more than a minute or two before turning it down to a low simmer. Over-boiling will cause the cornstarch to break down and it will no longer thicken the hot chocolate.
  5. Leftover hot chocolate can be refrigerated and warmed gently on the stove until steaming.

More Decadent Chocolate Desserts:

Thick Italian Hot Chocolate Recipe

Thick Italian Hot Chocolate Recipe

Yield: Serves 4
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes

Filled with cocoa powder, chopped chocolate, and heavy cream, Italian Hot Chocolate is the ultimate cold-weather melted chocolate treat!


  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • marshmallows, for topping


  1. Stir together the cornstarch, salt, and confectioners' sugar in the bottom of a heavy saucepan. Add in milk and cream, and whisk together until cornstarch is fully dissolved.
  2. Bring the milk to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking constantly. Reduce the heat to low as soon as the milk reaches a boil, and continue whisking while the milk simmers for an additional minute.
  3. Add the chopped chocolate and whisk until melted and smooth. Add in the cocoa powder and vanilla, continuing to stir until all ingredients are incorporated. If hot chocolate is too thick, add a little more milk to thin to the desired consistency.
  4. Pour into two large or four small mugs, top with marshmallows, and enjoy!

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Thick Italian Hot Chocolate: The richest, most decadently thick hot chocolate imaginable. Filled with cocoa powder, chopped chocolate, and heavy cream, this is the ultimate cold-weather melted chocolate treat!

This Italian Thick Hot Chocolate Recipe was originally published in November 2014 and updated with new photos and helpful tips in December 2022.