Baking for Bookworms: Thick Italian Hot Chocolate from Andrea di Robilant’s A Venetian Affair


I believe this is the first non-fiction book on Baking for Bookworms. As you may or may not know (probably not unless you have some sort of amazing access to my head), any book is fair game for this feature unless it’s a cookbook. Even non-fiction about food is acceptable. Even short story anthologies are acceptable. Why not narrow it down? Because if it’s interesting and catches my eye I read it. And reading about food makes me hungry. And then I want to cook delicious things. End of story.

If you’ve never read Andrea di Robilant’s non-fiction works, I would highly suggest them. The first book of his I read was called Chasing the Rose: An Adventure in the Venetian Countryside. It really is all about a rose, and by all reckoning should have been dull as dull could be, but I was absolutely captivated and read it in one sitting. My library’s copy smelled spicy (don’t ask why this is important or why I remember that, but it is and I do) and there were lovely little illustrations.

So I had to read more. I’ve now read three of his four published works, and they fascinate me because he’s found such an amazing way to write about his family (this particular book was about the long, torrid affair between his ancestor Andrea Memmo and Giustinana Wynne in the 1700s and the famous Casanova even makes an appearance) I’ve always found my family’s history fascinating, and it’s been the inspiration for many short stories, but I really admire the way he sets the scene and keeps himself fairly removed from the equation, of course having about 300 years of distance helps.

That said, there’s not a lot of mention of food in his books, or if there is, it’s very vague. So when I stumbled across the mention of hot chocolate twice in A Venetian Affair, I knew I had to make it. It just brings to mind these languorous relaxing mornings. Paul and I don’t really do breakfast and we don’t really have morning rituals like these, so I’m very envious.

As you can see, this was before I found my SD card (turned out to be in the bottom of my desk drawer where I keep printer paper. Go figure.) Phone camera is infinitely inferior to my Canon Rebel… But the cuteness of the Shakespeare mug almost makes up for it.


The most descriptive mention of hot chocolate happens fairly early in the book:

“The daily rituals of the villeggiatura began every morning with a cup of hot chocolate that sweetened the palette after a long night’s sleep and provided a quick burst of energy. It was usually served in an intimate setting–breakfast in the boudoir.” (67)

And what better way to herald in the holidays than with a cup of chocolate shared with the one you love?

Recipe adapted from The Kitchen McCabe. You can omit the spices, but they truly elevate the whole drink and make it that much more special.

GIFT IDEA: If you’re still running around like a headless chicken trying to get presents for everyone, edible gifts might be a good idea for you because you can do it in a big batch and give them to people. If you package all the dry ingredients in a jar or even a bag with a cute label with instructions, you’ll have a lovely gift. Add a bottle of good vanilla and you’ll have an even lovelier gift.

This would be perfect for neighbors, coworkers, chocolate fiends, gourmets, and generally anyone who isn’t repulsed by the idea of hot chocolate.

Thick Italian Hot Chocolate

  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder (if you don’t want to hassle with chocolate, you can use 3 tbs like in the original recipe, but give the chocolate a chance!)
  • 2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped or shaved
  • 1 tablespoon sugar*
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar ( you can use regular sugar for both tablespoons but the brown sugar adds another dimension I think)
  • 3 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 super small pinch of cayenne
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 1/2 cup milk**
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • whipped cream, for serving
  • optional toppings: shaved chocolate, a little cinnamon or cocoa powder, crushed peppermints or candies or chocolate cookies, sprinkles–the world is your oyster

Combine all the dry ingredients in a medium saucepan. Add in vanilla and about 1/4 cup of the milk. Whisk until the dry ingredients are fully incorporated, then add the rest of the milk and whisk well.

Turn on the burner to medium heat. Whisk constantly for 3-4 minutes until it gets bubbly and thick (by whisk constantly I mean be more attentive than me. Don’t leave in the middle of heating your hot chocolate to go find your missing SD card for your camera. I mean, nothing bad happened, but it easily could have gone horribly wrong. Stand and stir your cocoa, everyone!)

I know you’re not supposed to fall in love with your own photos but man I love this one. I guess this is what happens when you blog on a day with decent lighting and get everything done in the morning….


Pour a generous measure into two mugs and top with whipped cream. You really want to go the whipped cream over marshmallow route here because the chocolate is super thick, not quite to a pudding but definitely wandering in that direction.

If you’re having a party, you could serve tiny servings of this cocoa with some sort of cookie and have an easy, festive dessert.

*If you’re trying to cut out or avoid sugar, I think you could get away with using just about any substitute including coconut sugar, agave, stevia, and so on. I wouldn’t recommend honey as the flavor is so distinctive but if you try some variation out, I would love to hear about it in the comments.

** If you are not a dairy person, you can probably try this out with a non-dairy milk like coconut or almond. If you go the coconut route, I would omit the spices and put shredded coconut on top to play up that flavor. I don’t think your results will be very different, but I haven’t tried it yet.


Do you and your family have a special morning ritual? Even if it’s just one day a week or a month, let me know about it in the comments.

2 thoughts on “Baking for Bookworms: Thick Italian Hot Chocolate from Andrea di Robilant’s A Venetian Affair

  1. […] I’ll be using this book in an upcoming Baking for Bookworms feature, so I won’t say too much about it now, but I will say that this novel was breathtaking for its description and its fully realized characters. The plot could have been worked more quickly and perhaps more intricately, but this before-he-became-the-legend-tale was very good nevertheless (and really inspired me to make more of my hot chocolate). […]


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