It looks thick, brown and enticing. It tastes only slightly bitter and rich, velvety and dense. What’s the secret to preparing exactly this kind of cioccolata densa for which Venice has become famous in the world ? In my opinion, this is the best soul food ever invented in Venice :-) It has all the ingredients to get you up and about on a cold winter day.
Unlike coffee, cocoa powder arrived in Venice rather late, only in the 18th century. Yet it became hugely successful at once. It never went through the process of first being used as farmaco (medicine) and then for cooking. When Casanova was alive and Caffé Florian first opened in Piazza in 1720, hot spicy chocolate was the favorite of Venetian noblemen and the public alike. Venetians used to flavor it, adding vanilla sugar above all, to camouflage its bitter taste. And it must be the mix of sweet spices and bitter cocoa powder that won over Venetians. And we can safely say that Caffé Florian was the first cafe in Venice offering this sweet spicy chocolate variant.
Venetians became masters in creating edible works of art made from cocoa powder, both solid and liquid. If you want to see some of these masterpieces, visit Cioccolateria Vizio e Virtù, you will be marveling at their shop windows …
Flavoring hot chocolate with cardamom and cinnamon became standard in Venice in the 18th century, and a few of these recipes for spicy chocolate have survived to this day in town. One is flavoring hot chocolate with gianduia or even with pistachio paste or amaretto liquor. By the way, you can taste this amaretto-flavored chocolate at Caffé Lavena in Piazza San Marco.
Our family recipe uses milk flavored with star anise. Always for Christmas, we add home-made chocolate-cinnamon liquor.
1. To prepare two cups of hot chocolate, slowly heat, in a pan, four tablespoons of milk, three heaped teaspoons of cocoa powder and two teaspoons of corn flour (amido di mais).
2. In a second pan, heat 1/4 liter milk, one tablespoon of brown granulated cane sugar and one piece of star anise. Boil at low heat for about 10 minutes.
3. Add the cocoa mix and slowly bring all the ingredients to the boil, stirring constantly.
4. Before serving, either flavor with a few drops of essential bergamot oil or a teaspoon of chocolate liquor for each cup.
We use Majani chocolate liquor. My grandfather used to make chocolate-cinnamon liquor for Christmas, and I will share this recipe in our e-book Venice and the Moon – Befana and Epiphany Traditions – online soon :-)