I often work with folks who have a hard time eating solid food for medical reasons — most commonly, cancer treatment side effects, but also dental treatments or generalized fatigue and lack of appetite following illness.

In addition to recommending easy-to-eat meals like soups, porridge, mashed vegetables, and smoothies, I often encourage my clients to enjoy hot, “milky” drinks as a substantial snack or small meal.

Here, for instance, I’ve created a recipe for a super-nourishing hot chocolate. As is my wont, I have sneaked in two unusual ingredients that aren’t commonly found in hot chocolate: protein powder (for extra protein) and nut milk (for that irresistible gianduja flavor — think Nutella and Ferrero Rocher). Of course, you can use regular milk and omit the protein powder; I use them here because many of my clients don’t tolerate milk and struggle to consume all the protein they need.

Italian hot chocolate, cioccolata calda, is an example of this type of drink. It’s comforting, nourishing, and quick & easy to make. With its intense chocolate flavor and creamy texture, it makes a delightful treat or snack, especially during colder months — almost like a liquid chocolate pudding.

The version below is super simple, but feel free to add flavorings like cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, star anise, mint extract, or a pinch of chili flakes. For an extra treat, why not top it with a dollop of softly whipped cream? This is a very flexible recipe; feel free to use less starch for a thinner consistency, and add more or less sweetener, cocoa, and chocolate chips. Tweak it until it’s yours.


Italian Hot Chocolate

Keyword: Breakfasts, Dairy-Free (or can be), Desserts & Treats, Drinks, Gluten-Free (or can be), Keto (or can be), Low-Carb, Vegan (or can be), Vegetarian (or can be)
Soaking time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour 10 minutes
Servings: 4
Calories: 178kcal
Comforting, nourishing and surprisingly filling
Print Recipe


  • a high-powered blender like Vitamix, Blendtec or Ninja


  • ½ cup roasted hazelnuts I love Trader Joes' roasted Oregon hazelnuts
  • about 2 cups hot water
  • 2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup or keto sweetener like allulose (if using allulose, increase to 2 tbsp as it's less-sweet than maple syrup)
  • 2 tsp corn starch or potato starch
  • a pinch of salt
  • 2 tbsp chocolate chips, dark ideally above 75% cocoa content; for keto eaters, Lily's make delicious sugar-free chocolate chips that work well here
  • 2 tbsp hemp protein powder optional
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract, alcohol-free I like Trader Joe's


  • Place the hazelnuts in a medium bowl and top with the hot water. Cover and let sit for at least one hour, preferably overnight. (This softens the nuts and makes them easier to process into a smooth "milk.")
  • When you are ready to make the chocolate drink, drain the nuts through a sieve and rinse thoroughly. Transfer them to the blender and add 1 cup of cold, filtered water. Blend for 1 minute, then add a second cup of water and blend for another 30 seconds. Your hazelnut milk is ready.
  • Pour the milk into a small saucepan. Add cocoa, corn/potato starch (whichever you are using), sweetener of choice, salt, chocolate chips, and hemp protein powder. Heat over medium-low heat and stir continuously with a wire whisk until the mixture gets close to boiling and starts to thicken.
  • Stir in the vanilla extract. Sweeten and flavor to taste. Serve immediately and enjoy to the fullest.


Keto version: replacing maple syrup with a keto sweetener like allulose and regular chocolate chips with Lily's sugar-free chocolate chips reduces carb counts to around 4 g sugar and 10 g total carb.


Serving: 0.5cup | Calories: 178kcal | Carbohydrates: 13g | Protein: 5g | Fat: 13g | Saturated Fat: 3g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 8g | Trans Fat: 0.01g | Cholesterol: 0.4mg | Sodium: 8mg | Potassium: 205mg | Fiber: 4g | Sugar: 7g | Vitamin A: 7IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 37mg | Iron: 2mg