It's the winter solstice — shortest day and longest night of the year — and I have some tips and recipes for hot chocolate drinks and cocktails to warm up the winter.
By CINDA CHAVICH
When I was a kid, nothing was as much fun to drink as chocolate milk. It came in little individual cartons, often with a straw for blowing bubbles in the sweet, milky treat, before slurping it up on a summer day.
Fast forward to adult life, and drinking chocolate is more often found in small, but much more decadent, portions — warm and creamy, even with a touch of something boozy.
My latest encounter was a beautiful sip in a small espresso cup at a pop-up dinner at HOB Fine Foods, literally chocolate, melted with enough cream to make it pourable, with a fluffy, round, African-inspired bofrot donut, drizzled in even more dark chocolate, on the side.
There’s drinking chocolate on the menu around the world, whether you find a cosy cup in snowy Switzerland or un petit Chocolat Chaud in Paris.
Here in Canada, we usually just call it “hot chocolate”, and whip it up in a saucepan, with warm milk, sugar and cocoa.
If you start with fresh whole milk, maybe with a splash of cream, and some good organic Dutch process cocoa, it’s a perfectly passable hot drink to enjoy on a chilly evening, next to a roaring fire.
But if you start with milk (or cream) and grated dark chocolate — something from a small batch, bean-to-bar maker with a particular provenance — that drinking chocolate can be a real gourmet treat.
You can still heat your milk on the stovetop, then whisk in some grated dark chocolate (about 4-5 ounces of chocolate for every cup of milk). Then you can alter your mixture with a pinch of brown sugar or a splash of vanilla, even a bit of espresso or tot of brandy.
Chocolatiers are always a good source of drinking chocolate and recipes.
In Vancouver, there’s chocolatier extraordinaire Thomas Haas, with his own line of hot chocolate mixes, including Classic, Aztec and Extra Dark, with 65% and 75% cocoa. Thierry Chocolaterie Patisserie offers creative Liquid Chocolate sips in the café. Or visit Koko Monk Hot Chocolate Lounge for a full hot chocolate menu: Authentic made with 74% Venezuelan trinitario cacao, herbs, spices; Black Pearl dark sipping chocolate with orange zest; vegan coconut milk chocolate with rose and cardamom; even a Bombay Brew, a ginger and chai tea spiced chocolate drink, among several others.
Victoria’s Rogers Chocolates makes Truffle Drops in a few flavours (think dark, milk chocolate, Irish Cream or Midnight Mint) to enjoy as bite-sized treats on their own, or to drop into a mug of warm milk for an instant hot chocolate beverage.
Chocolat Flavoris downtown has their own hot chocolate powder, chocolate fondue, and drink mixes, including Old Fashioned, Salted Caramel, and even S’mores hot chocolate.
Try Wallace Craft Chocolate's artisanal Hot Chocolate Stocking Stuffers. These hot chocolat stirrers include their bean-to-bar single origin chocolate, and marshmallows on a stick to mix with hot water or steamed milk.
Mexican hot chocolate starts with rustic tablets of chocolate with cinnamon and sugar (think Ibarra brand or Abuela) and may even be flavoured with a touch of chili. Often it’s melted in hot water and whisked until frothy by hand with a wooden molinillo. At Maiiz Nixtamal, chef Israel Alvarez Molina offers his Atole Kit, to make the classic masa-based Mexican beverage, flavored with locally crafted Sirene Chocolate.
CHOCOLATE LOVERS' EXPERIENCES
Vancouver hosts an annual Hot Chocolate Festival in January, and it may be the best place to get your hot chocolate fix. Dozens of cafes, bakeries and chocolatiers (even some ice cream and gelato shops) participate, adding gourmet hot chocolate to their menus, an excuse for a chocolate crawl or daily indulgence.
There’s even a Hot Chocolate Run around Stanley Park on March 4 with — you guessed it — hot chocolate stops along the 10- and 5-K routes.
And if you want to take your hot chocolate experience up a notch, consider offering your guests a Hot Chocolate Bar (complete with add-ins like mini marshmallows, shaved white chocolate, chopped salted caramels or chocolate liqueur.
In the meantime, here’s a taste of how to get that deep dark flavour of rich chocolate in your cup:
KILLER HOT CHOCOLATE
Holidays are all about lounging around the fire, with cookies and hot drinks, like this classic hot chocolate. Choose a good quality dark chocolate and heat it slowly in the milk for the best results. Evaporated milk is another option, or you can use non-dairy coconut or almond milks. Add other flavorings if you like — from a dash of cinnamon to a splash of cognac or pinch of chili. And get creative with a dusting of cocoa on top!
2 cups whole milk
8 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
1 teaspoon honey or brown sugar (optional)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Combine the milk, chocolate, honey or sugar (if using) and salt in a small saucepan. Heat mixture over medium-low heat, whisking until the chocolate is completely melted. Don’t boil, but keep it at a bare simmer until the mixture is smooth.
Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla.
Serve hot, in small cups. Top with a dollop of whipped cream and a little shaved chocolate (optional), or a dusting of cocoa. Makes 4 servings.
Here’s a recipe for hot chocolate with a classic kick of brandy or rum (or use B&B, the French brandy Benedictine liqueur and omit the sugar). Nice after an outdoor winter walk or ski.
1 1/2 ounces cognac (or rum)
1/2 ounce simple syrup
2 drops vanilla extract
5 ounces hot chocolate (made with milk and melted chocolate)
1 ounce heavy cream
Grated nutmeg, for garnish
Grated dark chocolate, for garnish
Combine cognac, simple syrup, vanilla and hot chocolate and cream in a hot toddy glass or Irish Coffee mug. Carefully pour the cream on top (over the back of a spoon to “float” it over the hot chocolate), then sprinkle with nutmeg and grated chocolate.
Makes 1 serving
NOTE: If you’re using B&B liqueur, add 2 ounces and omit the simple syrup