With just three weeks until Christmas, we at foodiePrints are findings ourselves caught up in the holiday spirit. Though, I have been accused of being a detractor. I refuse to pull out decorations, be they strings of garland or boxes of glass ornaments, until December 1st. In fact, Jenn and I have yet to retrieve our tree from storage. There is no wreath on our door. There are no stockings hung by the chimney with care.
We have however started planning our family’s Christmas feast, likely a multi-course, starting with a goose consomme. And, we have begun compiling lists of gift ideas for our loved ones…and lesser loved ones.
A bit of context, I tire of Christmas, especially its rank consumerism, before the 25th. I pine for boxing day when I can put away everything red, gold, and Santa. Imagine the release I feel when I walk emptied cardboard boxes and plastic packaging to the recycle bins. It is almost cathartic. I actually long for the moment after the feast when my kitchen gleams again, clean and tidy.
Thanksgiving is my favourite holiday. But, save for wine, beer, or cider, paired with roast beast or accompanying fixings, there doesn’t seem to be particular drinks associated with the holiday.
During Christmas, as people participate in their annual traditions with friends and family, there is hot chocolate. Coffee and tea are staples. Hot chocolate is something special. I find we make time to enjoy hot chocolate. One learns to treasure the brief respites and escape from the holiday chaos.
The following is a less than comprehensive roundup of the hot chocolate available in Ottawa. It stems from another “Canadian Restaurant Roundup” assignment issued by Food Bloggers of Canada. November’s theme was ramen. December’s is fittingly “hot chocolate.”
Consider the following suggestions for good and…less good hot chocolate.
But, before we begin, the determinations are based on my taste for hot chocolate, which differs from that of our esteemed wine blogger, Claire. She prefers hers made with skim milk, melted chocolate (2-3 oz of “good” chocolate), and milk foam (aka: froth).
Me, I prefer hot chocolate with more body than can be achieved at home, dissolving cocoa powder or a “mix” into water or milk. While I like to have some melted chocolate in my mug, I think cocoa powder is unavoidable. Pure cocoa solids (aka: cacao) imparts deeper chocolate “character,” chocolate flavours and aromas. I don’t care for marshmallows, instant or otherwise. I will indulge in whipped cream. But, I appreciate lower calorie cappucino-like foam art. Presently, I adore heat infused into my hot chocolate by way of spices or chiles.
First Stop: Happy Goat Coffee
The thin hot chocolate I was served came topped with whimsical milk foam art, which had me remark on several social networks about “love being a mug of hot chocolate.” My mug was made to order with milk and Fair Trade cocoa powder.Now, ordering hot chocolate at Happy Goat (57 Lyndale Aveneu) is tantamount to ordering chicken at a steakhouse. The cooks are going to do their best. You are likely to be served a decent product, but you’re not doing yourself any favours.
Pierre Richard of Happy Goat Coffee is very serious about small batch roasted coffee. He and his staff have all the required technology (from siphon coffee makers to passive “drippers”) and training, to ensure customers are served the best possible cuppa. Richard roasts his own Fair Trade beans and assembles his own blends. He knows coffee, sitting in cisterns, changes flavour over time. So, he discards “old” coffee and makes new batches regularly. He also teaches classes on how to make coffee.
While Richard and his staff are regulars at the Ottawa Farmers’ Market and several Christmas Markets, Happy Goat offers an innovative coffee subscription program that is well worth checking out, especially if you don’t live in the Mechanicsville or Hintonburg neighbourhoods.
- Bottom Line: Heart-felt foam art. Passable hot chocolate.
- Cost: $3.25
Second Stop: The Cake Shop
The Cake Shop (1200 Wellington Street W.) came to Hintonburg by way of Nepean, owners Nadine Hecht and Fay Kaplan opened a successful bakery on Greenbank Road. When PC Cyber, a computer store chain, shut down its Ottawa operations and vacated their space in the strip-mall that hosts Patrick Garland’s Absinthe Cafe (208 Wellington Street W), Kaplan and Hecht moved in.
The renovations were slow. When it opened, we realized why. Particular care was taken to build a nut-free facility. There is liability when a business advertises they are nut-free or gluten-free. Much care and expense goes into preventing cross contamination. In fact, it is rarely cost effective to retrofit an old space that, at any time, served food.
Together with head pastry chef Kimberly, head baker Erica, and head decorator Carrie, the new Cake Shop sells all varieties of cakes, cookies, cupcakes, and ice cream. They pride themselves on being able to offer vegan, nut-free, gluten-free, diabetic-friendly, and egg-less options.
Their display space also doubles as a cafe, one that serves hot chocolate.
My thin, but wonderfully tasty mug of hot chocolate was on the unsweetened side. Such seems to be the trend these days. Hot chocolate is served under-sweetened. You adjust it to your tastes, much like coffee or tea.
Made to order at the espresso machine station, my deeply chocolate hot chocolate started with 2% milk and a generous helping of Purest Mexican Hot Cocoa mix. Think gentle spice and some background heat. Skim milk was an option. I did opt for whipped cream, which came from a supermarket-variety pressurized dispensing can. Notice, I didn’t mention siphon. More on that later…
- Bottom Line: I need to get me some Purest Mexican Hot Cocoa mix! With cinnamon, ginger, chiles, vanilla cane sugar as ingredients, I think its time to look into taking hot chocolate up a notch!
- Cost: $2.15 for a medium (which is pictured above) or $2.85 for a large
Third Stop: Stubbe Chocolates Ottawa
Stubbe is a family-run business that has been making premium chocolate since 1845 in Germany. The first Canadian store opened in 1989. Today, there are several locations. One is situated in downtown Ottawa (375 Dalhousie Street).Stubbe’s hot chocolate is made with Cacao Barry – Extra Brute chocolate and their own mix of unsweetened cocoa powder, wheat starch, brown sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, cloves, chili powder, and icing sugar. Regarding the wheat and corn starch (that comes with icing sugar), I was told they thicken the hot chocolate, giving it more texture.
Well, it worked, and I adored my mug of hot chocolate. Both Happy Goat and The Cake Shop’s hot chocolate left sediment at the bottom of the mugs, essentially undissolved (well un-suspended) cocoa powder. There was no sediment at the bottom of the mug served at Stubbe.
Again, I opted for whipped cream.
If ever you want a heightened experience from drinking hot chocolate, partake of the ritual in a chocolate shop. If you can find one that makes its own chocolate (from beans to chocolate), chocolate permeates the air. It is an immersive experience!
Hot chocolate at Stubbe can also be ordered “sweet” instead of “spicy.”
- Bottom Line: Chocolate shops tend to make better mugs of hot chocolate. I bought a package of Stubbe’s hot chocolate mix as a stocking-stuffer for a friend.
- Cost: $3.50
Fourth Stop: Wild Oat Bakery Cafe & Catering
Wild Oat Cafe (817 Bank Street) was recommended by our friend, Pascale Berthiaume of Pascale’s Ice Cream. Purveyor of our favourite frozen treats, she makes a rich hot chocolate, which she bottles and sells during the holidays. Made with organic milk, quality milk chocolate, bittersweet 58% chocolate, bourbon vanilla pods and sea salt, it comes ready to heat, “adulterate,” and serve. By adulterate, Pascale recommends adding a splash or two of Beau‘s beer. At Beau’s annual Oktoberfest celebration, she recommends spilling seasonal Night Marzen into it.Wild Oat Cafe is the kind of establishment in which an industrial juicer is parked next to the coffee and tea cisterns. There are three kinds of unprocessed sugars available. The “juice bar” retails “Hemoglobin” (beets, apple, carrot, ginger, and celery), “Popeye” (spinach, carrot, and orange juice), and “Cool As A Cucumber” (cucumber, apple, ginger and mint). 12 oz of juice cocktail will run you $5.
Regulars tend to wear cotton and discuss world issues…
While Wild Oat Cafe serves a passable thinner hot chocolate. Made to order with organic milk and Fair Trade AND organic cocoa powder at the espresso machine station, I reached for some raw sugar after my first taste. Thankfully, the powder offered some chocolate depth. But, a good bit fell out of suspension, coating the base of my finished mug.
- Bottom Line: I wonder if Wild Oat Cafe would object to my smuggling in some of Pascale’s hot chocolate. Though, if I were to consider the socioeconomic factors involved in raising Indian water buffalo in upper Mongolia, their hot chocolate would keep me awake.
- Cost: $3.00 for a small (which is pictured above) or $3.75 for a large
Fifth Stop: Truffle Treasures (Glebe)
Truffle Treasures (769 Bank Street) is serious about chocolate, Belgian chocolate. Owner and chocolatier Lara Vaarre and her crew keep large display cases well stocked with hand crafted truffles. From bark to peanut butter cups and hand-made Turkish delight, visits tend to be indulgent. In the summer time, both locations offer 24 flavours of gelato.Both locations of Truffle Treasures in the Glebe and Westboro neighbourhoods are a cross between coffee house and chocolate shop. There are comfy chairs with coffee tables in the front by the bay windows. They are great for sitting with friends and sipping hot chocolate.
Speaking of which, there are two steps to ordering hot chocolate at Truffle Treasures: choose a hot chocolate “flavour” (peanut butter, mocha, Belgian, peppermint, Aztec, ginger and orange, pumpkin spice, banana, or hazelnut); choose an “embellishment” (house-made milk chocolate, 55% dark, 72% dark, or white chocolate “callets”). While milk is the usual base to dissolve the house-made hot chocolate mixes in, almond milk and soy are also options.
The top three flavours are apparently Belgian (straight sweet), Aztec (spicy), and peanut butter. Everyone usually opts for 72% dark chocolate.
Now, if you’re opting for 72% dark chocolate, you may as well opt for the whipped cream to help carry flavours. Truffle Treasures whips their own cream, dispensing with a gas-pressurized siphon.
In this round up, Truffle Treasures produced the best hot chocolate to my taste. Texturally, theirs had body. Theirs displayed depth of chocolate flavour, combining both cacao and Belgian chocolate. Both the Belgian and Aztec hot chocolates were tasty treats, requiring no additional sugar. The latter featured good heat from chile powder.
$4.71 also purchases a significant volume of hot chocolate, easily a great value.
- Bottom Line: Truffle Treasures makes a mean hot chocolate. They have it down!
- Cost: $4.71
Sixth Stop: Bridgehead (Glebe)
Bridgehead’s strict Fair Trade ethic is well regarded. This year, the local chain of coffee shops that rivals American Starbucks in Ottawa opened their own roastery (June).
And, it introduced a new hot chocolate, two actually. One, called Peruvian Drinking Chocolate, is served in 2.5 oz cups for $2.95. It is a raw chocolate “shot,” which is analogous to Stubbe Chocolate’s heated cocoa liquor in a cappuccino cup, called “Nectar of Chocolate.” I left both out of this round up.
Bridgehead’s “regular” specialty hot chocolate is a dark one. The cocoa powder is Fair Trade and arrives roasted. It is dissolved in milk and seasoned with a salted caramel syrup. Whipped cream is optional.
Bridgehead’s dark hot chocolate demonstrates that ingredients of pedigree do not necessarily make good eating or drinking. This hot chocolate was very light in chocolate. It was thin, almost watery.
- Bottom Line: Contrary to the cashier, I do not think Bridgehead’s one-dimensional hot chocolate is better than other coffee houses’ offers.
- Cost: $3.95 for 8 oz (which is pictured above) or $4.75 for 12 oz
Final Stop: Brothers Beer Bistro
When I saw December’s challenge from Food Bloggers of Canada, I asked my Facebook community what were their thoughts on the subject of hot chocolate and where to find a decent mug in the city.
Chef Darren Flowers of Brothers Beer Bistro (366 Dalhousie Street) commented his restaurant is developing a hot chocolate for the holiday season. He, Brothers’ talented master mixologist Steve Benson (of Ottawa Cocktails), and their pastry chef Adrienne Courey got together and conceived the following hot chocolate dessert (apparently, one of two “eggnog cocktails” on the menu).
At the bottom is an eggnog panna cotta. The hot chocolate is spiked with Courvoisier (VSOP Exclusif) cognac. The marshmallows are made with Bellevue Kriek, a Belgian cherry beer.
Each layer is executed well, but ordinary. Mix everything together, fishing out a marshmallow or two to start, and you’ve a very lightly boozy romantic drink. Everything comes out silky.
All of the flavours work together to showcase one another, creating a cooperative of festive tastes: chocolate; gentlest spice; vanilla; even cherry.
I could not imagine a better melding of Christmas drink traditions!
At $11, this drink may seem a little steep until you look at it as a dessert to be shared by a couple on a date.
- Bottom Line: Guys, trust me, this hot chocolate dessert will get you places!
- Cost: $11
Happy Goat Coffee
57 Lyndale Ave
The Cake Shop
1200 Wellington St. West
Stubbe Chocolates Ottawa
375 Dalhousie St.
Wild Oat Bakery Cafe & Catering
817 Bank St.
769 Bank St. (Glebe)
314 Richmond Rd (Westboro)
750 Bank St. (Second Ave)
Brothers Beer Bistro
366 Dalhousie St.
Tags: ByWard Market, chocolate, Christmas, cognac, Courvoisier Collective, featured, Glebe, Hintonburg, hot chocolate, roundup, Westboro