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When I started Ultimate Hot Chocolate back in early 2012 I had no idea that it would still be going strong today! Thank you so much for following me on my hot chocolate journey!

This blog is now hosted on a new site so please change your bookmarks to www.ultimatehotchocolate.com.

Best

Giselle

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Hot Chocolate at Francois Payard Bakery, New York City, USA

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There is no shortage of good hot chocolates in New York City. There is no shortage of anything really in New York City. This city attracts some of the best from around the world and luckily for the locals, some of the best pastry chefs. Francois Payard is one of those pastry chefs. His CV says it all, pastry chef in Paris at La Tour d’Argent, at Lucas Carton, at Le Bernardin, all set him up to be named Pastry Chef of the Year by the James Beard Foundation in 1995. And this is just the tip of the iceberg really.

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So as we walked towards his West Houston St. location between Soho and Greenwich Villiage, expectations were high. It was 8 am but there was already a steady trickle of locals coming in for their morning bread/coffee/pastry fix before starting their day. The space was much smaller and cosier than I expected. Around the entrance there were shelves covered in little boxes of multi-coloured macaroons, beautiful chocolates coated with colourful designs, copies of Francois Payard’s multiple cookbooks. On one side of the door there was an old waffle machine and Kitchenaid Mixer, neither I suspect have worked for a long time, but were a lot of fun in that environment. The counter was, as you would expect, jam packed with all sorts of deliciousness; éclairs, tarte au citron, crème caramel, mousse au chocolate, whatever you had a craving for, sugar wise, it was here and looked perfect. Along the walls there were large towers of macaroons, examples of the kinds of fancy cakes you could order for a special occasion.

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There were, however, a couple of things I didn’t like about this little spot, things that would be so easy to fix. The staff this early Sunday morning had chosen rap and hip hop with a lot of swearing as background music for the day and it was really far too loud, so loud in fact it felt more like a night club than a Sunday morning. On top of that, and this is a big thing for me, all the drinks were presented in paper cups, regardless of whether you stayed in or took out. Hot Chocolates in paper cups to me taste like paper cups rather than like hot chocolate, and for a business that is all about quality chocolate, it was a tough one to swallow.

The hot chocolate, even with of these things fighting against it, was beautiful. It was rich and creamy yet still light and airy. It was not a thick hot chocolate as I had expected, but rather a perfectly light option to start any day with. It has a slight malty taste, not too sweet, not too chocolaty, very subtle and satisfying. Mine was made with water but the woman at the counter did mention that if I preferred it could be made with milk. I ordered a small (which in a large paper cup was enough to satisfy probably 3 people).

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Verdict: A very nice hot chocolate but bring your earplugs…and your favourite mug to make it perfect.  Francois Payard Bakery, 116 West Houston St., New York City, USA

Hot Chocolate at Bouchon Bakery, New York City, USA

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As I have mentioned in blogs before, NYC is the playground of world famous chefs and pastry chefs, many of whom open little bakeries that tempt us and make us crave delicious French pastries all the time. If you are in the vicinity of the Rockefeller Center, start at Bouchon Bakery first before mixing and mingling with the tourists.

Bouchon Bakery was created by superstar chef Thomas Keller and executive pastry chef Sebastien Rouxel, both with impressive CVs. They have a handful of these bakeries around the country in the cities where Chef Keller’s restaurants are.

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Since our hotel was conveniently close by, over the course of 4 visits we tasted many of their stunning desserts. All tasted just like the best versions of the real deal straight from Paris (but with a slightly more NYC price tag). The lemon tart with meringue was to die for, the éclairs were perfect to grab and eat on the go. They also made these little brownies in the shapes of corks and called them, as you can guess, bouchons (French for corks). Each was individually packaged and I lost count of how many of those I ate. I also tried the almond chocolate croissant which was so good I ate the whole thing before I even took a sip of my hot chocolate. They even have treats for dogs including a dog bone/pastry made with foie gras. Ah those pampered New York City dogs…

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This morning was Mother’s Day, and from our seats inside of the bakery we had a view of an outside studio that had been set up for the Today show. They were filming about 10 mothers getting pedicures and massages live to air. The public were waving signs wishing their mom’s happy birthday and hoping that the cameras would see them and transmit their message across the US.

My hot chocolate came in a paper cup….this seems to be a theme in bakeries in NYC, even with famous owners. I think it might be because of how everyone seemed be consuming their drinks here; on the go. I found this hot chocolate was very nice, light and easy to drink. Although I will note that each time I had it it tasted a little different, sometimes a bit too watered down, so the quality was inconsistent. But it was a nice hot chocolate and I will be back again…

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Verdict: They have a beautiful terrace outside surrounded by bushes that block the view of the traffic but still give you a view and feel for the area. Definitely grab a chocolate brouwnie bouchon (or 2…or 4) and a hot chocolate. Bouchon Bakery, One Rockefeller Plaza, New York City, USA

Bouchon Bakery on Urbanspoon

Hot Chocolate from Taza Chocolates (made at home), USA

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A few weeks ago, Merrill, a friend and fan of hot chocolate (smart girl), sent me a little package. Inside was a sampler pack of 4 Taza hot chocolates. Since then I have been anxiously waiting for the perfect day to try this out.  I have seen Taza hot chocolate sold at my local cheese store, and since I love everything that store sells, I figured there was a reason that they sold Taza hot chocolate. It must be good.

Today turned out to be the perfect day to try this out. Rich got home early and with the change in time it was still light outside. With the sun shining on the balcony and the temperature cool enough to enjoy a hot drink, we decided that this was the day. It took a while to decide which flavours to choose. My little sampler pack included three disks of flavoured chocolate; vanilla (50% dark), cinnamon (50% dark) and chilli (50% dark), with the last one just good old dark chocolate (70% dark). Today we settled on cinnamon and chilli.

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The packaging provides easy to follow instructions on how to create the hot chocolate. One cup of milk heated up, take it off the heat and add the chopped up chocolate. Mix until dissolved and then heat up again. Add a little pinch of salt and you are ready to enjoy it. We used my favourite hot chocolate testing mugs and brought them out to the balcony to drink.

I love what this company has done with its chocolate, from the marketing and branding to their sustainability angle. Everything is organic: the coco beans, the cane sugar, the vanilla beans, cinnamon and even the chilli powder. The cocoa is sourced directly from growers who are paid a fair price. The packaging is full of interesting tid bits. Apparently the company uses Oaxacan stone mills instead of steel refiners to grind their cocoa in small batches resulting in a unique texture and robust flavour. I love the brown packaging and the fonts used. I hadn’t even tasted the hot chocolae and I was a fan. How can this be bad…really?

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It wasn’t bad, in fact, it was fantastic! I really loved these hot chocolates and couldn’t find anything to fault. Rich had the chilli which had just the right amount of kick, while I had the cinnamon which was beautiful and rich. They were both silky and very easy to drink, and the flavour was a perfect balance, bitter but not too much and enough sweetness to satisfy a sweet palate.

Even after finishing my hot chocolate my newfound obsession with Taza continues. I spent quite a bit of time going through their website. They have factory tours in Somersville MA if anyone is over there, where they show you how they make their chocolate. They even organize a chocolate tour to Belize regularly.  All of their chocolates have a batch number on the packaging that you can enter into the site to learn more about your particular chocolate. They use bicycle couriers to deliver their chocolate locally and have really made sustainability part of their whole operations. Alex, Kathleen and Larry, the founders of Taza, basically created the hot chocolate company that I would have liked to create myself … which is good because that means that instead of starting a hot chocolate company, I can dedicate my time to drinking hot chocolates and tell you about them! Thank you for that.

And thank you Merrill! You can send me hot chocolate any day…really.

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Verdict: I really loved Taza hot chocolate disks, as you can probably tell. I can see this will turn into a guilty pleasure for me. Since writing this blog I have tried almost all the Taza flavourites and they are all fantastic! Taza Chocolate,

Hot Chocolate at Vosges, New York, USA

This past weekend we were in New York City, a city that is filled with fantastic hot chocolate places….if you know where to find them. I haven’t had a hot chocolate in a few weeks (a very rare occurrence) so I was looking for my first hot chocolate to be really good. Increasingly, I’m finding that chocolate shops are providing not just very nice hot chocolates, but some tables and chairs in the store to enjoy them on. While walking through Soho, out of the blue, or should I say purple, we spotted Vosges. It looked slightly crazy with its Halloween inspired window displays and bright purple walls. This was the hot chocolate I wanted.

We asked at the cash. Of course they have hot chocolate, three in fact. One white, one milk and one dark. Ialmost always prefer the dark, so we ordered one each and sat at the high tables at the front of the store and watched New Yorkers and tourists walk by through the streets of Soho as we waiting for our treat. This hot chocolate was beautiful. It came on a rectangular piece of wood in a gorgeous black mug accompanied by a little square dish of whipping cream and a spoon.

I loved this hot chocolate. It was perfect and exactly what I needed to kick start the fall/winter hot chocolate drinking season. It was deliciously dark and creamy but with a hint of cinnamon and dash of chilli that made it addictive. It disappeared very quickly.

After finishing my drink, I took a look around the chocolate shop. They have all sorts of wacky chocolatesincluding chocolate covered bacon but all very beautifully displayed. I was taking pictures of course to be able to share this great spot with you but it got me in trouble. The manager very quickly told me I couldn’t take photo’s,but by then I had all I needed. So if you are reading this I’m sorry for taking pictures, but it was for a good cause and hopefully will lead to others trying out your hot chocolate.

Verdict:  I liked it and know you will too.   Vosges (http://www.vosgeschocolate.com) 132 Spring Street, New York, USA (also in several other locations across the US)

Vosges Haut-Chocolat on Urbanspoon

Hot Chocolate at Dominique Ansel Bakery, New York City, USA

I made a list of hot chocolates to try in New York if I had time. I didn’t have time for many of them but we did manage to visit Dominique Ansel Bakery in Soho. This Bakery is tiny with very few places to sit. We grabbed the cute little bench outside and then went in to order our hot chocolates.

I was excited about this stop but it is often dangerous to go into something with high expectations. The display case was filled with beautiful looking pastries, expensive, but beautiful. There was a ‘chef’s’ hot chocolate on the menu and we ordered that. Dominique Ansel is a famous New York City pastry chef with an impressive resume and he makes the hot chocolate.

First thing I noticed is that the hot chocolate comes in a paper cup. Yes I know I have this thing about paper cups but I guess since this is such a small bakery with very limited seating they have chosen to give everything to go. Still, they have seats for 20 or so people so they could have a few mugs…I don’t like hot chocolates in paper cups. You lose the whole experience, you can’t smell it, you don’t see it. But since this is going to be a good hot chocolate I decided to look past the paper cup and we went back to our little bench outside and took my first sip.

There is nothing wrong with this hot chocolate but I didn’t really enjoy it. It has this really nice, rich consistency, almost like pudding, a beautiful colour. The smell (even combined with the smell of the paper cup) was very nice and inviting. But the drink itself didn’t really taste like anything. We kept trying to figure it out but sip after sip it just never clicked.  Is it even legal to say that I didn’t enjoy a hot chocolate made by a famous and very much loved New York City pastry chef? Will they let me back into the city next time I want to come visit?

The one thing I loved about this bakery though was our little bench. From here we had front row seats to the Soho show, all sorts of different kinds of people walking by, some with dogs, some with babies, an older man holding on to his 20 year old model girlfriend who wanted to buy cigarettes next door before going out to dinner, a young man singing a pop song at full volume as he walked by.

Verdict: I will be back here to try the desserts and homemade icecream which look like works of art and to sit on my bench again. I might give the hot chocolate another try…but probably not.  Dominique Ansel Bakery, 189 Spring street, New York, USA

Dominique Ansel Bakery on Urbanspoon

Hot Chocolate at Chocolat Michel Cluizel, New York, USA

Ah Michel, who knew that I would fall in love with you. It wasn’t planned, it just happened and when I least expected it. You see, I was out shopping with my mother on 5th avenue…perhaps more window shopping than any real shopping. After hours of walking we stopped at Chocolate Michel Cluizel, this tiny little store with chocolates and a replica of the Eiffel Tower in the window. There were seats inside; seats inside a chocolate shop always means that they serve hot chocolate and being a chocolate shop the hot chocolate must be made of actual chocolate. A quick scan of the menu on the door…they have many; white, milk or dark in either a traditional hot chocolate or a thick chocolaty shot. We walk in and grab a seat by the window.

Then everything seemed to switch to slow motion…just like those love stories in the movies. I went up to the counter and asked for one milk chocolate for my mother and one dark for me. The woman at the counter then turned to glass containers that were filled with little chocolate chips and put a generous amount into a little pot. The chocolate was melted down, milk was added and the whole thing was put into a little ceramic jug and brought to our table with a white cup and saucer and a square chocolate on the side. I watched the whole thing from the counter and when the woman finished and came to ring me up at the cash I realized that my mouth was open in amazement and I was smiling. I had come to the realization that this could not possibly be a bad hot chocolate. I have a checklist in my head of things that I look for when I order one and I saw most of the boxes being ticked in those 5 or so minutes it took her to make our hot chocolates.

My mother thinks that this is the Ultimate Hot Chocolate and on this trip, on this day I completely agree with her. My dark hot chocolate was bitter but not too bitter, it was smooth and creamy. There was enough in the little jug for 2 full cups of hot chocolate and it was so good, I probably would have had a third if there was more. From our little table we watched many people come in to buy chocolates and if it wasn’t for their strong New York accents I would have sworn that we had been transported far far away. From inside the noises of 5th avenue seemed distant and all you could hear were was romantic French songs that made you feel like you perhaps you were a little closer to Paris. It was hard to leave.

Verdict: There are three chocolate cafes like this in the world, one in Paris, one in Riyad and this one in New York. If you want a good hot chocolate, find them (and bring your mother). Chocolat Michel Cluizel, 584 5th Avenue, New York, USA ($5.00)

Hot Chocolate at The City Bakery, New York City, USA

I am considering moving to New York in 2013 just for the month of February. I will find a place to live just near Union Square, more specifically above The City Bakery. Why you ask? Well, The City Bakery has a hot chocolate festival during the whole month of February. This is exciting stuff! They have been doing this for 20 years now (how did I not know!). Every day during the month of February they serve a different hot chocolate. The full list is on their website, February 6th was a lemon hot chocolate, on the 14th of February was the Love Potion Hot Chocolate, the 22nd was the Ode to the Polar Bear Hot Chocolate followed by the What would Faulkner drink hot chocolate on the 23rd. They even have a beer hot chocolate on the 17th!

Rich ordered the hot chocolate while I grabbed a seat on the mezzanine with a view of the full bakery and this was a smart move. From here I watched the whole hot chocolate operation. One of the staff, all of them dressed in blue with white hats and aprons, went to a large pot of thick hot chocolate, poured it into a white ceramic bowl and placed right in the middle a very large marshmallow that they make in store.  The hot chocolate was thick with a nice rich consistency. The chocolate wasn’t sweet, more bitter. This isn’t a hot chocolate you can have every day but when you want to do it properly this is the hot chocolate you want. The marshmallow looks fantastic but it was perhaps the sweetest thing I have ever tasted in my life. But the whole thing was gorgeous.

When we left we ventured into the Chocolate room, yes they have a little, lightly dimmed room, almost like a cigar room, which is filled with chocolate. I’m guessing during the Hot chocolate festival this is stocked full of goodies.

Verdict: The kind of hot chocolate that is mandatory on a cold miserable day…or any day during the month of February. If you have a sweet tooth have it with the marshmallow, if you don’t, take it out. They also serve food and even have a macaroni and cheese station if you are hungry for more.  The City Bakery, 3 West 18th Street, New York, USA

City Bakery on Urbanspoon