SUDBURY, ONTARIO — Nothing kicks a cold day to the curb like a mug of hot chocolate. From its hand-warming comfort as we cradle the mug to its soothing properties as it spreads through us from tip to toe, frosty days and molten chocolate go together like sunscreen and a mid-July day.
Giselle Weybrecht, a globetrotter who blogs about hot chocolate worldwide at Ultimate Hot Chocolate, says there is no set recipe for a stellar cup of the good stuff, but the best “will put a smile on your face and warm you up all over.”
Weybrecht is a true aficionado. More than a beverage, she sees it as a whole-body, multi-sensory experience. Her chocolate checklist is vast and not something through which one should rush — she is more slow drip than drive-thru.
“What does the café look like? Is there a nice little chair I can sit in to enjoy my drink, maybe next to a fireplace?” she says of her criteria. “I love when you can watch them putting it together, warming up the milk, melting the chocolate slowly. How is the hot chocolate presented? My favourite is when you get them in big mugs you can wrap your hands around and warm yourself with, or in small cups for the intense, thick hot chocolates.”
Accompaniments and presentation are important considerations for Weybrecht, who is delighted by the little extras; she has a special fondness for freshly made marshmallows.
“Does it have marshmallows, spices? Is it the right temperature, too hot, too cold?” she says. “I’m a fan of dark chocolate, not too sweet. I also love when they give you the chocolate and the milk separately and you get to combine them yourself.”
With Weybrecht’s suggestions in mind, two hard-hitting Sudbury Star reporters — known hereafter as suspects A and B — set out to scour the streets of Sudbury in search of this city’s very own ultimate hot chocolate. Our final list, which is by no means complete, includes three locally-owned cafés in the downtown core.
Cased joint No. 1
Our first stop is the Fromagerie Elgin, 80 Elgin St., where server Laura Willett makes us each a cup of velvety cocoa.
“Compared to the (drive-thru) hot chocolate I often get, this is like drinking real chocolate — you can tell,” suspect B says. “It tastes like eating a chocolate bar. I love dark chocolate bars. It’s very chocolatey. This was a really good one for me.”
Topped with a delicate sprinkling of cocoa powder, Willett uses 72% cocoa, made by chocolatier Michel Cluizel and imported from France, which is melted right in the cup. She then adds honey to cut the bitterness, as well as steamed 2% milk. Served in dainty cups and saucers, it is piping hot — the perfect antidote for the nagging bite of Old Man Winter.
This is a romantic, grown-up hot chocolate, ideal for savouring under starry skies, amid a dancing snowfall, after hitting the slopes all day. We can envision spending an afternoon at a sidewalk cafe in Paris, lingering with a friend and sipping the Fromagerie’s creation.
An adventurous connoisseur, Weybrecht enjoys a little spice in her sugar, including cinnamon, nutmeg, chili, salt and even pepper. And like suspect B, she enjoys the bite of dark chocolate.
“These can really add an interesting dimension to an already delicious drink,” she says. “Some of my favourite hot chocolates have been made using dark chocolate with a hint of chili that gives it this addictive kick.”
Cased joint No. 2
Next, we make our way through the downtown core, where owner Carole Roy greets us behind the counter at Old Rock Roastery, 212 Minto St. Hers is a kid-friendly cup o’ cocoa, spun with Ghirardelli chocolate syrup and chocolate milk (yum yum).
“If I have to drink it, I have to like it,” Roy says. “You have to serve it with a smile. It has to be steamed perfectly and you can’t add too much chocolate syrup or it’ll be too sweet.”
The drink is the colour of nubuck leather and has the comforting effect of a soft, well-worn sweater. Ideal after an outdoor ice-skating excursion, this is a “look ma, no hands” kind of hot chocolate, tasty to the palates of kids of all ages.
Cased joint No. 3
Our last stop is Ti Amo Cafe, at 124 Cedar St. A menagerie of delicate confections and baked goodness, the pastries — our stealthy group devoured an apple streusel and a cannoli — are “excellent” says Laura Nelles, an accomplice on this mission.
The shop has a lovely atmosphere, like a “little oasis” suspect B adds wistfully. It is charming and would be a great place to take a date.
The hot chocolate, which is served steaming, tastes a bit powdery, but familiar and homey. Ti Amo’s owner, Stelios Constantinou, says his cocoa is a big hit during the cold months.
“It relieves stress,” he laughs. “Hot chocolate is beautiful like the girls.”
Milk vs. water
Like suspects A and B, Weybrecht prefers milk to water in her cuppa cocoa. She also likes her whipped cream fresh and used sparingly as a condiment, never taking away from the main attraction.
Weybrecht has had occasion to sample the local brew at cafes around the world, and while we may not all be part of the jet-set crowd, she contends Canadian concoctions are some of the most adventurous to grace her tongue. She even insists there are a couple of Ottawa cafés with Oscar-calibre recipes.
“I have so many favourites and my top 10 list changes on a regular basis,” Weybrecht says. “France makes a beautiful, simple hot chocolate — perfect to drink every day. Spain makes one that is rich and gooey, almost like chocolate pudding; Vietnam makes a hot chocolate that is bitter. In the Dominican Republic, they often have vanilla and nutmeg. Australia and Canada have some of the most interesting hot chocolates I have ever tasted. They experiment with the best from other countries, while also trying out new ideas.”
Perfect weather for hot chocolate
It may have something to do with our frigid winters or multicultural population, but it seems Weybrecht’s extensive testing has uncovered a national cocoa landscape that is as diverse (and delicious) as the proverbial melting pot.
“Because we have perfect hot chocolate weather most of the year, there are a lot of options and a lot of experimentation. I’ve even seen pubs make hot chocolate beer,” she says.
And when we returned to the newsroom, these two suspects were charged with possession of cocoa for the purposes of consumption. Upon further investigation, the authorities — our benevolent editors — also discovered we had in our possession several half-eaten cookies …
- To read more about delectable hot chocolate around the world, or to simply envy Giselle Weybrecht’s lifestyle, go to www.ultimatehotchocolate.wordpress.com
- The Star’s reporters assessed local hot chocolate for colour, temperature, taste and additives
- The suspects only sampled milk-based beverages
- While it did not influence our experiment, cost can be a factor; however, Carole Roy, owner of Old Rock Roastery, says customers should expect to pay a little extra for a good product Michel Cluizel is a family-owned chocolatier in Normandy, France. Three generations have been handcrafting chocolates since 1948. Learn more at www.cluizel.com
Perfect antidote for the nagging bite of Old Man Winter
3 cups milk, divided
1 cup 35% whipping cream, divided
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
Pinch of salt
1 tsp. vanilla
- In a saucepan, heat 2 1/2 cups of milk and 3/4 cups whipping cream over medium heat, stirring often, until steaming.
- Meanwhile, in a bowl, whisk together sugar, cocoa and salt. Whisk in remaining milk and vanilla to make a smooth paste.
- Reduce heat to medium-low and gradually whisk cocoa mixture into hot milk mixture until blended. Heat for about 2 minutes or until steaming hot.
- In a small chilled bowl, use an electric mixer or whisk, whip remaining whipping cream until thick.
- Ladle hot chocolate into four warmed mugs. Dollop whipped cream evenly into each mug; stir to swirl lightly. Serve immediately.
- For the adventurous: Add 1 tbsp. coffee or chocolate-flavoured liqueur and 1/2 cup strong hot coffee to each mug of hot chocolate before adding whipped cream.
Published in The Sudbury Star on Dec. 7, 2013