Sunday, December 05, 2004

The Perfect Cup

Specialty sommeliers have been on the dining scene for a few years now. And they are not just wine experts - there are sommeliers for beer, tea, water...and even hot chocolate. Every Saturday from November through February, you can find hot-chocolate sommelier Caesar Bradley in the Philadelphia Ritz-Carlton's Rotunda, who helps guests personalize the ultimate comfort drink.

“People often ask me what the typical hot chocolate is, and there's no such thing as typical hot chocolate here — each one is made specifically for a person according to his or her taste,” Bradley explains. The custom concoction, which is served in an oversized mug, “is very rich — we don't use water, we use milk and half-and-half,” he adds.

The beverage is available in milk, dark or white chocolate versions, which are then topped with a selection of gourmet condiments such as pecans and hazelnuts, fresh fruit, chocolate shavings and candy sprinkles. Also offered are flavored marshmallows made by the hotel's pastry chef. “We have strawberry, raspberry and mint flavors — it depends on the chef's choice for that day,” Bradley notes. And to make the drink even more decadent, he can lace the hot chocolate with a liqueur, such as the rich Cointreau and dark chocolate combination or milk chocolate with a splash of raspberry vodka. The resulting drinks taste “delicious — like a melted truffle,” he says.

For more information, call (215) 523-8221.

(And here's an interesting article about why something as simple as hot chocolate has gotten so confusing.)

Hot chocolate combines the best of both worlds," Mr. Bradley says. "It's the ultimate comfort drink ... and it also has a real romance to it."

Perhaps that's why the film "Serendipity" featured stars John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale sharing a soup-bowl-size serving of the famous "frrrozen hot chocolate" from the New York restaurant that bears the film's name.
This specialty has become so sought-after that the Manhattan eatery now sells a kit for making it at home, including the bowl, on its Web site.

And, of course, I found you some recipes, courtesy of Christian Science Monitor:

Burdick's Hot Chocolate

1 cup whole milk (can substitute skim or soy milk)
2/3 cup best-quality chocolate (milk, dark, or white chocolate), grated
1 teaspoon best-quality cocoa powder
Grated chocolate, for garnish

Place milk in small saucepan and heat to scalding (just below boiling), whisking constantly. Add 2/3 cup grated chocolate and the cocoa powder, and whisk vigorously until chocolate melts and mixture thickens. Do not let the hot chocolate come to a boil. Pour into a cup and top with a light sprinkling of grated chocolate, if desired. Makes 1 serving.


Philadelphia Ritz Carlton's Basic Hot Chocolate

4 ounces milk
4 ounces heavy cream
1/2 to 2 tablespoons granulated sugar (to taste)
2-1/2 ounces bittersweet best-quality chocolate, broken into small pieces
1 pinch Mexican cinnamon
1 large tablespoon whipped cream
1 pinch cocoa powder (optional)

Over low heat, warm the milk, heavy cream, and sugar in a saucepan. Add the chocolate and the cinnamon, and continue heating - whisking constantly - until chocolate melts. Do not let mixture come to a boil. Pour into a cup and, just before serving, place the large tablespoon of whipped cream on top and sprinkle a bit of cocoa powder over the top for garnish, if desired. Makes 1 serving.


WALNUT HOT CHOCOLATE

½ cup milk
½ cup heavy (whipping) cream, plus 1 large tbsp. whipped cream
3 tbsp. granulated sugar
2 ½ ounces good milk chocolate, finely chopped (see note)
2 tbsp. Nocello or other walnut liqueur
Pinch of cocoa powder
1 tbsp. crushed candied walnuts, optional (recipe follows)

Combine the milk, heavy cream and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Heat until the sugar dissolves and small bubbles form at the edges (do not boil).
Put the chocolate into an oversized cup or mug or divide between two regular mugs. Add the liqueur. Pour in the hot milk mixture, stirring to melt the chocolate.

Just before serving, spoon the whipped cream on top. Dust with the cocoa powder and, if using, the crushed candied walnuts.
Makes 1 serving.

Note: Use chocolate with at least 40 percent cocoa solids, such as Valrhona or Ghirardelli.
-- Caesar Bradley,
hot-chocolate sommelier,
Ritz-Carlton, Philadelphia

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