Sometimes in this life, we get to retain the great things about growing up into adulthood.
Consider for a second one of childhood’s great treats: hot chocolate. After playing in the snow on a winter day, that well-timed drink might’ve been waiting upon your return indoors. You could wrap your little, frigid hands around the mug and begin thawing out.
And it was delicious. Rich and creamy, of course, so long as it was made with milk and not water (duh). Maybe there was whipped cream or marshmallows on top. Perfection.
“It’s so comforting,” the South Bend Chocolate Café’s Sherri Huffer says. “It’s like fall time with the apple cider.”
Indeed, hot chocolate is one of the few great things about winter, along with cozy slippers and being able to sit by a toasty fire for hours without feeling guilty. Nobody wants to go outside when it’s snowing, anyway, right? That’s the stuff Netflix binges are made of.
The good news is there’s no reason to quit on hot chocolate just because you’re all grown up. In fact, I’d advise against it. There are plenty of different ways to enjoy the classic beverage. You can spice it up a bit, change the kind of chocolate — you don’t have to use packaged powder! — or even add a little bit of booze for those days when, well, that just feels like the right thing to do.
It’s glorious. Folks at a couple of local cafés opened my eyes to the possibilities earlier this month.
No exploration of hot chocolate would be complete without first stopping at the South Bend Chocolate Café. Huffer, who’s been the downtown South Bend location’s store manager for a few years, walked me through some of the possibilities. Given the nature of their business, the drinks start with actual chocolate.
“We use milk and real chocolate,” Huffer says. “There’s no powder or anything else to that. It’s homemade.”
Every hot chocolate starts with steaming the milk up to 100 degrees, Huffer says. Follow that up by taking the chocolate to about 150 degrees, at which point baristas combine the two.
But there are choices before that process begins. Customers can pick between milk chocolate, white chocolate or dark chocolate. Plus, they can mix and match. Huffer mentions a drink she calls a “zebra,” which is half milk chocolate and half white chocolate. Her daughter loves it.
One of the more popular cold weather drinks at South Bend Chocolate is The LaSalle, a hot chocolate variation with mint. There’s also a toasted coconut version.
How about an international option? Mexican hot chocolate, which is flavored with equal parts cinnamon and cayenne pepper or chili powder. That isn’t a typo. They actually put the spicy stuff in there. Other recipes on the internet call for more ingredients, such as nutmeg and vanilla extract, for example.
Whichever way it’s done, Mexican hot chocolate is out there on the flavor spectrum.
“I find that people either love it or they don’t,” Huffer says. “I’ve never had anyone complain. If they order it, they know what they’re getting. Those are pretty popular, too.”
Nearby Chicory Café started rolling out its winter and holiday drinks this week. Customers will benefit from some barista experimentation when it comes to this season’s selections.
Manager Kirbea Kohler offered a sneak peek at one of the newest additions to Chicory’s drink menu: The Cherry Bomb Hot Chocolate. Ingredients include house-made vanilla bourbon sauce, Ghirardelli chocolate sauce and cherry syrup with steamed milk and whipped cream. Naturally, a cherry tops it off.
Chicory also dabbles in the boozy versions, such as pairing peppermint schnapps with a standard hot chocolate. Kohler says she’s tinkered with the idea of adding alcohol, such as actual bourbon or cherry liqueur, to the Cherry Bomb.
When it comes to the real adult version, though, peppermint reigns supreme. Think of it as an adult way to channel the kid version of yourself.
“There’s a few different holiday drinks that we’ll play around with that have alcohol and stuff,” Kohler says. “But peppermint schnapps is the go-to thing.”
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