Sunday, December 9, 2018

My Favorite Hot Chocolates of 2018

Since starting this blog, I get asked all the time what my favorite hot chocolate is, or can I please recommend something to get as a gift for someone. Well, yes, yes I can recommend something! Whatever the occasion is that you need an amazing hot chocolate, I'm here to help! Below are my thoughts on some of my favorites and you can decide for yourself which might be the one you're looking for. They are not in any particular order, and I've included a variety of types and flavors, and I'll keep it short and sweet. You just cannot go wrong with the drinking chocolates I've included here! Enjoy!

Bean to Bar Drinking Chocolates

Askinosie Sipping Chocolate
Askinosie is one of my favorite chocolate makers, and I've reviewed their drinking chocolate before. It's a perfect example of what makes bean-to-bar chocolate amazing. Dark and rich, it's a wonderful introduction into the world of bean-to-bar drinking chocolates.

Mutari Craft Chocolate
Mutari only makes bean-to-bottle drinking chocolates, no bars. It's amazing, and if you get a set with a few flavors, you'll really enjoy the differences between them. Not overly sweet, it's perfect for a serious chocolate lover. And I think they may change their flavor offerings, so check back once in a while!

Dick Taylor Drinking Chocolate
Dick Taylor is an icon in the craft chocolate world, and their drinking chocolate is top notch. Before they even offered drinking chocolates for sale, I was making it from their bars. If you like your hot chocolate a little more on the tangy and very rich side, this is the one for you.

Potomac Chocolate
Potomac is my favorite chocolate maker. The whole company is just one guy, Ben, working out of his basement. The flavors he captures in his bars are just amazing, and he's carried that over wonderfully to his drinking chocolates. And the Spiced variety packs a bit of heat!

Gourmet Drinking Chocolates

MarieBelle Hot Chocolate
This is the hot chocolate that got me started on my adventures with chocolate. It was one of my very first posts here on Melting Mug, and is still one of my favorite hot chocolates out there. If you're buying this as a gift for someone, I'd recommend sticking with their original Aztec mix. This one is actually one of my favorites gifts to give during the holidays.

Jacques Torres Wicked Hot Chocolate
This spicy hot chocolate is from celebrity chef and world renown chocolatier Jacques Torres. When choosing a spicy hot chocolate for my list, I had a tough time deciding between this one and Chuao. Both are exceptional and have a fiery kick to them, and you can't go wrong with either. You can even get this Wicked Hot Chocolate as a cool gift set with mugs!

Chuao Spicy Maya Drinking Chocolate
Ok, so yeah, I have to include this one anyway. There's plenty of room on this list for two spicy hot chocolates. This was the first spicy drinking chocolate I ever tried, and it's wonderful. It finishes really hot, though, so if you like spicy things, this is your drink!

Powder Mix Hot Chocolates

Chocolat Moderne Kama Sutra
This mix absolutely blew me away the first time I tasted it, and it's still possibly the most relaxing chocolate drink I've ever enjoyed. It's a day at the spa in a can! The spice combination in the Kama Sutra mix is heavenly, and just smelling it will make you want to put on fluffy slippers and settle in next to the fireplace.

Lake Champlain Hot Chocolates
Lake Champlain's mixes are some of my favorites to keep at work, where I don't always have the time to melt solid chocolate in hot milk. Sadly, it doesn't look like they still make their Chai & Mighty flavor, but their other flavors are great, too.

Mexican Hot Chocolates

La Soledad Hot Chocolates
This is as authentic as you can get, so much so that your have to order it from Mexico. I'd advise grabbing either the almond (almondrado) or the cinnamon (canela). Package it up with a traditional molinillo for frothing the chocolate and you've got an amazing gift set! You can read my review of this drink here.

Taza Stone Ground Chocolate
Taza is made the same way traditional Mexican chocolate is, stone ground and organic. They're based in Somerville, MA, so a little bit easier to order than the La Soledad. Their sampler pack has an amazing variety, and each disc is perfectly sized for a mug of drinking chocolate!

Chocolate Syrup

Abuelita Chocolate Cinnamon Syrup
I know, I know - it's made by Nestlé. If you've read my blog before, you know I tend to stay away from the giant corporate chocolate makers. However, the ingredients here aren't packed with chemicals, and the flavor is a wonderful variation when reaching for a chocolate milk. I wouldn't have it on this list if I didn't love it.

Make your own!
A while back I posted a super simple recipe for making your own, and not only is it one of the tastiest I've had, you can use it on everything from hot and cold drinking chocolates to ice cream and pies. Check it out here, and keep in mind you can use your favorite cocoa powder to make it your own. Also, your friends will be thrilled that you made it yourself!


Marshmallow Madness!
If you've never tried homemade marshmallows, oh wow, you NEED this book! Making marshmallows is easier than you might think, and so worth it. And again, it's one of those gifts that your friends and family will be amazed by. I mean, who gives out homemade marshmallows? you do, that's who!

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Review - Bottega Louie Fine Cocoa

One of my favorite things about living in Los Angeles is the diversity and the quality of the restaurants here. While an Italian restaurant isn't actually all that diverse, Bottega Louie is definitely one of my favorites.

The restaurant is very sparsely decorated, with bare white walls and vaulted ceilings. It feels very classy, although once you're seated and enjoying your meal it begins to feel very warm and comfortable. On the wall leading back to the kitchen there's a wonderful pizza oven, the fire inside giving off a warm glow to go along with the amazing aromas.

However, before you get to your table, when you first walk in the door, you are greeted by their bakery and gift shop. Sweets and pastries fill their display windows, along with an unbelievably colorful assortment of macarons. And tucked in there on the shelves among the little boxes of goodies and treats you'll find their gourmet hot chocolate mix and their marshmallows.

I've picked up this hot chocolate mix a few times now, as it's a great one. The package is wonderful and original, as well, and the vivid pink ties into the entire theme of Bottega Louie.

A couple of the ingredients were new to me. The first two are Noel chocolate and Jivara chocolate, and then it's rounded out with sugar, dry milk, Valrhona cocoa powder, and salt.

Doing a little research online shows me that Noel chocolate, or Cacao Noel, is a French brand. "Carefully grown and selected Equatorial beans are fermented and roasted at their factory on the Ivory Coast. A century-old manufacturer completes the selection blending in France. The result is a sophisticated chocolate line with an intensely rich, complex flavor." So there ya go, equatorial beans, roasted on the Ivory Coast, and turned in to chocolate in France.

The Jivara chocolate is actually a variety of Valrhona chocolate. I actually really like that Bottega Louie were so specific on their ingredients list, actually naming the exact brand and variety of chocolates they've used.

I usually make this mix as instructed on the package, which is 1 cup water and 6 tbsp cocoa mix. I've also enjoyed it using milk instead, and while it's a milder drink (typical when using milk instead of water), it's still absolutely delicious.

Made as instructed, it's rich and smooth, and very strong for a powder mix, with a very fudgey flavor. I'd go so far as to rate this sup there as one of the best powder mixes I've had. I really enjoy that rich fudge flavor, almost like you're drinking a warm brownie, so when I find mixes that have that flavor, I really embrace them.

Topped with those amazing, fluffy marshmallows, you can't wrong. Serve more marshmallows on the side, and include those chocolate ones for a super chocolate overdose!

To my surprise, you cannot order their cocoa or marshmallows online. That's a bummer! If you're in Los Angeles, however, it'worth a stop to pick some up, and heck, you could even enjoy dinner while you're there. You can visit their Twitter HERE. Be sure and tell them Melting Mug sent you! ;)

Monday, January 15, 2018

Review - Pitchoun Bakery, Los Angeles

My wife and I are on a constant search for bread. Yep, we know it's filled with carbs and generally bad for us, but seriously, can anything compete with a fresh baked loaf of your favorite type of bread? Nope. Especially if you've got an amazing drinking chocolate to go along with it!

What kind of bread do we search for? Mainly French baguettes. We got engaged in Paris, and you know that dream so many people have of walking into a little corner bakery in Paris and walking out with a still-warm baguette, nibbling on it as you walk down the street? We lived it, and it's every bit as fantastic as it sounds. So here in Los Angeles, we're trying to find a similar experience.

We recently found Pitchoun in downtown LA. On a Sunday morning, we took the subway down to give it a shot. On our way down, we checked Yelp for their hours, and it said they were "Closed Now". We trudged on anyway, figuring we could just find another bakery nearby if they really were closed. Thankfully they were open!

It's a cute place with a very nice patio out front, packed with eye-catching orange furniture. Inside, it was much bigger than we anticipated.
And right there next to the door, stacked up in the corner, the baguettes called to us. I think they knew we were coming, because there were tons of them.

Along with all their breads, pastries, and assorted baked goods, they also sold plenty of prepackaged candies and treats.

Their menu was gigantic, and quietly scrawled there on the bottom of the hot drinks was hot chocolate. I had no reason to think they would make anything other than the ordinary powder mix or syrup-in-steamed-milk most coffee shops serve, but of course I ordered one.

We actually ordered lots of things! More than we should have. But seriously, everything just looked so good, and amazing bakeries are one of our weak spots. We were kind of helpless. ;)
My wife started with one of her favorites, a palmier, aka elephant ear. She also chose a lemon tart. I started with a bacon ficelle, which is basically a small baguette with bacon in it. I also picked a chocolate eclair, which in my opinion is a great standard baked good to judge most bakeries on.

My bacon ficelle and chocolate eclair were amazing, both delicious, the perfect combination of savory followed by sweet. My wife enjoyed her palmier, but mentioned that it was a little dense, and that she prefers hers a little crispier. The lemon tart was spectacular, maybe the best pastry we ordered.

They have wine, as well, plenty of it. And some really cool lighting made from wine bottles.
Yep, we bought a baguette, and I'm pretty sure it was half gone by the time we got home. Absolutely wonderful baguette!

At this point, I know what you're thinking - "Let's go, get to the hot chocolate! This isn't a bakery blog!" Right you are!

The hot chocolate was excellent, definitely not what I was expecting! It tasted of real chocolate with a hint of amaretto or cherry. Milk-based and thin, not thick like a European drinking chocolate. When I asked how it was made, I was told the chef makes a chocolate ganache that they use for it. The ganache is made with Valrhona chocolate, but they were not sure what else. The bariasta who prepares it usually adds a touch of vanilla syrup, which may have been the extra sweetness I was tasting and thinking was amaretto. And be prepared - if you order the 16 oz, this drink comes in a soup bowl, not a mug!

Pitchoun is wonderful, and if you're looking for a Parisian experience in Los Angeles, this is as close as my wife and I have found.

If you happen to know of some places we should check out, please leave it in the comments! Until then, I'm looking forward to going back to Pitchoun.