Sunday, Dec. 13, is National Cocoa Day, and local chefs are pouring some indulgent masterpieces
The crown jewel of the hot chocolate program at The Sebastian Vail looks like it should be adorning a Christmas tree, rather than nestled in the bottom of a glass. The handmade sphere of cast chocolate is decorated with chocolate swirls and brushed with gold luster dust — and in about 10 seconds, it will vanish.
The spheres were imagined by Sebastian pastry chef Laura Kretzing’s predecessor, but the current recipe is all her own. What she calls “truly a labor of love” begins by casting half of the sphere. Once set, it’s filled with house-made Bailey’s Irish Cream marshmallows and three different flavors of “crunch pearls,” crispy rice candies coated in layers of chocolate.
The top half of the chocolate sphere is then secured with chocolate “glue,” and the edges are smoothed to hide the seams and create a perfect orb. The final decorative touches are added, and the finished spheres await their call to service.
If you order the $17 Sebastian Signature Hot Chocolate, then you’re paying for an experience, rather than just a drink, Kretzing said.
“People whip out their phones and film it,” she said. “It’s interactive, a fun, whimsical drink. The sphere has taken off — it’s taken on its own celebrity, in a way. But who doesn’t love hot chocolate after a cold day?”
The sphere arrives alone in a clear glass, a portal through which you can watch the show. Each glass comes with its own individual teapot containing the “base” cocoa. This particular base is made with intense P125 Guanaja chocolate from Valrhona, a chocolatier based in the small village of Tain L’Hermitage, France, that has been making artisan-quality chocolates since 1922.
The milk and cream in the Signature Hot Chocolate base are infused overnight with star anise, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and vanilla beans, and then reheated and the whole spices strained out come morning before the chocolate is added.
The finished base is slowly poured over the sphere tableside, melting the chocolate orb and releasing the marshmallow and chocolate pearl goodies contained within. The key is making sure the base liquid is the perfect temperature to completely melt the sphere without searing the inside of your mouth when you take the first sip, Kretzing said.
“The service adds more to the guest experience and makes the hot chocolate more interactive,” said Justin Thompson, senior food and beverage manager for The Sebastian. “It takes the traditional hot chocolate to the next level. Kids love it.”
Flavor of the week
The popularity of the sphere inspired The Sebastian to introduce Hot Chocolate Sundays, with a new hot chocolate flavor every week from 4 to 6 p.m. starting on National Cocoa Day, today. Each of the gourmet treats is served in a mason jar, the various ingredients from crunch pearls to chocolate shavings to marshmallows stacked inside, along with its own sidecar pot of distinctive cocoa to pour overtop for $13.
This week’s flavor is Dulce De Leche, made with a base of Valrhona Dulcey blonde chocolate (caramelized white chocolate) and dulce de leche cocoa, Valrhona Caramelia crunch pearls, house-made toffee candy and caramel swirl marshmallows.
“I wanted to try to pick some different flavors with the white hot chocolate and the caramel hot chocolate,” Kretzing said.
The incredibly rich, indulgent Raspberry Truffle comes next, with a thick Valrhona P125 Guanaja dark chocolate base infused with raspberry puree, Valrhona dark chocolate Les Perles crunch pearls, pink chocolate curls and house-made raspberry marshmallows.
Week three’s selection is Mocha Milk Chocolate, with Valrhona Jivara milk chocolate mocha cocoa, Valrhona Dulcey crunch pearls, chocolate-covered espresso beans and Bailey’s marshmallows. Wrapping up the quartet is White Chocolate Peppermint: Valrhona Opalys white chocolate cocoa, Opalys crunch pearls, candy cane bits and peppermint marshmallows.
“There isn’t peppermint in the hot chocolate base, so that gives it this subtle peppermint flavor without it being overwhelming,” Kretzing said. “Because of the candy and peppermint marshmallows, it turns this fantastic bright-pink color.”
Made with chocolate and cream, the drinks are all dairy-based. Gelatin is used to make the flavored marshmallows, and the crunch pearls contain gluten, Kretzing said. But there aren’t any artificial colors or flavors in any of the confections, and all are kid-friendly.
“The peppermint marshmallows use beet extract for the coloring,” she said. “We do add a small amount of Bailey’s to flavor the Bailey’s marshmallows. However, we add the liquor to the sugar syrup as we are cooking it prior to whipping the marshmallows to ensure the alcohol has a chance to burn out, making the spheres as family-friendly as possible.”
Chocolate at The Ritz
Over at Spago in The Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch, executive chef Jorge Martinez has developed his own rendition of the classic winter drink, which he said is inspired by sitting fireside after a long day on the slopes.
Spago combines Valrhona dark chocolate, Valrhona Dulcey chocolate and milk with vanilla bean, dried Thai chilies and cardamom, garnished with spiced whipped cream, dark chocolate bark and cocoa-dusted crisps.
“We chose to use this spice blend with our variety of chocolates to give the guest an experience they can’t find anywhere else,” Martinez said. “The Thai chili adds a kick, while the cardamom reminds you of the holidays.”
Martinez also chooses to use Valharona because he said the chocolatier puts out a very consistent and versatile product.
“The company has a great bean-to-bar philosophy,” he said. “We chose to use this brand in our hot chocolate because at Spago in The Ritz-Carlton, we only use the best, and this chocolate is very luxurious and decadent.”
Spago is now open for lunch daily from 12:30 to 3 p.m., offering even more opportunities to try the restaurant’s hot chocolate, which sells for $10.
“I believe it is a popular winter treat because it reminds people of their childhood,” Martinez said.