Savor Signature Hot Chocolates at the YYC Hot Chocolate Fest

yyc hot chocolate fest

It’s here again! The YYC Hot Chocolate Fest celebrating it’s 6th year serving delectable signature hot chocolates in a friendly competition all over Calgary and supporting Calgary Meals on Wheels.

This is one of my favorite times of year! Savoring, tasting, testing and indulging in various signature hot chocolates, created specifically for this event. Whip cream, marshmallows, chocolate and caramel sauce; with flavors such as Marble Coconut, Maple Bacon and Theatre Hot Chocolate. Each dripping with flavor and chocolatey goodness. Every year I try to get out and try them all but since I only have 28 days to do it, it makes it pretty tough!

This year there are 77 businesses participating, doubling the participants from last year. That would mean that I would have to have about 3 hot chocolates a day for the entire month in order to have them all. I guess as a hot chocolate connoisseur it’s a must!

yyc hot chocolate festI love the creativity and flare in this competition as the businesses create their own signature hot chocolates. Not only with their combination of ingredients but with the names for them as well. Like the Light Cellar’s White Chocolate Matcha Kiss or Blenz Will You Accept This Rose? There are traditional or classic hot chocolates as well as spirited ones that have that little extra kick. And if you’re dairy free not to worry there are a number of businesses (not all sadly) that do offer a dairy free option which means you can also be in hot chocolate heaven. Can you imagine? Where to begin?

The event runs from February 1-28 and people are encouraged to vote and rate each drink they try which is then used to determine the winner for best hot chocolate. Social media feeds such as Twitter and Instagram runneth over with pictures and comments on all these hot chocolates. Not only luring you out to try it yourself but helping to spread the word about the festival. And some of those pictures… yum! I just want to lick the screen.

There are also prizes for those who try the hot chocolates. You grab a passport from any of the participating businesses and when you go to each vendor and have their hot chocolate they cross off their square. Submit a photo of your completed passport and you could win a fabulous prize pack – even if you’ve only had one. I’ve always been one to ‘complete the whole thing’ (it’s like a scavenger hunt) so I am totally into this.

yyc hot chocolate festI also love going around Calgary and discovering some of the local businesses and coffee houses. It is a great way to promote those little tucked away spots that you may not have found otherwise. And you discover some neat tidbits too. I was at Blanco Cantina on the weekend, who offer a lovely spirited hot chocolate, Blanco’s Chocoloca, and discovered that they are the second largest carriers of different tequilas in Canada. In fact, from where I was sitting the whole wall in front of me was lined with many different kinds. I would have never stepped in there otherwise (and this fact was actually very exciting to my friend who loves tequila).

It also takes you to a lot of places in the downtown area, which for me personally is not a place I go to that often, but again encourages people to go and explore your own city a little more.

I think my definite favorite so far is the Saucy S’more Hot Chocolate at Sauce Italian Kitchen & Market, while the Corbeaux at Analog (basil infused Lindt white chocolate) is a very close second. I don’t know if it’s that big dollop of marshmallow meringue, all that expresso chocolate sauce or the yummy graham cracker crumbs… but with this one I was literally in heaven. So good.

Still, there are many more to try and I only have one more weekend left to get out there! On my list is the Guiness Hot Chocolate at the Fairmont Palliser and the Citrus Ginger Orange at Monogram Coffee. It’s doable right? Of course I’d love to try more but I need the festival to be a little longer! Or perhaps they might deliver? then I could just line them up at my house.

So grab the fam this weekend and get out there and try a few hot chocolates, maybe a Parisian or Lavender Love. Take lots of delectable pictures to put on Instagram and vote for the ones you like the best! It’s a great way to discover what’s in your own backyard and support a local charity while indulging in some delicious hot chocolate!

yyc hot chocolate fest

How Many Ways Can You Make Hot Chocolate – YYC Hot Chocolate Fest

YYC Hot Chocolate FestWarm delectable chocolate and sweet cherries delight the palate, filling the senses and warming the soul…aaahhh heaven. The Black Forest hot chocolate, one of 36 possible heavens in the YYC Hot Chocolate Fest this February. A fundraiser to support Calgary Meals on Wheels, this is the 5th year various coffee shops, restaurants and chocolatiers in Calgary roll out their signature hot chocolate recipes and compete for the best hot chocolate in town.

I was very excited to discover this event this year (and wondered why I had not heard of it before). Throughout the month of February you can try as many hot chocolates as you like, then go online to vote for your favorite, as well as leave comments and participate in the additional contests.

Hot Chocolate Fest

Black Forest

I have had the pleasure of enjoying 3 so far, the Black Forest, Australian Summer and the Creamy TLC, all different and unique, all with flavors that are hard to compete with. My goal is to try them all, which will be a challenge in itself in just 28 days, but it’s hard to resist when there are flavors such as Red Velvet, Tiramisu and Butterfinger Peanut Cup to enjoy.

I realize this means that there may be some days where I will have to have two or three hot chocolates just to make sure that I get them all in before the 28th, but sacrifices have to be made, and happily I will make this one.

Hot Chocolate FestI love the idea behind this Hot Chocolate Fest, (especially with chocolate involved!), it’s fun, gets the community involved and is a great way to create awareness. It also supports local businesses, encouraging people to explore the unique coffee shops and niches in Calgary, it’s creative, expressive and supports a good cause! It is also a great social event, one where you can invite friends to join you, and create more of a network online. Who doesn’t love hot chocolate? (yes I realize that maybe someone doesn’t, but many of us enjoy the thought of a nice warm drink on a cold day. It means cozy, it means social, it means tastes buds coming alive with the different and unique combinations to enjoy).

The other thing I love about the Hot Chocolate Fest is many of the vendors offer dairy free options for those of us who wish to do so. When I ordered my Black Forest at the Higher Ground Cafe, I could choose from soy milk, almond milk or coconut milk. Now this did mean no whip cream and my cherry sunk to the bottom, but it was great that this option was available so I could participate too, and my body would be happy with me.

A Hot Chocolate Fest just gives me an all around good happy feeling, making me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. So whether you are tempted to try one or try them all, go out and check out the YYC Hot Chocolate Fest. Don’t forget to pick up your Hot Chocolate Passport from one of the vendors and check off each one as you go along to enter for additional prizes. I might see you out there. Come back here and share what your favorite was. Happy Hot Chocolate Drinking!Hot Chocolate Fest

Chocolate Dream Pie

Each year on Valentine’s Day I make some kind of dessert or special treat for me and the kids. It adds a little something extra to the day and something to look forward to. Usually something chocolate, I like to experiment with new recipes and new ways of doing things. Last year I made chocolate covered strawberries, dipping them in my own homemade chocolate, the year before chocolate cupcakes.

This year I made one of our new favorites Chocolate Dream Pie. This no bake, sugar free, dairy free, gluten free dessert is to die for! Made all in the blender it is delicious (and guilt free). There are a few unique ingredients, which might turn you off at first, but trust me you will not be disappointed.

Irish Moss

For instance, irish moss, which is a kind of seaweed gathered on the coast of Prince Edward Island, helps congeal and set your pie. Only a pinch is needed and depending on where you live, may be hard to find. But once you know what you are looking for you can track it down, even if you order it online. I was able to find it here locally in Calgary at the Light Cellar.

My kids love it, of course. Matthew’s eyes get big and he starts to salivate. Luke and Chloe who had their first piece, and when done, promptly asked for a second piece. I also shared it with my girlfriend today who not only asked me for the recipe, but regretted sharing it with her son (who also loved it) because she wanted more for herself 🙂

Quick and easy to make, this recipe won’t disappoint.

Chocolate Dream Pie

Crust

1 c. hazelnut mash (from making nut milk)

1 c. walnuts

3-4 tbsp. agave nectar (I like to use Ojio as it is a higher quality agave)

1/4 tsp. vanilla

Filling

3/4 oz. irish moss (soak a small pinch of irish moss in water overnight, rinse well and use in recipe)

1 1/2 c. hazelnut milk

1/4 c. agave nectar

1/4 pitted dates

1/3 c. cacao powder

1/2 tsp. vanilla powder

pinch sea salt

1 rounded tsp. non-GMO lecithin

3/4 c. coconut oil

For crust: Make the *nut milk and use the leftover mash for making the crust. Put all the ingredients into the Vitamix in order listed. Select variable 8. Quickly turn machine on and off, scraping the sides of the container with a spatula between pulses, until a damp meal is formed.

Press the crust into a lightly greased (with coconut oil) 9 inch pie plate.

For filling: Place all ingredients in Vitamix in order listed. Select varaible 1. Turn Vitamix on slowly and increase speed to 10, then to high. Blend 30-40 seconds or until desired consistency is reached.

Pour into prepared crust. Place in fridge until set (about 1 hour).

*Hazelnut milk

Place 1 cup of hazelnuts, soaked overnight and drained, with 3 cups of water in Vitamix. Selecting variable 1, turn machine on slowly increasing speed to 10 and then to high. Blend for 30 seconds.

Over top of a medium size bowl, pour contents form Vitamix into nut bag. Strain through nut bag. Use milk and mash for recipe. Store leftover milk in fridge.

 

How to make Raw Organic Chocolates

Last year I took a class at The Light Cellar, here in Calgary, on how to make Raw Organic Chocolate. No sugar, no dairy and all natural ingredients. I was thrilled to find this course as I had been looking for an alternative so that we could still enjoy chocolates at Christmas, Easter and whenever else we wanted some!

I had taken a chocolate making class before, bought the kit, came home and never made chocolates again. This time was different. The difference was you actually make your chocolate from scratch, from natural ingredients and it is very easy (the other class you made your chocolates from premade chocolate bars or pieces that you melted and molded into your own chocolates. I found this process finicky and the pieces were presweetened; so you could not choose your own sweetener).

Chocolate actually comes from a cacao nut, which is made into various forms, such as cacao powder, paste, butter, etc. Making the chocolate is super simple, using four basic ingredients and only takes a few minutes. All you need is cacao powder or paste, cacao butter, some kind of sweetener (honey, agave nectar, maple syrup, etc.), and vanilla.

The first step is to melt the cacao butter in a bowl – use the double bowl method with the butter in the top bowl set over a bowl of boiling water (boil water put it into bowl and set on counter; then set your smaller bowl with cacao butter on top)- be very careful not to get any water into the top bowl as it will ruin your chocolate! Once the butter is melted add the vanilla bean and let it infuse (with a knife slice vanilla bean down the middle and scrape out the seeds with a spoon – put into cacao butter). Sift your cacoa powder in another bowl and add to taste, then add sweetener of choice. Voila! you now have a nice chocolate sauce which you can leave as is, pour into a pan refrigerate or freeze, or use as a base and add other ingredients.

The instructor did not give us exact amounts of ingredients to make our chocolate. He would provide a starting point and then encouraged us to taste it; to make it how we wanted. He recommended we start with a 1:1 ratio, mix it and go from there. More cacao powder made it a darker, richer chocolate, more sweetener made it sweeter – adjusting it according to our palette and preferences, so we had to taste it as we went along! He also encouraged us to use natural sweeteners and ingredients. For instance, we were using vanilla beans for our vanilla -actually cutting them open and scrapping out the inside. He said we could use vanilla extract but encouraged us to use pure extract if we did, not artificial.

Cacao powder

He described using these pure ingredients as “upgrading” – making it more natural, tastier and better for you. He also told us how we can add other ingredients to our chocolates that not only taste good but are high in nutrients, minerals and vitamins,  making it a superfood. Ingredients like goji berries, nuts and seeds, coconut and algae. Maca root powder, honey and mesquite powder. He even recommended in one recipe that we try a little cayenne. It was actually really good!

As for the cost, the ingredients to make your chocolate is quite reasonable. The instructor said that in the time it takes for us to go and buy chocolate at the store, we can make it at home faster with fresh ingredients for about $1.50 to $2 per 50 g – which is comparable to what you would pay at the store.

Shaped ice cube trays work great as chocolate molds

I also love the fact that I can add all these “superfood” ingredients to my chocolates so that chocolate really is good for me and the kids. So when they ask if they can have some chocolate, I can say “yes” without feeling guilty or worrying if they are having too much.

It’s also so much fun to make (I’ve already made 3 dozen caramel cups and orange ginger snowmen for Christmas) and easy to do with the kids. You can get different kinds of molds to make different shapes for your chocolates. Experiment and have fun!

In one of my previous posts I described various natural sweeteners that you can use not only in your everyday cooking and baking but for your chocolates as well. Check out that post for more details.

In an upcoming post I will share more about what you can add to your chocolates and method.

For your information The Light Cellar sells ingredients to make chocolate in bulk and is very well priced. I buy all my ingredients there and usually come out of the store with a big box of items! I find it hard to get out of there with only one or two things.