In Colorado skiing is not just a sport, it’s life, and people approach it with a zeal akin to that of a religious institution. Here in the city, ski shops line the streets and you’d be hard pressed to find a car that doesn’t have a ski rack on the roof or a bumper sticker that says something like, “White powder is my drug of choice.” Starting around September, the meteorologists begin their daily weather forecasts with a report of the snow accumulations at the popular ski resorts, and everyone waits with baited breath for the first heavy mountain snow storm that will signal the opening of ski season. If the weather decides to procrastinate, you’ll see clouds of artificial snow billowing from snow cannons as you drive through the mountains. Not ideal, but an acceptable substitute. Locals discuss the coming season throughout the summer. Neighbours, barbecuing in shorts and flip-flops, will plan their ski trip itineraries as they chat over the fences, and bets are haphazardly placed on which resorts will open early. Parents commonly compare ski schools. “Where are you sending Connor and Eva this winter?” Someone will enquire while I wait to pick the kids up from regular school. Skis are thoroughly waxed with precision and skilled craftsmanship; season passes and lift tickets are purchased well in advance and the term “black diamond” is used not only when discussing which runs to choose, but also to refer to any difficult situation – from a frustrating homework assignment to navigating the traffic on a Friday afternoon when everyone is heading toward the mountains. And everyone, it seems, wears a puffy ski jacket everywhere , with a tattered lift ticket dangling from the zipper like a badge of honor. Everyone, that is, but me.
The opening scene of the movie Charade, with Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant, takes place at the beautiful Megève ski resort in France. Audrey’s character, dressed in the most glamorous 60s-era ski attire and quintessential dark sunglasses, sits at an outdoor table, overlooking the French Alps, eating a fantastic meal that I assume was concluded with a superb cup of chocolat chaud. This is what I love most about skiing – the allure and the sophistication surrounding the sport. The rustic mountain lodges. The quaint resort towns lined with chalet-style condos, inviting bistros and boutique shops. Snow covered roofs with icicles dangling from the eaves. At night the towns are lit like Christmas villages. Often a horse-drawn carriage will jingle up and down the snowy streets and the air is so cold that ice crystals hang suspended like diamonds frozen in both time and space. You have to admit it is all very romantic…
That is until you find yourself flat on your back, legs twisting in the most unnatural ways at the whim and mercy of your flailing skis while you barrel head-first down the mountain toward a tree. And this, I’m afraid, is how I most often find myself when I’m on skis. So, instead of hitting the slopes (quite literally!) with everyone else, I love to drop into a warm café, order a rich hot chocolate, and grab a table by the window where I can take it all in from behind my Audrey-style sunglasses without breaking a limb.
The best hot chocolate I’ve had outside of France was at a little café in Aspen called Jour de Fête. Their Parisian-style chocolat chaud was unpretentious, served in the authentic French way, without a garnish or whipped cream. The chocolate was perfectly bitter and smooth with a slightly toasty flavour that develops when the chocolate is heated to just below the burning point. This certainly didn’t come from a packet of Swiss Miss with dehydrated marshmallows like you’d get in some of the ski lodges. Hot chocolate is one of those things I love to order out. When made right, it’s so luxurious. I’ve come to think of it as the ultimate litmus test for judging a café. If they make a good hot chocolate then you know everything else will be superior.
I crave hot chocolate whenever there’s a little snow outside, perhaps in the same way others crave the white powder of the slopes, because, as it turns out, chocolate is my drug of choice. And I always associate it with skiing. I remember countless days spent in the ski lodge as a kid, icing a swollen knee or wrist and sipping a cup of hot cocoa by a roaring fire while my friends were out shredding the bunny slopes and daring each other on the blacks.
These days, when it comes to skiing I leave the powder to the professionals. I’d much rather stay warm and cozy in the kitchen and put together an adults-only hot cocoa bar. It’s my little, rebellious way of re-imagining one of my favourite childhood drinks. I start with a pot of decadent French- style hot chocolate which I make with a high-quality bittersweet chocolate. Valrhona is the gold standard, but if you can’t get it, a premium baking chocolate will work as well. It’s melted into whole milk with a splash of cream and vanilla and cooked until it’s thick, smooth and velvety. You could certainly serve it just like that, it’s perfect as is and really doesn’t need anything more, but I like to set out an array of liqueurs and grown-up garnishes like orange zest, nutmeg, French grey salt and cinnamon sticks and let everyone mix their own hot chocolate cocktail. Of course, there are candy canes and marshmallows, too, for the kids and kids-at-heart, because it just wouldn’t be right to leave them out, along with bowl of fluffy whipped cream. The cocktail options are endless: from Bourbon with brown sugar, marshmallows and sea salt; to Cointreau with whipped cream, orange zest and nutmeg; to Spiced rum with cinnamon and vanilla; and, of course, the classic hot cocoa with Crème de Menthe and a candy cane. An Après-ski hot chocolate with an adult twist! If you ask me, this is the best way to warm up after a day on the slopes, but since I don’t ski I’m probably not the best person to ask, so I’ll let you decide for yourself.
Find the recipes and how to pull it all together below – just in time for the holidays. And if you’re looking for even more holiday inspiration, I’ve recently discovered Havenly, an online interior design company. If you’re following along on Instagram then you know that we’ve been working on restoring and renovating the original features of our old home and I’ve spent hours scrolling through their project ideas for decorating inspiration.
Hot Chocolate (Chocolat Chaud)
This is the base recipe for classic French Chocolat Chaud. And while in France you’ll rarely find hot chocolate garnished with anything other than a little sugar on the side and occasionally some whipped cream, this makes the perfect base for one of the four cocktails below. This recipe makes 8 moderate (French-size) servings or 6 more generous servings depending on the size of your glasses. I don’t add any sugar to this recipe, as I love my hot chocolate on the bitter side. I do, however, let my kids place a sugar cube in the bottom of their mugs before filling them with the chocolate, as they like it a little sweeter.
8 1/4 oz. good quality bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
2 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
Finely chop the chocolate. In a medium sauce pan, combine the milk and cream. Place on medium-low heat and stir often to prevent burning. When the milk begins to steam, whisk in the chocolate. Whisk continuously until the milk comes to a boil, then continue whisking and cooking for a minute or two longer. Stir in the vanilla and serve following one of the recipes below.
Whipped cream with vanilla
I always make my whipped cream with a little powdered sugar. It dissolves more easily than granular sugar and the corn starch helps stabilize the cream once it’s whipped.
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
2 TBSP powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
a pinch of salt
Place the cream, sugar, vanilla and salt in a chilled bowl. Whisk either by hand or with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Place in a serving bowl and refrigerate until ready to use.
Hot Chocolate with Crème de Menthe
Place 2 ounces clear Crème de Menthe in the bottom of a mug. Pour in the hot chocolate and top with whipped cream and a few chopped chocolate mints. Garnish with a peppermint candy cane.
Bourbon and Brown Sugar Hot Cocoa
Place 1 teaspoon of brown sugar and 2 ounces of Kentucky Straight Bourbon in the bottom of a mug. Pour in the hot chocolate and stir to combine. Top with marshmallows and a pinch of sea salt.
Hot Cocoa with Rum
Place 1 – 2 ounces black spiced rum in the bottom of a mug. Top with hot chocolate and a dash of vanilla. Garnish with a long cinnamon stick to stir.
Cointreau Hot Chocolate
Place 1 ounce of Cointreau in the bottom of a mug. Add the hot chocolate and top with whipped cream. Garnish with fresh orange zest and a dusting of freshly grated nutmeg.
Hot Cocoa Bar How-To
To set up the bar using the recipes above place the following toppings in individual bowls with serving spoons and set out the various liqueurs, well labeled. If you are having a large crowd, print out each recipe as a suggestion and place it in front of the bottle of alcohol. The sauce pan of hot chocolate can be kept warm on the stove on the lowest heat, or can be set on an electric hot plate near the bar. Be sure it is on the lowest heat possible because chocolate burns very easily. Alternately, you can transfer the hot chocolate to a slow cooker set to warm.
- Nutmeg with a grater
- Cinnamon sticks
- French grey salt
- Dark brown sugar
- Candy canes
- Chocolate Mint candies, chopped (Andes Crème de Menthe candies, or similar)
- Mini marshmallows
- Oranges with a zester
- Whipped cream
- Black Spiced Rum
- Kentucky Bourbon
- Clear Crème de Menthe