The Grand America Hotel has created a special cold weather Haute Chocolat program that showcases its proprietary brews of hot chocolat, made with some of the world's most exclusive chocolates. Headlining the innovative new menu will be the $500 Grand America Chocolat tasting, a series of three hot chocolats served in rare Rosenthal porcelain demitasse cups decorated with original designs by world-renowned artist Piero Fornasetti that the guest may keep. Guests also may sample three different varieties of hot chocolat in a special flight tasting in standard demitasse cups. The proprietary chocolate brews, which may be served with tea accompaniments, were created by executive pastry chef Kurtis Baguley.
"Chocolat is created by combining liquid cocoa and hot cream and is considered a delicacy in South America and Europe, although it has been upstaged in the United States by the more prosaic hot chocolate," said Chef Baguley. "The American palette has become increasingly sophisticated and discriminating, as is evidenced by the growing popularity of fine wines, coffees and olive oils. Chocolat is similar in that it comes in many different varieties, with some of the finest blends originating in countries around the world."
In addition to the special $500 Grand America Chocolat, the hotel will serve a tasting of three three-ounce flights of chocolat made from rare chocolates in three different countries in the upscale lobby lounge for $6.50 per individual serving. The three tastings include Valrhona, El Rey and Scharffen Berger chocolates, each of which features its own distinct flavors and textures. Wait staff has been instructed in the history of the beverage and proper pouring methods by the hotel's pastry chef.
Produced in the wine-growing region of France's Rhone Valley, Valrhona largely is considered the most refined and delectable chocolate on the market today. El Rey is produced by a Venezuelan family-owned and -operated chocolate company using only premium grade, locally grown cocoa beans. Scharffen Berger is produced in Berkley, Calif., and known for fruity and smooth characteristics.
"We wanted to create an occasion with a feeling similar to the afternoon tea we serve daily from 2 to 5 p.m., but a little less self-conscious, where atmosphere and comfort are key elements and people can feel pampered while chasing away the chill of winter," Baguley noted. "What better way to do that than to start with one of the world's great comfort foods, chocolate. The intricate interplay of tastes and mingling of flavors create a rainbow upon the palette that far surpasses anything Grandma might have created using a mix from a tin."
The Mayan Indians of Mexico began using a form of chocolate as early as 600 AD. Cocoa beans were thought to have mystical properties and were used regularly in rituals and healings by priests. One of the most important gods of the Maya, who were the first to use the plant in a drink mixture, was Ykchaua, who served as patron of cocoa merchants.
The Aztecs later improved upon the beverage, adding vanilla and honey. They called their drink, "xocoati," meaning, "bitter water." It became so highly regarded within the community that it was used as a form of currency.
Although Christopher Columbus returned to Europe with the first cocoa beans, it originally was overlooked in favor of other trade goods. It wasn't until Emperor Montezuma met the explorer Cortez and his army with a foaming, hot mug of the drink that Europeans got their first real introduction to chocolat. By the 1700s, so-called "Chocolate Houses" were all the rage.
Grand America hotel Haute Chocolat Recipe from prepared Pastry Chef Kurtis Baguley:
Chocolat is a rich and satisfying indulgence made only from the best of chocolates from around the world. Chocolat is for the purist who enjoys the essence and character of fine quality chocolate.
- 3 and 1/2 ounces Bittersweet Chocolate (of fine quality)
- 3 and 1/2 ounces Semi-sweet Chocolate (of fine quality)
- 2 cups Half and Half
- 1 cup Water
- 2 and 1/2 tablespoons Unsweetened Cocoa powder
- 1/2 ea Vanilla bean (optional)
- Finely chop the chocolate and set aside
- Combine the half and half, cocoa, water and vanilla bean (if used), and bring to a boil.
- When mixture just comes to the boiling point, turn the flame down to a simmer and add the chopped chocolate. Stir until the chocolate is melted.
- Strain the mixture through a fine mesh strainer and allow cooling.
- When ready to serve, simply heat until warm. Not to boiling