Nearly six years ago, Kathleen Harris traded the misty shores and mountain peaks of Vancouver for the wind-swept urban plains of Toronto.
Lured to central Canada by an active film and television industry and kept here by love and opportunity, she’s doing her best to live life with a big heart and a small footprint.
She’s currently preparing for the launch of her creative small business,
Smiling Stranger Productions, in January 2012.
Le Toronto Tour de Hot Chocolate #1
Hello all you beautiful readers of Harvest Kitchen Sisters!
I’m just tickled pink to be guest posting here today, thank you so much to Amelia and Laura for having me.
As a transplanted west coaster, I like to think I’ve handled Ontario’s frigid winters fairly well. One thing that has definitely helped me cope with these dark, cold months is a good cup of hot chocolate. Some days, it’s the only thing worth venturing out of the house for.
(Why I’ve decided to french-ify this hot chocolate tour is anyone’s guess. It’s likely just the Bon Vivant in me).
1st Stop: Bobbette & Belle, 1121 Queen St. East, Toronto
I should start this one with a disclaimer: The Hot Chocolate at Bobbette & Belle is highly addictive. Once you have one, you will dream about it for all times, it will become your standard for hot chocolate excellence and it’s possible all others will fail to meet the bar this cup o’ chocolate is about to set. You’ve been warned. Proceed with caution, or with reckless abandon.
Bobbette & Belle is a beautiful artisanal pastry shop in the Leslieville neighbourhood. While their focus and claim to fame is their breathtakingly beautiful wedding cakes, cupcakes and french macaroons, I was lured into their elegant strorefront last winter by a laminated sign on the door – HOT CHOCOLATE.
Powdered chocolate mixed with hot water this was not. Oh my, not at all. It’s more like drinking liquid chocolate pudding that’s freshly homemade. Rich, deep chocolate flavour coats your tongue, makes your tastebuds sing. It’s served at a perfect drinking temperature so there’s no burning the tip of your tongue with that first sip which is great, because waiting for this magic to cool down would be torture.
That’s not a hyperbole.
They serve one size of hot chocolate, a cup of this heaven is $4.80 with tax. Yes, that’s a little steep, especially if you’re hot chocolating as a family, but did I mention there were marshmallows and a blowtorch involved?
Not even kidding. Bobbette & Belle make their own marshmallows in store and top off every H.C. with two freshly roasted ‘mellows. I didn’t get a picture but after the liquid has been poured, out comes a pan and a blow torch, flaming the marshmallow tops to a perfect brown, bubbly and crispy on the outside, warm and gooey on the inside.
They float on top, the finishing touches on a cup of deliciousness that tastes like quality and love.
The spacious storefront has an airy French countryside quality to it, with high ceilings and gleaming hardwood flooring. There’s plenty of room for stroller parking inside and a neat spread of culinary and fashion magazines invite you to stay awhile, to sit by the large windows and dream, or watch the world outside hurry by.
The staff at Bobbette & Belle are friendly and talkative, and hugely passionate about what they create and sell. Over the holidays, they’re open everyday but I do recall an unfortunate Monday incident last winter wherein I ventured out into the bitter cold for a cup only to be foiled by a very locked door, so double check their hours in the new year if you’re planning on heading out on a Monday.
2nd Stop: Nathan Phillips Square, Queen & Bay
Ice skating has never been my winter sport of choice but I do love its beautiful simplicity. Frozen water + Blades = Winter merriment.
The ice shone with light.... Something joyous. A gift. There were about ten men skating, part of a game. One chased the others and as soon as someone was touched he became the chaser. Each man held in one hand a sheaf of cattails and the tops of these were on fire. This is what lit the ice and had blinked through the trees.
“In the Skin of a Lion”
In downtown Toronto, there’s a handful of very popular public skating rinks that operate throughout the winter months. Harbourfront Toronto has a beautiful rink on the lake’s edge and Nathan Phillips Square turns into urban ice skaing central with its rink.
You can bring your own skates if you’ve got them or there’s rentals available. I wandered over to Queen St. W and Bay St. to see what hot chocolate options exist for a post-skating treat.
There’s a newly renovated concession stand in the square and here you can get a classic cup of snack shop hot chocolate for $2.25. This cup of H.C. hearkens back to every hot drink ever consumed at a skating rink. Piping hot (burn your tongue temperature) and outrageously sweet, it manages to be exactly what you were in the mood for post skating.
A little warm up and a little comfort, steam rising from the rim and clashing with the cool winter air. Sit along the edge of the rink, warming your hands while lights twinkle overhead on the ‘freedom arches’ and blades scratch at the surface of the ice.
If you’re more in the mood to head indoors after a good skate, you can head over to Bannock, a new restaurant in the Hudson’s Bay building that’s kiddie corner to the square.
They have a take away counter and while it’s not listed on the menu for whatever strange reason, they do sell hot chocolate. For $3.75, I got a regular sized “Holiday Hot Chocolate,” which jazzed up the drink with some peppermint syrup and sprinkles.
Seating inside felt limited, but that’s likely because seats were generally grouped together in 4s and taking a whole table just for myself felt rude (paaaaaainfully Canadian of me, I know). I got over it and grabbed a stool by the window to take in the decor and ambiance: earthy and comfortable.
My minty H.C. was a good drinking temperature, I was able to start sipping the sweet chocolate right away. While it’s peppermint punch was delicious and refreshing at first, it got a little too sweet about midway through so if I were to get it again, I’d ask for just a half-pump of syrup, or forego the peppermint altogether. It was still pretty delish, though.
I hope this post has whet your appetite for a hot chocolate break and that you take the time to venture out and treat yourself to something new and delicious, especially as the busyness of the holiday season spins ever faster.
Thanks for reading, and we’ll see you again the new year for more Chocolat Chaud adventures!
**********************************************************************************As mentioned, Kathleen will be returning to the HKS in the new year to share more of her hot chocolatey adventures. If you just can't wait until January, you can see more of Kathleen and her amazing work over on her vimeo page.