Hot chocolate, cool flavors

Customization and unique add-ins liven up this cold-weather favorite.

hot chocolate uconn

Powdered mix with freeze-dried marshmallow bits? Think again. Whether for special events or as an everyday indulgence, operators are finding new, unexpected ways to make hot chocolate feel fresh.

October typically marks the start of the season for hot chocolate socials at Friendship Villas at La Cholla Assisted Living, in Tucson, Ariz. As a nod to the Southwest, Culinary Services Director Patti McNeill likes to use Mexican cocoa in her housemade brew. But what really makes it special is the creaminess, which McNeill gets from making a base that’s mostly half-and-half (with the addition of some water and milk). Caramel sauce lends another distinguishing touch, which McNeill drizzles into the bottom of the mugs.

Hot chocolate also helps draw a crowd for public holiday gatherings like tree lighting ceremonies and caroling parties, which double as fundraisers at Carilion Clinic, in western Virginia. There, Executive Chef Darla Mehrkens makes her recipe extra rich and flavorful with brown sugar, cinnamon sticks and chocolate ganache. The beverage is served along with fresh cookies and an array of toppings like housemade dark cherry syrup, white chocolate-dipped marshmallows on candy cane sticks, cardamom- and vanilla-infused whipped cream, pure maple syrup and Thai pepper-infused honey. “During Christmas we do an Almond Joy hot chocolate with amaretto syrup and coconut whipped cream,” Mehrkens adds.

Not everyone sees hot chocolate as something that’s limited to special occasions. At the University of Connecticut, in Storrs, the sweet drink is always on the menu at La Petit Marche café. “We use our cappuccino machine. We put chocolate syrup at the bottom of the cup, add milk and then froth it together. It’s just as fast as making a latte,” says Manager of Culinary Development Rob Landolphi.

And for students hungry for something different, plain chocolate is just the beginning. La Petite Marche offers unique flavor combinations like Caramel Chocolate Decadence (caramel, marshmallows and graham crackers) and Black Forest (raspberry syrup, whipped cream and a raspberry jam drizzle). One student even took inspiration from the toppings available at the café’s yogurt bar. “We had banana and candied bacon available as a yogurt topping, and someone asked if we could do it as a hot chocolate,” Landolphi says. 

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The panel of students, who attend Warren East High School in Bowling Green, Ky., said that they would enjoy menu items such as smoothies made with natural ingredients, and a salad bar. Students also said they would like the option to dine in places other than the cafeteria, such as the library or outside.

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