Hot chocolate hot spots

February 19, 2008 11:15:47 AM PST
If you weren't able to get a Valentine's Day reservation this week, don't worry.Chocolate is a year-round endeavor for several pastry chefs. Three chefs are taking some traditional favorites in new directions.

There's just too much pressure this week - flowers, dinner, a card. What ever happened to those simple pleasures like hot chocolate, pudding or just a slice of cake?

The good news is all of them are available well past Valentine's Day. But they're getting some creative updating from a trio of very talented pastry chefs.

Like many pastry chefs, Malika Ameen loves to work with chocolate. At Aigre Doux - across the street from the Merchandise Mart in River North - she's currently offering a unique take on pudding.

"I love chocolate desserts to be really creamy, and have a long finish on the tongue," said Malika Ameen, Aigre Doux.

Inspired by memories of childhood treats, her custard is infused with malted milk powder. Baked and then chilled, the custard is topped with fresh whipped cream and dusted with cocoa.

A homemade hazelnut "Kit Kat" bar provides a contrast in texture and crunch.

"I think chocolate sets the mood for a lot of things, and it makes people very happy."

In Wicker Park, Jeremy Brutzkus adds homemade hazelnut paste and vanilla extract to some white and dark chocolate. A little sugar and some milk round out the exquisite hot chocolate recipe at Coco Rouge, which is both chocolate shop and dessert lounge. He says hot chocolate should contain certain characteristics.

"Intense, rich, not cloying, not too sweet; delicate, complex, just like a really nice piece of chocolate that you'd let melt in your mouth," said Jeremy Brutzkus, Coco Rouge.

Pistachio is another one of his eight flavors. all of which are blended until frothy, just before serving.

In Bucktown, the hot chocolate is great at HotChocolate, but here, owner Mindy Segal has turned the idea of a chocolate cake upside down. Her "Black Forest Cake & Shake" begins with a dark chocolate cake containing local cherries she froze back in the summer; a wedge of chocolate "bark" joins some tiny merengue "mushrooms".. in a small glass, she pours a vanilla shake over a little Casteel Rouge - a fruity Belgian beer.

"We're trying to create a deep, rich dark chocolate, that's slightly dense, with cool whipped cream, which is the whipped white chocolate ganache - it's just slightly richer - and then we've got the tart cherries, that are preserved; and it's such a lovely combination with the vanilla beans and then the Casteel Rouge, it's really great," said Mindy Segal, HotChocolate.

Again, all of these chocolate treats will be available for the next few weeks. So if you didn't make plans this weekend, you're still in luck.

Malted Milk Custard:
Aigre Doux
230 W. Kinzie St.

Hot Chocolates:
Coco Rouge
1940 W. Division St.

Black Forest Cake:
Hot Chocolate
1747 N. Damen Ave.