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Cooking School: Cocoa Bliss

A sweet stop at Hot Chocolate, chef Mindy Segal’s redesigned Chicago restaurant 

Written and produced by Stephen Exel
  • Anthony Tahlier

    Chicago gets blustery in the winter, but that doesn’t stop its resilient natives from braving chilly temperatures to enjoy everything the city’s neighborhoods have to offer. Apropos of the season, that includes a stop at Hot Chocolate, chef Mindy Segal’s recently redesigned restaurant in Bucktown (just west of Lincoln Park). There you can experience the award-winning chef’s dessert “Study”—an exploration of one stellar ingredient turned into four mini-desserts.

    “I wanted to give my guests one over-the-top dessert,” Segal says. “It’s all about a single ingredient intended to be savored as a collection of individual presentations.”

    For Traditional Home readers, Chef Segal created an exclusive Study based on her restaurant’s name—four recipes using a rich homemade hot chocolate mix (her Master Blend). The indulgent mixture becomes the base for a warming fireside drink, a sandwich cookie sparkling with peppermint candy, a marshmallow-topped chocolate cake, and a chocolate ice cream pop laced with ale.

    “I wanted to explore the craft and technique of using the Master Blend,” Segal says.

    Segal polished her skills with Chicago culinary luminaries Judy Contino, Gordon Sinclair, and Charlie Trotter. Working with chef Michael Kornick at his show-stopping MK restaurant is where she gained her own renown. After opening her restaurant in 2005, a string of five James Beard Foundation nominations followed. This year, she was named Outstanding Pastry Chef.

    Then came the epiphany. “I contemplated moving to a larger space. Then I realized we were focusing more on the artistry of   cooking and I wanted to get back to the craft. The best thing to do was to make this space better,” she explains.

    The interior was lightened and the space made airier with skylights and glass doors across the front. The dining room is now warm, cozy, and engaging. Revamping the space included revising the menu. Segal reversed traditional thinking, adding dishes to her savory menu that would best lead to a sweet finale. Consequently, guests are greeted at the door with shelves of fresh-baked cookies, brownies, kolachkes, and rugelach begging to be taken home.

    Segal’s Hot Chocolate Study starts with a food processor and a master plan. Milk and bittersweet chocolates are blended together to create the basic hot chocolate mix. Parcel out the mix for a hot chocolate drink and ganache—the foundations for the cakes, cookies, and ice cream pops.

    If you’re a chocoholic, you’ll want them all—no sharing allowed, Segal says—but each component stands on its own and can be prepared individually. Pack up a batch of Candy Cane Cookies or Master Blend Chocolate Mix to give as a hostess gift. Serve the cakes at a holiday gathering. 

    The recipes are simple to prepare. Segal is true to her word about the emphasis on proper technique, such as making sure ingredients are at the correct temperature. The quality of the chocolate, however, raises the bar for the seductive end results.

    One thing is definite. A mug of Segal’s luxurious blend will enhance a solitary moment when winds are howling; a demitasse portion will provide an elegant fini to a holiday party. That’s chocolate heaven.

    Photography: Anthony Tahlier

  • Anthony Tahlier

    Chef Mindy Segal really means it when she says, “Save room for dessert.”

    Hot Chocolate
    1747 N. Damen Avenue
    Chicago (in the Bucktown neighborhood)

    The restaurant is open daily (except Monday) and hours are extended to midnight Friday and Saturday to satisfy late-night chocolate cravings. For reservations and hours, call 773/489-1747.

  • Anthony Tahlier

    The dining room at Hot Chocolate.

  • Anthony Tahlier

    Hot Chocolate Master Blend

    Use the Master Blend to create all the Study recipes, as a group or individually. Choose a high quality chocolate such as Valrhona or Callebaut.

    • 2-1/2 pounds high-quality milk chocolate finely chopped (7-1/4 cups)
    • 12 ounces high-quality bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (64 to 65% cacao) (2-1/4 cups)
    • Pinch kosher salt

    In two 15x10x1-inch baking sheets combine all ingredients; freeze for about one hour. In large food processor process half the mixture to fine, even granules. Transfer to large bowl. Repeat with remaining mixture. (Do not process too long, or chocolate may melt if processor becomes warm.) Makes about 9 cups.

    The Master Blend can be divided for the Study:
    • Reserve 3 cups Master Blend for packaging as a gift.
    • Reserve 3 cups Master Blend for Classic Hot Chocolate.
    • Reserve 2 cups Master Blend for Chocolate Sauce/Ganache. (Chocolate Sauce/Ganache will be divided for preparing Christmas Ale Pops, Hot Chocolate Marshmallow Cakes, and Candy Cane Cookies.)
    • You will have extra for your own enjoyment.

    Chocolate Sauce/Ganache
    • 2 cups Hot Chocolate Master Blend
    • 3/4 cup whipping cream
    • Pinch kosher salt
    • 1 teaspoon light-color corn syrup

    Place Master Blend in small bowl. In small saucepan, bring cream just to boil; pour over blend. Let sit 5 minutes. Add salt and corn syrup; mix until smooth. Reserve 3/4 cup for Candy Cane Cookies, 1/2 cup for Christmas Ale Pops, and 1/4 cup for Hot Chocolate Marshmallow Cakes. Store mixture, covered, in refrigerator. Makes 2 cups.

    Tip: To reheat, place 1 cup chocolate sauce/ganache in small microwave-safe bowl. Microwave, uncovered, on 50% power (medium) 2 minutes, stirring once.

    Classic Hot Chocolate with Frothed Egg Nog Milk
    If you’re planning on just making Classic Hot Chocolate,* prepare and chill the Frothed Egg Nog Milk ahead of time. Serve demitasse portions for the Study or after dinner.

    • 2 cups whole milk
    • 2 cups whipping cream
    • 3 cups Hot Chocolate Master Blend
    • 1 whole nutmeg
    • 2 (3-inch) cinnamon sticks, broken into small pieces
    • 1 cup whole milk
    • 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
    • 1 whole vanilla bean, split lengthwise

    In large saucepan, combine 2 cups whole milk and 2 cups whipping cream. Bring just to boil over medium-high heat, stirring often. Remove saucepan from heat. Add Master Blend to hot milk mixture; let stand 5 minutes. (Do not stir.)

    After 5 minutes, whisk hot chocolate until smooth. If preparing the Study, reserve half the hot chocolate (2-1/2 cups) for the Christmas Ale Pops. Reserve 1 cup for Hot Chocolate Marshmallow Cakes. Place hot chocolate for both in airtight containers and chill until ready to use. Place remaining 1-1/2 cups hot chocolate in another airtight container and chill until ready to use.*

    Before serving, use a meat mallet or hammer to break open whole nutmeg. Add nutmeg pieces and cinnamon stick pieces to small skillet. Heat over medium heat about 3 minutes or until just toasted, stirring frequently. (Do not burn.) In small saucepan combine 1 cup milk and sugar with toasted nutmeg and cinnamon pieces. Bring just to boil over medium heat. (Watch carefully as milk mixture will foam up quickly.) Remove saucepan from heat. Scrape vanilla beans from pod; add to milk mixture. Cover; chill 1 hour. Strain spices out of milk mixture.

    To serve eight 1-1/2 ounce portions, pour reserved 1-1/2 cups hot chocolate mixture into small saucepan. Heat over medium heat until heated through (160°F), stirring occasionally. Heat chilled Egg Nog Milk mixture in another small saucepan over medium heat until steaming.

    Using handheld milk frother, immersion blender, or wire whisk, blend or whisk milk mixture vigorously until frothy. Pour hot chocolate into eight 2-ounce espresso cups. Top with frothed milk mixture. Add additional frothed milk as desired. Makes 8 (1-1/2-ounce) servings.

    Tip: If desired, reserve all the hot chocolate mixture (5 cups) to heat and serve in large mugs.


  • Anthony Tahlier

    One Perfect Cup Classic Hot Chocolate

    In small saucepan bring 1/3 cup milk and 1/3 cup whipping cream just to boil over medium-high heat. Remove saucepan from heat. Add 1/2 cup Master Blend to hot milk mixture; let stand for 5 minutes. (Do not stir.) Whisk until smooth. Pour into cup; add marshmallow.


  • Anthony Tahlier

    Candy Cane Cookies

    Use candy canes or hard peppermint candies to make the cookie dough. The slight hint of sea salt in the dough balances its sweetness. It’s very important to chill the crushed candies in the freezer for about an hour before preparing the dough for these cookies. Otherwise, the candy may melt during baking.

    Cookie dough:
    • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
    • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
    • 1 teaspoon sea salt
    • 1 egg
    • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
    • 1-1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
    • 1/4 cup crushed peppermint candy canes or peppermint candies, chilled
    • 3/4 cup Chocolate Sauce/Ganache, cooled to room temperature
    • Crushed peppermint candy canes or peppermint candies

    In medium mixing bowl beat butter with an electric mixer 30 seconds. Add sugar and salt. Beat until combined, scraping sides of bowl. Beat in egg and vanilla until combined. Beat in flour. Stir in crushed candy. Cover and chill dough 1 hour or until easy to handle.

    Preheat oven to 325°F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper; set
    aside. On floured surface, roll dough to 1/4-inch thickness. Using tines of fork, prick dough over entire surface.  

    Using 1-1/2 inch cookie cutter, cut into desired shapes. Place one inch apart on prepared baking sheets.

    Bake 10 minutes or until edges are firm and bottoms are very lightly browned. Transfer cookies to wire racks and let cool. Spread bottom of half the cookies with scant 1/2 teaspoon sauce/ganache. Place another cookie, top side up, on filling. Cover; chill until firm.

    In small saucepan, heat remaining sauce until melted and smooth. Dip cookie sandwiches partially into melted chocolate; let excess drip back into bowl. Sprinkle dipped chocolate with additional crushed peppermint candy canes. Place cookies on waxed paper. Chill until ready to serve. Cover and store cookies up to 3 days in refrigerator or freeze up to 1 month. Makes about 25 sandwich cookies.


  • Anthony Tahlier

    Christmas Ale Pops

    Chocolate and ale combine sweet and hoppy flavors in these frozen ice cream pops. Freezing is key to this recipe: the ice cream mixture needs to be frozen before molding the pops; the molded pops need to be frozen overnight; and the dipped pops must be returned to the freezer until ready to serve.

    • 1/2 reserved chilled Classic Hot Chocolate (2-1/2 cups)
    • 1/2 of 12-ounce bottle Christmas ale such as Winter Welcome by Samuel Smith (3/4 cup)
    • 1 tablespoon dark corn syrup
    • 8 (1-ounce) plastic shot glasses or cups
    • 8 lollipop sticks
    • 1/2 cup Chocolate Sauce/Ganache, cooled to room temperature

    Combine Classic Hot Chocolate, the half bottle of beer, and corn syrup. Freeze in 1-quart ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer ice cream to storage container. Freeze 1 hour or until mixture is thicker, but not firm.

    To prepare the Study, spoon about 2 tablespoons frozen hot chocolate mixture into each plastic cup, packing so there are no air gaps. Place lollipop stick halfway into middle of chocolate mixture. Freeze overnight or until firm. Store remaining chocolate mixture (about 2-1/3 cups) in freezer to make additional frozen pops, or serve as desired at another time.*

    Once set, release pop from plastic cup by running tip of knife around perimeter of cup. Quickly dip pop into shallow bowl of hot water; remove and place on parchment paper-lined baking sheet or tray and immediately return to freezer.

    Working with one frozen pop at a time, dip in Chocolate Sauce/Ganache and spread to evenly coat. Immediately place back on prepared pan; place in freezer until ready to serve. Serve pops directly from freezer. Makes 8 pops plus 2-1/3 cups chocolate mixture.

    *To serve a crowd, prepare all the ice cream mixture as directed, using additional cups, sticks and about 1-1/2 cups Chocolate Sauce/Ganache. Makes about 30 pops.


  • Anthony Tahlier

    Hot Chocolate Marshmallow Cake

    • 1 cup Classic Hot Chocolate, cooled
    • 1 cup strong-brewed coffee, cooled
    • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
    • 1/2 cup Cacao Barry Extra Brute Cocoa Powder (100% cacao)* or unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
    • 1 tablespoon baking soda
    • 1/4 teaspoon salt
    • 1-1/2 cups sugar
    • 3/4 cup canola oil
    • 1 egg
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla
    • 8 (1-ounce) good quality marshmallows
    • 1/4 cup Chocolate Sauce/Ganache

    Preheat oven 350°F. In 2-cup measuring cup combine hot chocolate and coffee; set aside. In medium bowl whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

    In large bowl beat sugar and canola oil with electric mixer on medium speed until combined. Add egg and vanilla; beat until just combined. On low speed, alternately add flour mixture and liquids, ending with flour and beating until mixture is smooth.

    Grease 30 (4 ounce) petite popover pans or 2-1/2-inch muffin cups; dust with cocoa to coat. Spoon about 2 tablespoons batter into prepared cups until 2/3 full for popover pans or half full for muffin pan/cups.**

    Bake in preheated oven about 12 to 14 minutes or until cake springs back when touched. Let cool in pans 5 minutes. Remove from muffin cups and cool completely on wire rack.

    To serve for Study, place 8 cakes on baking sheet. Top each cake with one marshmallow. Broil 4 to 5 inches away from heat source for 1 to 2 minutes or until marshmallows are toasted. To serve, place spoonful of Chocolate Sauce/Ganache on each serving plate. Top with cake. Cover and store remaining cakes in freezer for later use.***

    *Find Extra Brute Cocao Powder here.

    Tip: **For larger cupcake, line muffin cups with paper bake cups. Spoon 1/4 cup batter into each cup. Bake 15 to 18 minutes or until toothpick inserted near center comes out clean.

    ***To prepare cakes for a crowd, bake as directed. Increase to 30