Instead, consider the criteria that define the best of winter: festive, sultry, cordial and forgiving. What makes the ultimate winter drink? Well, that’s a matter of chemistry and is as personal as a craving and as fleeting as perfection itself. Some prefer dark, complex and brooding. Others favor the sweetly distracting and the opulent.
For those in search of a transcendental hot chocolate, look no further than LA Burdick’s peerless version (800-229-2419, $18/12 oz.), which can be ordered online or approximated in the privacy of your own kitchen. If you like it frothy, try chocolatier Pierre Hermé’s method of whipping it, while piping-hot, with an immersion blender just before serving. Instead of grinding the dark chocolate, I finely grate it.
1½ cups milk, 1 percent or skim
2 heaping teaspoons of cocoa powder
¼ cup ground dark chocolate (use high quality chocolate that has 60 percent or more cocoa content)
ground nutmeg or cinnamon to taste
Heat milk to just below boiling. Whisk in cocoa powder, ground chocolate and spices.
Equipment purists recommend a chocolate pot to anyone who plans to make hot chocolate regularly; it is a traditional cooking instrument also known as a chocolatière, and it usually comes with a frother or moussoir. Some traditionalists will also argue that hot chocolate should be made with water, as this makes for a more clear, highly intense chocolate experience, but only the most obsessive chocolatiers will adjust their choice of liquid to the structure of the drink itself.
There’s nobody more passionate about custom chocolate drinks than Santa Fe’s own Mark Sciscenti of Kakawa Chocolate House (1050 E. Paseo de Peralta, 982-0388). Unmoved by the lure of dairy and sugar, Sciscenti uses classical methods and a varying combination of water, oat, almond or rice milks, as well as the occasional use of dairy milk, in his offerings. For a less traditional take on hot cocoa, try the spicy Chocolate Chai, made with ginger, cardamom, black pepper and cloves ($3.50/3oz., $6.25/6oz.).
Though glühwein, eggnog and hot buttered rum have their charm, the barkeep-friendly winter cocktail arsenal is in need of a little updating. My first hot toddy was in a small pub near The Royal Opera House in London’s Covent Garden, where I sat lamenting a head cold and was presented with a steaming glass mug of honeyed brandy. Suspended in this elixir was a fat lemon slice stuck full of cloves like a pincushion, “That,” my English friend said, “is evidence of how civilized the English are. Everyone should know how to make little toddy porcupines.” I couldn’t agree more. Find classic and modern takes on the toddy at the Internet Cocktail Database. Other variations easily procured online include a cranberry hot toddy with tangerines and a cider and tequila toddy that is already my new favorite drink, though I have yet to actually taste it.
When you’ve got a surplus of cider (pear or apple), make a Bourbon Furnace: For one big drink, heat 8 oz. apple cider with a few whole cloves, a stick of cinnamon, then serve rounded off with 2 oz. of your favored bourbon. The gloriously wintry Stiletto (2 oz. bourbon, ½ oz. amaretto, ½ oz. fresh lime juice—shake with ice, strain, serve in a chilled cocktail glass) is another toasty treat, but a Manhattan is a wintry classic combining the dual threat of rye (preferably Rittenhouse bonded or Sazerac) and red vermouth in a sharp iconic staple that never fades. If you’d like maple with that staple, try an Applejack Rabbit (Laird’s Bonded Applejack, but use Calvados if you have it: 1 oz. applejack, 1 oz. maple syrup, ½ oz. fresh lemon juice and ½ oz. fresh orange juice, shaken and strained into a cocktail glass).
And that brings us to citrus fruit, which dominates the produce section in cheery plenitude. This recipe is the creation of Kimberly Belle (kimberlybelle.com) and is one of three original winter citrus cocktails she created; all recipes, including those for her Meyer Lemon Vespa and Pink Grapefruit Caipirinha, can be found on her site. Give this gorgeous Blood Orange Margarita, braced with a tonic splash of Campari, a whirl through winter wonderland. ’Tis the season!
Blood Orange Margarita
2 parts tequila
1 part Cointreau
½ part Campari
Juice of half a lime
Juice of half a blood orange
Simple syrup or sugar to taste
Twist of blood orange
Salt to rim glass
Wet the rim of the martini glass with lime. Dip into a plate of salt. Shake off excess salt and prepare the drink. Shake all the liquid ingredients together with ice and strain into a martini glass. Garnish with a twist of blood orange.