The holidays are the season of indulgence and celebration, a time for comfort foods and rich, flavorful delights before New Year’s resolutions send everyone back to the gym. The gingerbread houses and tree-shaped cookies are at-home staples, but dining out is a time to up the ante. When eating out, the goal is to get something unavailable at home, something so savory or delicate that a single serving is enough to tide you over…at least until the next time out.
The holidays may be a season of ginger, nutmeg, peppermint and cinnamon, but there’s a perfect partner for any of those ingredients: chocolate, the darling dessert for all seasons. From bar and grill, bakery, or bistro, chocolate is a masterful ingredient in all cuisines. Here are a few specialties to consider the next time your server asks if you’d like anything more.
Chocolate Vanilla Cream Donut
“Can you ever go wrong with chocolate and donuts?” asks owner Taha Rana. In this case, no. Under a dollar and always delicious, this raised chocolate donut is filled with vanilla butter cream and
topped with a second dose of chocolate. On the menu for over two years now, the donut is a top seller that mixes buttery cream and sweet chocolate, with a bit of something for everyone.
Candy Cane Mocha
Holiday flavoring added to hot chocolate with a caffeine boost! While the minty candy cane is undeniable, it adds a creamy, internally warming depth of body to the sugary drink. Poured in a house mug or takeout cup, it’s garnished with whipped cream and crushed candy cane to further emphasize the Christmas feel and color scheme, while the soothing hot beverage rekindles childhood Christmas memories.
(Chocolate vanilla cream donuts from Cafe Donuts and a candy cane mocha from Dunn Brothers.)
Banana Chocolate Chip Bread Pudding
A winter seasonal favorite, as well as one of co-owner Mike Dehn’s choices, this bread pudding mixes a fresh banana custard with dark chocolate pieces, all served warm and topped with white chocolate gelato. “There’s richness there, then the dark chocolate gives it that extra oomph,” Dehn says. You can’t get this gem just any time of the year, so make an excuse to veer off the beaten path and visit Dehn’s.
Chocolate Hazelnut Panini
Inspired by a Nutella calzone experienced in Rome, this Punch panini is a little bit salty, a little bit sweet—great for a group. It uses the same dough as Punch’s pizza, but is stuffed with organic chocolate hazelnut spread and sliced for service. With a dusting of powdered sugar and a hint of wood fire char, it’s chewy and yet melts in your mouth.
The Pittsburgh Blue Brownie
Brownies are magical in their simplest form, but Pittsburgh Blue’s bakery delivers a monster version, two layers tall, another layer of sweet caramel in the middle, and in a portion that will more than satisfy two diners (more likely, up to four). And then there are the toppings: a glaze of whipped cream and a side of ice cream with toasted hazelnuts. “It’s warm, rich and gooey,” says general manager Dani Mathey, “and truly decadent.”
Le Pave Framboise (Chocolate Raspberry Cake)
This sponge cake is inspired by a Sacher cake from owner Patrick Bernet’s hometown of Alsache, France and is one of the best sellers at The Shoppes at Arbor Lakes’ bakery. “Chocolate and raspberry are always a great combination,” says Patrick’s Traci Dutcher. A mix of raspberry and jam provides complex texture that’s smoothed with a fine chocolate ganache. Every bite is a French culinary delight that awakens the senses.
Salted Caramel Mocha Biscotti
Daily Dose is one of our very own local jewels that shines among a plethera of franchise cafes and they cater to local tastes by modifying the menu based on feedback from customers. With their salted caramel mocha drink being so popular, Daily Dose created a spinoff cookie, the dunkable biscotti. A little salt hits the tongue first, then the biscuit (sold individually or by the half-dozen) advances in a flavorful mix of chocolate chips, caramel and espresso that’s both sweet and salty, with roasted coffee tones. “Biscotti is very time consuming and labor intensive,” explains co-owner Ben Havn, and they make 2-3 flavors per day, with salted caramel mocha always among the choices. “But,” he warns, “it goes fast, so it’s best to come early.”
Death by Chocolate
The professionally trained pastry chefs create beautiful masterpieces of edible artwork every day. This 3-inch treat is rich, pure chocolate, with a lofty, distinct crunch that comes from the paillettes inside this single-serve dessert. With a base of chocolate, the flavor comes together with cream, coffee, brandy and butter. It’s also sold in an 8-inch form for parties or simply for the super indulgent.
Chocolate Mousse Cake
A modern take on the classic 3-layer cake, this chocolate cake comes with a warm Kahlua sauce that leaves impressions of coffee intermixed with sweet chocolate, yet lets the primary ingredients shine. Served with vanilla bean ice cream on the side for that mix of warm and cold.
Peppermint Chocolate Chip Bundt Cake
This holiday-season cake is chocolate with just enough peppermint to get everyone into the Christmas spirit. It’s a chocolate cake at its core, with chocolate chips and Andes mints added to the recipe and then topped with a cream cheese frosting. Although availability is limited to the holidays, it’s a popular annual treat that’s sold in all sizes from the cupcake-esque “Bundtini” to individual servings and 8- and 10-inch cakes.