It’s the first week of Winterlude and the world’s largest skateway on the Rideau Canal has already closed because the ice has melted into a big wet puddle. The first three days of this annual winter festival were a big success, a carnival atmosphere in fact, with ice carvings and snow sculptures, pancake breakfasts, concerts, beaver tails and poutine. And of course, until the weather turned warm, skating.
Before we go any further, and just to put everything into context, here’s a refresher on the Rideau Canal and its famous skateway (thank you Wikipedia): The canal itself, built in 1832, is 202 kilometres in length, and connects the City of Ottawa to Kingston, on Lake Ontario. The oldest continually operated canal system in North America, it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007. The skateway through Ottawa first opened in 1971. Today it is 7.8 kilometres long, stretching from the former train station in the downtown all the way out to Carleton University. At 8.54 kilometres, Winnipeg has the world’s longest skating rink on its Assiniboine and Red Rivers, but because it has a width of only 2-3 meters, the much wider Rideau Canal was re-branded the world’s largest skating rink.
Winter weather in Ottawa is notorious for its wild vacillations, see-sawing from bitter cold to spring-like thaws, to freezing rain, to massive snowstorms, all in the space of a few days. It keeps you on your toes. So while it’s disappointing that Winterlude activities must take place off the ice for who knows how long, we resilient residents of the city take it in stride. And we can always make hot chocolate.
Forget the watery, overly-sweet hot chocolate sold at those little cabins on the ice, the kind that comes from a packet mix (Carnation, we’re talking about you), and head for the kitchen to make a pot of this rich and creamy hot chocolate from Buvette, by Jody Williams, owner of a restaurant by the same name in New York City. It has no added sugar – it doesn’t need it! – and it will warm you up after your imaginary skate on the canal.
- ½ cup heavy cream
- 4 cups whole milk
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- ¾ pound (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped
- Pinch coarse salt
- Pour the cream into a large mixing bowl and whisk until it forms soft peaks. Alternatively, you can do this with an electric mixer, but be careful not to over whip the cream. Set the whipped cream aside.
- In a small bowl, whisk ¼ cup of the cold milk with the cornstarch and set the mixture aside.
- Place the remaining 3¾ cups milk in a large saucepan over low heat and warm until bubbles just begin to appear around the edge. Do not let the milk boil!
- Add the chocolate and the salt to the warm milk and whisk until the chocolate has completely melted and the mixture is smooth. Whisk in the reserved cornstarch mixture; this will give the chocolate a velvety texture.
- Pour the hot chocolate into mugs and top each serving with a quarter of the whipped cream.
- Serves: 4-5