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Last Chance Foods: City Bakery's Hot Chocolate Festival

Thursday, February 25, 2010

More than 30 inches of snow has already hit New York this season, putting the city more than a foot above average—and that's not counting the winter storm currently underway. The slushy weather hasn’t stopped many New Yorkers from making their way to The City Bakery for its annual hot chocolate festival, though. City Bakery owner Maury Rubin created a different flavor for each day of February, including bourbon, ginger, hi-ho pistachio, and beer-and-brown sugar hot chocolate.

The festival is quickly coming to a close, though, and this weekend marks the last two days. Banana peel is Saturday’s flavor, and Sunday will be a surprise for the festival finale. Creamy stout hot chocolate was the featured variety on the day WNYC’s Amy Eddings spoke with Rubin for Last Chance Foods.

One of Rubin’s favorite flavors is vanilla bean, which he describes as the “cool cat” of hot chocolates. “It's like Cary Grant in To Catch a Thief: It's soft, it's suave, it's killer,” said Rubin. “It's an incredible amount of flavor, but it sneaks up on you.”

Rubin admits that the inspiration for the hot chocolate festival was born from a sense of marketing savvy. A two-time Emmy-winning former television producer and director, he originally conceived of the idea as a means to ramp up business in the otherwise slow month of February. Now, 18 years later, the festival is a highlight for chocolate lovers in the city. The baker admits that the turnout for the yearly event far exceeded his original expectations and has made February one of the bakery’s busiest months.

Rubin, who grew up eating Concord grape Pop Tarts in the suburbs of Baltimore, chose to focus on hot chocolate because it is “earnest as hell” and a quintessential American comfort food. An extra perk: The City Bakery makes fluffy, large marshmallows to top off the hot chocolate.

“Human beings can make marshmallows,” Rubin confirms with a chuckle. “The marshmallows have always been a great revelation for people when they walk into City Bakery.”

This year the bakery is celebrating its 20th anniversary, and over the last two decades, Rubin has seen the neighborhood around Union Square become a thriving retail center, thanks in part to the revival of the farmer’s market. As for the baker himself, the years have taken some tolls, as well. “I gave up a gallbladder to hot chocolate and pretzel croissants,” Rubin admits. “In the scheme of things, that feels okay.”

Joy Y. Wang
Hot chocolate turns to fudge on the sides of tureens at The City Bakery
Joy Y. Wang
Homemade marshmallows accompany the hot chocolate
Joy Y. Wang
A colorful assortment of hot chocolate vessels
Joy Y. Wang
Small pillars of cookies ready for consumption
Joy Y. Wang
Muffins in trasit across the main floor of The City Bakery
Joy Y. Wang
Tureens keep the chocolate from getting too hot
Joy Y. Wang
A bustling Friday morning at The City Bakery
Joy Y. Wang
The City Bakery owner Maury Rubin

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Last Chance Foods covers produce that’s about to go out of season, gives you a heads up on what’s still available at the farmers market and tells you how to keep it fresh through the winter.

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