P.E.I. has many trails that wind across the Island. But a new trail this holiday season promises to be the most delicious of the bunch.
The Hot Chocolate Trail (see external link) is designed to get more people shopping and stopping in central P.E.I. in the lead-up to the holidays. Each of the 20 participating local businesses will be offering a specialty cup of hot cocoa on weekends between now and Dec. 18.
"Some hot chocolates have scoops of ice cream in them. Some hot chocolates have peanut butter brittle, there are unique European-style hot chocolates as well," said Jillian O'Halloran, executive director of the Central Coastal Tourism Partnership, which developed the trail in partnership with Tourism Cavendish Beach.
The event also coincides with the North Shore Coastal Drive's Good Tidings event schedule (see external link), featuring Green Gables decorated for the holidays and other events in the Cavendish Beach area.
Plans to expand every year
Organizers hope this will become an annual event and that the trail will eventually extend to cafés and businesses across P.E.I. "This year we're just starting kind of in the central region, but hoping to expand year after year," said O'Halloran.
Plus, the event is sponsored by the Dairy Farmers of P.E.I. "So you'll be sure to have many different types of dairy or whipped cream," O'Halloran added.
But those who benefit most will be the small rural businesses that usually see a drop-off in customers when tourism season ends.
"We really wanted to let the Islanders and visitors know what is open in the month of November and December," O'Halloran said. "And what a perfect way to entice people to businesses from Milton to North Bedeque to Kensington."
Leave you wanting s'more
Megan Beairsto is the head chef at C&B Corner Cafe in Kensington, and created a s'mores hot chocolate for the event.
The drink is made with steamed ADL chocolate milk and topped with homemade marshmallow, whipped cream and a crème brûlée crumble.
"We were just kind of brainstorming as a team to figure out what we wanted to do for our hot chocolate," said Beairsto. "And the ADL chocolate milk is like the best chocolate milk in the world. So we thought we should try to incorporate that."
But it's the homemade marshmallows that are the star of the show. And Beairsto said while they seem complicated to make, they're actually easy.
"You cook corn syrup and sugar until it reaches a certain degree, and then you mix it in ... a whisk attachment in your mixer," she said. "You mix that with gelatin and some vanilla or whatever flavour that you want."
The café, for instance, uses vanilla and maple flavours.
"As it whisks and whisks and whisks on high, it comes together in this big fluffy marshmallow mess," Beairsto says. "Then you pour it into a pan and let it sit for a day or so, and it just magically becomes marshmallow."
Unlike dense store-bought marshmallows that quickly become "stale and sad," Beairsto says hers are "light and fresh."
Slow time of year
The idea behind the Hot Chocolate Trail isn't just giving people a sugar rush. It also aims to get people shopping locally during the late fall.
"November historically is a slower month just because people don't want to spend too much money leading up to the holidays," Beairsto said. "So it's a nice little thing to get through the month of November and see some extra people."
With two weekends down and four left to go, Beairsto says the Hot Chocolate Trail has been a success so far.
"We're selling a ton of them," she said. "We have lots of people that are coming in and this is like the third or fourth one that they've tried and they're trying to make their way through as many of them as they can."
Abbey McKenna is the co-owner of Star & Stable Christmas Store on Rustico Road in Milton, which is offering an ice cream sundae hot chocolate for the trail.
McKenna's mother, who also co-owns the shop, came up with the recipe, which contains french vanilla flavouring, a scoop of ADL french vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, hot fudge sauce, sprinkles and a cherry on top.
"And a straw with a marshmallow on it dipped in chocolate," said McKenna. "You can flip it and melt the marshmallow into the hot chocolate too, so it's kind of fun."
For Star & Stable, the first two weekends have also been busy.
"Our parking lot's not big enough, which is amazing," she said. "It's been really cool to have this little community that you wouldn't necessarily have been a part of before. I wouldn't change a thing and we definitely would do it again next year."