Artisan chocolate is more popular than ever! As Americans have honed their taste for craft beers, gourmet coffees, heirloom vegetables and fine wines, they are also demanding more out of their everyday candy indulgences. Just ask Diane Krulac, owner of Brittle Bark, the upscale confectionery shop in Mechanicsburg.
“People are no longer satisfied just to pick up a mass-produced candy bar at the grocery check-out,” she observes. “If they’re going to treat themselves, they want it to be special.” So it’s not surprising that even teenagers are graduating to more sophisticated palates.
“In the store, we see lots of young people who love serious chocolate … and they really know the difference!” enthuses Diane. These teens have grown up in the era of the “foodie,” watching celebrity chefs on cooking and reality shows. They care about the food they eat and how it was made. Some may even think about a career as a chocolatier: someone who knows the chemistry of chocolate flavors and textures; who is skilled in tempering, dipping, decorating and molding chocolate; and who hones his or her skills and talents to create miniature edible works of art.
In response, Brittle Bark will offer Teen Chocolatier classes this summer, aimed at students ages 12-16, and even a series of Young Chocolatier classes to introduce the concepts and techniques to the 7-11 age group.
The teen introductory course, “Chocolatier Basics,” will teach kids how to work with milk, dark and white chocolate, including experimenting with coloring white chocolate to create “special effects.” Students will also learn to incorporate flavorings (such as raspberry or peppermint) and use several hand-decorating techniques. They will use a dipping fork to dip pretzels and cookies in melted chocolate and add their choice of toppings, such as mini chocolate chips, crushed toffee or sprinkles. Finally, since presentation is so important, students will design gift packaging for their own chocolate creations. At the end of the two-day mini-course, students will take home six projects of their own unique design.
For those students who want to take their ambitions to the next level, Brittle Bark will also offer a two-day course in advanced teen chocolatier techniques and projects.” Here, students will participate in a premium chocolate tasting, and learn how to distinguish subtle differences in flavor, texture, aroma and mouthfeel. Next, they will learn how to temper milk and dark chocolate, how to define a flavoring pair and use it to create their own chocolate bar, and how to make specialty chocolate confections, including truffles. Scrumptious take-home projects for this class will include a personally designed luxury chocolate bar; a four-piece box of gourmet chocolates (including a truffle, a turtle, a bon bon and chocolate-covered fruit); and a collection of molded and decorated chocolate lollipops using the student’s choice of theme and design.
The Young Chocolatier classes will be projects-based, and will introduce the skills younger kids need to complete their own delicious chocolate treats for themselves, or as gifts for family or friends.
“Our goal in all of these classes is to teach the classical techniques a chocolatier needs to know, and to give kids the tools and opportunity to see where their own creativity and imagination lead,” says Diane. “And most important, to have a lot of fun!”
Diane’s journey into the world of gourmet confections coincides with the rise of the “foodie” movement. In 1992, she was a busy single mother and co-founder of a software company when the bake-sale committee at her daughter’s preschool asked her for a contribution. Out of her licensed home kitchen in Camp Hill, Diane perfected the recipe for her own take on peanut brittle she called “Brittle Bark,” a crispy, creamy, not-too-sweet candy, that she hand-crafted in small batches using the highest quality ingredients. She was soon making over a dozen unique varieties for family, friends and local fund raisers. When demand for her delicious candy soared, she launched the Brittle Bark Company, and in 2008 opened the retail store in downtown Mechanicsburg, where handmade chocolates and brittles are made along with other unique confections, including chocolate-covered bacon! “The store reflects our passion for handmade, small-batch, unique products that bring pleasure to all of the senses,” explains Diane. “When you purchase and eat a piece of fine candy, you expect a total experience that makes you say, ‘Ahhhh … this is just what I wanted!’” The flavor, aroma, texture and mouthfeel all come together to let you know how the candy tastes. Plus, it has to be visually appealing. Whether you are buying a treat for yourself or a gift to bring to someone’s home, the enjoyment of the product begins the moment you see it. Great care is given to the look of the confection itself, as well as its packaging.
Just as the trends of locally sourced foods and artisan cheeses and beers have encouraged people to think more about where their food comes from, candy buyers are increasingly interested in locally made and hand-crafted confections. “It all comes down to authenticity,” Diane says. “Our customers love coming into the store, seeing their neighbors and choosing a treat that may have been made in our own kitchen within the last few days. The difference in flavor is unmistakable. It’s a far cry from the shelves of manufactured candy they see elsewhere. And once they experience really exquisite chocolate …well, it’s hard to go back.” Mirroring other areas of the gourmet food industry, candy consumers are often looking for new and inspired combinations of flavors, including hints of spicy, savory and salty notes, and Brittle Bark enthusiastically offers innovative, trend-forward lines that satisfy those cutting-edge cravings.
Diane is quick to emphasize that the terms “premium” and “gourmet” do not mean snobbish or inaccessible. In fact, part of Brittle Bark’s mission is to prove that you can have a well-educated, sophisticated palate and still appreciate the pure fun and whimsy of chocolate—and at a price that makes everyday indulgence a reality.
Through its summer chocolatier classes, Brittle Bark is excited to help young people grow their appreciation of fine chocolate while providing them with a vehicle to express their own personal styles. In the future, Diane hopes to offer adult classes as well as night-out opportunities for groups to learn and indulge at the same time. Now that’s the fun of chocolate!
For more information about chocolatier classes, visit www.brittlebark.com.