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The Holidays Are On Their Way

Thanksgiving gift box of truffles

Holy crap! Did you know there are only 97 days until Christmas?! And 64 days til Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving was always my mom’s favorite holiday because, she said, it didn’t have the stress and obligations of Christmas. It’s just a time for, literally, giving thanks for the blessings in our lives, and enjoying delicious food and time with family.

I’m not a fan of cooking, but Thanksgiving is one of the few times I channel my mom’s lessons of the holiday and make a big meal. Of course there are chocolates and ice cream for dessert, and my husband, David, often makes a “pumpkin” pie from the butternut squash he grows on our farm north of Mount Vernon, Iowa.

Are you hosting Thanksgiving dinner this year? We can tick a few items off your list by providing adorable chocolate turkeys, scarecrows or leaves for table settings or candy dishes. Or if you’re fortunate enough to be a guest at someone else’s dinner, stop in for a gift box of truffles or caramels that will ensure any host/ess will invite you back again!

Now is also the time to start thinking about Christmas: We will of course have a full array of holiday-themed chocolates for office gatherings and children’s stockings. Remember that we also have an eclectic collection of chocolate molds in stock and can easily get many others. From chocolate carpenter’s tools to toothbrushes to Bingo cards to motorcycles–whatever topic delights your gift recipient, we can make them a gift from chocolate.

If you’re in charge of your company’s gift-giving, we can help with that, too. There is still time to have custom molds made from your company logo or to plan gift boxes that suit each of your customers. Stop in the shop, give us a call, or email mvconfections@yahoo.com to talk about your ideas.

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Big Weekend Ahead!

Dark Chocolate Paint Palettes

We’re feverishly preparing for a big weekend at Mount Vernon Confections, with three cool events on the schedule!

1) Tomorrow (Friday, September 14, 2018), Mount Vernon-Lisbon Restaurant Week begins, with the theme, “What can $20 get you?” Each of the 18 participating food businesses is offering a 2-for-$20 special throughout the Week (which actually runs for 10 days, from September 14-23). MVC will have a special half-pound box of a dozen favorite chocolates, perfect for giving as a gift or nibbling with your sweetie during a Netflix binge or Sunday Night Football broadcast. Pick up a “passport” in any of the participating businesses, get signatures from five, and you’ll be entered into a drawing for a restaurant gift certificate. Learn more about Restaurant Week here.

Restaurant Week Half-Pound Gift Box

2) Also tomorrow, we’ll be participating in the 15th Annual Brewnost, at the National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. It’s always a fun night filled with delicious beers, food, wine and spirits from great local restaurants and breweries. We’ve been posting the last couple weeks about our menu, which will include a milk chocolate truffle made with Wilson’s Orchard Hard Cider “Old Blue,” with a fruity twist of blueberry (and an impossibly cute label). We’ll also be offering our “sleeper favorite of 2018,” the creamy white chocolate lemon truffle; and of course we’ll have our signature dark chocolate raspberry truffles (do you see a fruity theme going on here?).

White Chocolate Lemon Truffles
Don’t think you like white chocolate? You haven’t tried this creamy, lemony delight.

3) Last, but definitely not least, the Lincoln Highway Arts Festival takes place Saturday, September 15, 9 am-4 pm. There will be 50-plus artists exhibiting and offering their work for sale, artist demos, music and more. This is one of my favorite of Mount Vernon’s festivals: it’s typically a beautiful fall day–still warm enough to warrant ice cream(!); it’s low-key and relaxed; and there is beautiful art and interesting artists. We’ll be open our regular hours of 11 am-5 pm and will have a limited number of these fun chocolate paint palettes.

Dark Chocolate Paint Palettes

Phew! They all sound like fun, right? I hope we’ll connect with you this weekend…or during Restaurant Week!

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Peanut Butter Cups: A Delicious Example of Shell Molding

peanut butter cups in display case

Have you ever wondered how chocolatiers get a hard chocolate coating around a soft center? The answer is: shell molding.

Most items that we enrobe (that’s a fancy word for “dip in chocolate”) go directly into a bowl of tempered, liquid chocolate. Tempering is the process of heating and cooling a substance to improve its consistency, durability and/or hardness. Tempered chocolate is glossy, has a satisfying “snap” when you break off a piece, and holds up better to handling than untempered chocolate.

Sometimes, though, we have something that is too liquid or soft to dip directly in the chocolate. Or, we may want the outer coating to have a certain shape. Peanut butter cups fall into both of those categories.

Here is a video of the process of making me peanut butter cups that my friend Jennifer Zach recorded several years ago.

Step one is to create the hard chocolate “shell.” We pour liquid chocolate into the candy mold, then turn it upside down to let excess chocolate drip out, leaving a thin layer, or shell, inside the cavity.

peanut butter cup shells

Using a flexible scraper, we remove the excess and create a level surface at the top (or, in the case of our chocolate creams, the bottom) of the mold. Next, we spoon or pipe in the filling (I don’t have a photo of this step because my staff was super fast getting it done!)

single peanut butter cup in mold

Finally, we “top” (or bottom) the filling with liquid, tempered chocolate, making sure to create a good seal where the two layers meet, so none of the filling leaks out. “Leaky” peanut butter cups are far from disastrous, though, because we chop them up and mix them into our chocolate peanut butter ice cream! (Or, you know, they disappear into my mouth.)

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Preparing for BrewNost, a Beer and Fine Food Extravaganza!

Dairy free raspberry truffles

We’re busily preparing for BrewNost, the annual beer and fine food festival held each fall at the National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. This year’s event–their 15th anniversary–is Friday, September 14, 2018, 6:30-10:00 pm.

We’re excited to be paired again this year with Wilson’s Orchard Hard Cider, and this week I’m experimenting with a special new truffle flavor using their Old Blue, a hard cider with a blueberry twist. I like blueberries, but honestly, I just love the label so much we had to give it a go. Any of the local bartenders can tell you that my husband, Farmer Dave Miller, will often choose his adult beverages based purely on label art. More often, if he’s on the fence and doesn’t like the label, that beverage won’t make it into a glass for him. I’ve kind of made fun of him for this quirk, but I totally get it. I mean, if you like dogs, how can you not love this artwork?

Artwork for Wilson's Orchard "Old Blue" hard cider
How cool is this artwork for Wilson’s Orchard “Old Blue” hard cider?

Of course at this year’s event we’ll have our signature truffle, dark chocolate raspberry. We’ll bring the dairy-free recipe, which uses only Belgian dark chocolate and raspberry puree of fruit from the farm. The dairy-free part is great for those who don’t do dairy, but don’t let it scare you off; these truffles are amazingly decadent and pair well with just about everything–from an IPA to stout to wine to coffee. We generally take this truffle to any tasting event and I love watching people’s eyes get huge as the raspberry sweetness hits their taste buds.

There is still time to get tickets to BrewNost and join us for a full-filled evening of beer, wine, excellent food, live music and more. And if you stop in the shop later this week, you may have an opportunity to taste-test the Old Blue truffle!

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Chocolate Mini Bars: A Little Bite of Heaven

Various Mini Chocolate Bars

Do you ever find yourself half-way through your day, thinking, “I seriously need a bite of good chocolate…”? Yeah, me, too.

I love truffles, caramels, nut clusters and, well, pretty much everything we make at the shop. But sometimes I just want a nibble of pure Belgian chocolate. I love that snap of perfectly tempered chocolate and breathing in the aroma as the creamy goodness begins to melt on my tongue. It’s a wonderful little luxury that feels simultaneously simple and decadent.

Our chocolate mini-bars are an excellent alternative to whatever you might find in your break room vending machine when you go on that 3 pm chocolate prowl. You can pick up a bag of 10 individually wrapped bars in a bag pretty enough to give away as a gift, if you’re willing to share. Or just slip it into your desk drawer and know that you’re prepared for any chocolate emergency.

Milk Chocolate Mini Bars

 

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Peanut Butter Scotcheroos: The 7th Grade Home Ec Recipe

Peanut Butter Scotcheroo bar

When people ask me, “Of all the sweets you make, what’s your favorite?” I don’t even hesitate with my answer. It’s a no-brainer: Peanut Butter Scotcheroos.

If you aren’t from Iowa, you may be unfamiliar with this staple of church bake sales and potluck dinners. It’s like a Rice Krispies treat on steroids.

Instead of marshmallow, the “glue” that holds the crispy rice cereal together in the Scotcheroo is a cooked sugar syrup with peanut butter. This makes for a rich, gooey bar, and because I love me some peanut butter, I always add just a little extra to boost the flavor.

Mixing up Peanut Butter Scotcheroos base
Mixing up Peanut Butter Scotcheroos base

The recipe I use today is the same one I learned in 7th Grade Home Economics class, at North Scott Junior High School in Eldridge, Iowa, nearly 40 years ago. Over the years, I’ve tried some tweaks to the recipe, including using our high-end chocolate for the butterscotch-and-chocolate topping, but I always go back to the original. Somehow, pure Belgian chocolate doesn’t work as well as tried and true Nestle Toll House morsels.

I’ll be taking today’s batch of Scotcheroos to tomorrow’s Iowa City Farmers Market, and any leftovers will come back to the shop. We can always mix up a batch on special order if you’re on your way to an end-of-summer potluck, too.

Peanut Butter Scotcheroo bar
Peanut Butter Scotcheroos goodness
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Today’s Experiment: Cantaloupe Sorbet

fresh cantaloupe melon for sorbet and ice cream

For the first time in four or five years, we’ve had an amazing melon crop at the farm. I love cantaloupe, but in a cruel joke of nature, they give me heartburn. What to do with all of these beautiful melons coming out of the garden? Cantaloupe frozen dessert, of course!

We started our experimentation with a cantaloupe sorbet–simple, refreshing, and dairy-free for our vegan friends (also gluten-free). Nothing but ripe fruit, a simple syrup, fresh lemon juice and a pinch of salt to keep it scoopable.

It. Is. Amazing.

Which, of course, makes the whole heartburn thing even more annoying. I’m hoping the milk and cream in the next recipe–cantaloupe ice cream–will mitigate whatever is causing me issues.

Stay tuned for the next experiment!

 

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Give a Gift to a Client

Truffle boxes

Does your business give holiday gifts to clients? Last Christmas we put together our sleek chocolate-brown boxes of one dozen truffles and caramels for a local company. They added their own company label to the boxes for a personalized–and delicious–client gift. The holidays will be here before we know it!