By Wayne Allen
Karen Davis found her new career as a chocolatier while she was teaching Spanish to elementary students in Portsmouth, Ohio.
“Several years ago, I was teaching Spanish at Notre Dame Elementary and I would teach the history of chocolate, since it originates from Mexico and Central America,” Davis said.
As a part of the lesson, Davis would do chocolate tastings with her students.
Word of her teachings spread to the former Boneyfiddle Arts Center, which lead to Davis and the center collaborating on a Day of the Dead celebration.
“The first year, I made chocolate skulls. I had never made them before. They were really popular, so I made them the next year,” Davis said.
After the second Day of the Dead celebration, people started asking her about what else she can do with chocolate, she said. That question put Davis on a journey that would lead to opening a small business and becoming a chocolatier.
Curious about her own capabilities, Davis started experimenting with various chocolate molds. Her experiments became really popular within her circle of friends, and she ended up taking online classes to become a chocolatier.
After receiving certification through a pastry school, the Lucasville resident started traveling to craft fairs and filling orders for family and friends.
In July 2015, Davis, along with a number of other small business owners, came together to form The Sweet Boutique, 719 Chillicothe St., in Portsmouth. The Sweet Boutique allows the business owners to have space to display their products.
Seeing the opening of The Sweet Boutique as an opportunity, she started Kakao Konfections. Davis said the name of her business has a special meaning.
“The word ‘kakao’ is the Mayan word for chocolate,” Davis said. “If you look at my logo, it has the Mayan hieroglyph for chocolate. Chocolate was so important to their society. They had over 20 hieroglyphs for chocolate and chocolate-related things.”
She said the plant that chocolate is made from is the Kakao tree or pod.
Davis makes certain her chocolate is fresh and has no preservatives.
She calls what she does in The Sweet Boutique small-batch chocolatering.
“That means it’s not made in bulk and it does not sit on the shelf a long time. When you come in to buy chocolate, we recommend you eat them within 10 days. It will keep longer than that, but that’s when it’s the freshest,” Davis said.
Every chocolate Davis makes is by hand.
“I can control what goes in them, I can create how they look, and I can create my own unique flavors,” Davis said.
She acknowledged making chocolates this way is time consuming.
“I make chocolates two days out of the week and I’m open here in the shop the rest of the time,” Davis said. “My goal is to one day have a kitchen and a shop in the same place.”
Davis makes the chocolates in her home kitchen, while her shop is in downtown Portsmouth. Her husband of 19 years, Don, has become her official taste tester and assembly person.
Because she takes her time with each chocolate, the possibilities are nearly limitless.
When it comes to flavors, it can range from a zesty margarita made with a lime-infused salt from Sweden, to a variety of nine skulls ranging from mango chili to an angry ghost pepper.
She said it would be very easy to tell the difference between her chocolates and a typical candy bar, because hers are made from authentic chocolate.
Through the formation of Kakao Konfections and various experiments, Davis said she’s found her passion.
“You never get tired of eating chocolate. I don’t eat a lot of it, but I eat it every day,” Davis said.
She can make dairy-free, peanut, sugar-free and vegan chocolate, by special order.
Davis also makes an effort to be out in the community. She was a stop on the Main Street Portsmouth Chocolate Walk and has plans for many events.
Here is a recipe for a basic truffle that anyone can make at home. This makes up to 75-90 truffles, depending on size.
1 2/3 cups heavy whipping cream
2 pounds of your favorite chocolate (use a high-quality chocolate bar, not chocolate chips)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter (optional, but do NOT use margarine or substitutes)
Cocoa powder, for example, Hershey’s
2 baking sheets lined with parchment paper
Shallow dish (like an 8-by-8 casserole dish)
Good digital food thermometer
Fluted paper cups or mini cupcake paper cups
Line baking sheets with parchment paper, set aside.
Chop 1 pound of chocolate finely and put in a heat-proof bowl.
In a medium sauce pan, bring the heavy whipping cream almost to a simmer and remove from heat. Pour immediately over the chopped chocolate. Add butter. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for 5 minutes.
Chocolate should be melted. Remove plastic wrap and gently stir to combine until completely smooth.
Pour into shallow dish. Allow to cool to room temperature, loosely covered with plastic wrap. This may take several hours. Once cooled, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and set in refrigerator for 30 minutes or overnight.
Remove ganache from refrigerator. Use a small cookie scoop or spoon and create 3/4-inch small balls. Coat your hands with cocoa powder and roll into balls. Set them on the prepared baking sheet. When full, set in the refrigerator for 5-10 minutes to firm.
Prepare Coating and Temper Chocolate:
Take remaining 1 pound of chocolate and finely chop. Put 2/3 in a heat-proof bowl. Reserve 1/3 in a separate bowl.
Melt chocolate in the microwave for 20 seconds. Stir thoroughly. Continue at 20-second intervals until almost melted, stirring well between each time. Use your thermometer to check temperature. Do not allow chocolate to go over 92 F. If you do, add reserved chocolate to bring temperature back down, stirring gently until melted. Chocolate burns easily. Do not heat over 105 F.
Once melted, use a fork to dip the rolled balls. Set ball ON the fork, do not spear it. Dip into melted chocolate, tap fork on side of bowl to remove excess, then place on a separate-lined baking sheet. Work quickly before chocolate hardens.
Let truffles set until firm at room temperature. Put in refrigerator for 5-10 minutes to completely firm.
Put in small, fluted paper cups or mini cupcake liners to serve.
Store in airtight container in cool location or refrigerator. Bring to room temperature to eat. Best consumed within 10 days. May be frozen and thawed for 2-3 days in the refrigerator.
9 BONUS TIPS
• You may also use the Bain Marie method to melt the chocolate.
• Chocolate is like a sponge and will absorb flavors around it. Store in airtight containers or tight plastic wrap.
• A small, deep bowl works best to dip and helps retain heat; also placing bowl on a pot holder or towel will help chocolate remain heated.
• If coating cracks, truffles are too cool to dip. Let them warm up a few minutes or roll in hands before dipping.
• If coating is streaked, chocolate was not tempered thoroughly. This will not affect the taste, only the appearance.
• Flavorings may be added to the heated cream for variations such as raspberry, orange, mint, etc.
• After dipping, additional toppings such as sprinkles, chopped nuts, cocoa powder, or sanding sugar can be added immediately before chocolate sets.
• Create a dipping tool by removing the inner/middle tines of a plastic fork and leaving one tine on each side.
• Be creative and have fun.
Address: 719 Chillicothe St., Portsmouth