These are testers for a fundraising project we’re working on for May! That’s all I can say right now…
Here’s how my little chocolate business has gone:
In 2003 Jacob and I started making truffles for family gifts, inspired, like all good things are inspired, by an article in Martha Stewart Living. I didn’t know what on earth I was doing.
In 2004 everyone we gave the truffles to in 2003 wanted more of them. And I saw that this was a little hole in the vegan marketplace, so I decided to start selling them on the internet. I made them once a month, in-between cooking for the meal delivery service I ran, and kept a little email mailing list I’d announce the shipment on. People would email me back to order, I would send them a PayPal invoice, and off their chocolates would go.
Things went pretty much like this until 2010. Over the years we got a website, a fancier ordering system, and a bunch more customers (not just friends). I made chocolates once a week, not once a month. It was nice. The chocolate holidays (Christmas, Easter, and, of course, V-day) slammed me, made it difficult to get my cooking work done and difficult to sleep. The chocolate side of things was growing, without me feeding it. (The meal delivery would have been growing too, but it was so exhausting that I kept it to 20 clients or less so I could manage it and have a reasonable life, too.)
In 2010 I decided to shut down the meal delivery service and focus on a sweeter life, with less onions to peel and less pots to scrub.
Here’s the difference, dish-wise, between the two jobs:
Looking back, the choice was easy.
In 2011 we scraped up our pennies and borrowed pennies from wherever we could and bought the building. It was an 11-month-long odyssey, my friends (buying a building in foreclosure with almost no money—patient persistence is necessary, and since I am the most impatient person in the world, it was constantly tough for me. Thankfully, Jacob is amazing at smooth-talking banks and having patience, so while I was ranting and renting my garments with stress, he was cooly Making It Happen. It’s all detailed here, along with some TMIness about my own internal state at the time.)
Then began the renovation process (detailed rather haphazardly here). The word “renovation” still fills my heart with a cold chill. Oh, the months!
OH, THE MONEY! The delays, the work, the schlepping, the buying, the designing!
It was so much work.
(Was it worth it? Every night when I switch off the lights and lock the door [yes sometimes it's technically morning when that's happening, but still], I take a moment to look at the shop and get the same frisson of pleasure that I got the first day we opened. Opening the shop is my favorite thing I’ve ever done, and I love it every single day.)
We finally opened on June 28, 2011. (Jacob’s birthday! He was on tour in Europe at the time, and I sent him a photo of the shop and told him that instead of any presents [I was a little busy and a lot cash-strapped at the time, OK?], I got him a chocolate shop.)
It was fun from the start.
2012 was our first full year of being open, and it brought lots of changes in our Luscious little world. Here’s a rundown of the biggest ones:
The biggest change in my personal work world was how many more people I work with on a day-to-day basis.
As late as June of this year I was still clawing on to Solitude Sundays (what I always called them in my head) where I worked alone. Alone! It was super tough, yes (every time we had a party of five who all ordered Drinking Chocolates, I’d set a new record for how fast one person can stir ganache into hot almond milk, top it with almond whip, marshies, and cinnamon, pour it into a cup, put a lid on it, and get it to them), but I loved having a day all by myself at the shop, so quiet and still in the back of the house.
I could use all the space, live completely in my head, work on secret formless projects I didn’t have to chat about to anyone until they were more complete, nailed-down, ready to be tasted. Sometimes things like Thyme, Preserved-Lemon and Sea Salt Caramel need a little marinating time in one’s own head before they’re ready to be trotted out for a tasting. I’m like that (I used to be like that?)—I want things to be perfect before anyone sees them.
I’ll never go back to Solitude Sundays, I know that.
That’s a good thing, but it’s a little bittersweet, too. Change is good, Lagusta! Moving forward is good!
Now I work more collaboratively, and it’s one of the most exhilarating processes I’ve ever participated in. I’m continually blown away by the brilliant ideas of the women I work with, how they help me solve problems and come up with amazing new ideas. If I don’t have an idea down perfectly, I know I can bring it to them and they’ll help me make it better.
It’s terrifying not to perfect things before I show them to other people, but I’m getting better at it.
Around August, we ramped up like crazy for the chocolate season ahead. It’s good that we did. We needed every body we could cram in those 1000 square feet. And I LOVE the amazing women we hired. Still, it’s been a major shift for me in the way I always figured the shop would run. It’s so strange to me when an order, or even a Drinking Chocolate, goes to a customer and I didn’t have a hand in any of it—I didn’t make the ganache or fold the boxes or dip the truffles or even ship out the package. (I started doing this thing where I write “Enjoy! XO, L” on all the packages I ship out, like I’m a fancy person, like people should be excited to get packages from the great Lagusta herself!! Oy!)
All this is strange.
I know in the scheme of things we are still a very, very small business, and always will be, no matter how much we grow. But I always thought we’d be a micro business. Just me, with Maresa helping out when she wasn’t making cupcakes and cakes. And it went like that for a long time—I’ve been unable to get rid of Maresa since the day 5 or so years ago when she showed up at my old kitchen in Rosendale and said she’d work for free. Now I’d pay her anything she asked because she’s not only the sister I never had, but also so essential to the business that I sometimes wake up from nightmares where she went on a short vacation (really though, Reesey, you should take more days off!). We’ve had other people working on the shop since it opened, but never more than 3 of us at a time. From when the Oprah thing came out (keep reading!) in November until we went to Hawaii we were averaging 5 people a day working in the shop, and there were a few days when I looked up and we’d crammed SEVEN PEOPLE, each working with elbows tucked in their little stations, stirring flavorings into ganache or checking the temperature of caramel.
This article came out about Chocolate in the Hudson Valley in the early part of 2012 in one of our the fine local alt-weeklies. It mentioned all the chocolate shops in the HV except us. Our customers kept coming in and saying “Why didn’t they mention you???”
Everyone working in the shop was kind of outraged.
Secretly (ok, maybe not so secretly), I was pleased as punch. Do you know what this means? I kept saying to the little crew. We’re still an underground business!!
The publisher of the magazine, however, happens to be a regular shop customer. One day he came in and apologized profusely about the omission. He didn’t happen to see the article before it went to press, otherwise he would have made sure they covered us. He promised some press to come to make up for the oversight.
I was honored, of course, but also a little rueful.
Being an underground business REALLY pleased me.
If it were up to me, we wouldn’t even have a sign on the door. I had this idea that we’d be a secret around town that you had to know someone to find. You’d open this unmarked, plain teal door and walk into a wild chocolate wonderland. How cool would that be?
As everyone reminded me, banks need mortgage payments in exchange for the building, and utility companies need money in exchange for power to power tempering machines. And student loans from a certain someone with a double major in English and Women’s Studies (oh, and the French minor) still has student loans to pay. So, concessions needed to be made.
Our friend Molly made our amazing sign. I liked it. Most particularly, I liked that it didn’t tell what we sold. Keeping the mystery!
In time though, everyone else got REALLY tired of saying, “We’re a chocolate shop!” to people who popped in just to ask what the crap it was that we sold.
So. Over my objections, we got these fancy letters for the front of the building. I got to pick out the font, and I picked Futura, so we could seem as much like we were living inside a Wes Anderson movie as possible.
Speaking of the chocolate letters:
Maybe it’s not a year highlight to you, but to me, who manages to screw up the website majorly every time she touches it, who has pretty much been taken off website duty by Erin and Jacob, who are constantly tinkering and improving and fixing and perfecting, being able to make and upload the rotating banners on the top of the page was sort of a minor miracle.
How Wes Anderson-y does it look??
Oh, Peanut Butter Toffee Crunch Bars! Your butterfingery devils, you. How we love to hate you.
I’m so proud of our Innovation of the Year: homemade organic cane syrup to replace corn syrup!
Candied homegrown flower tablets. Sigh. My heart is bursting.
I guess I should stop with things that were important in my personal soul and all that and get on to the actual tangible markers of the year.
One of those was that we got some mega press.
We were in a bunch of local magazines and papers, and that 1/4 page mention in Oprah magazine sure raised our profile quite a bit. From when the magazine came out until the end of the year, we were solidly slammed with orders.
Not being so terrified that we weren’t going to make mortgage payments every month has meant that we can afford to do more donations!
I knew there was a reason why being a bigger business was good—this is one of the major reasons.
As someone who always figured she’d be a penniless activist for a “living,” doing good is a huge part of our mission at the shop. Nothing feels better than being able to support the groups, people, and work we believe in. Here’s a partial list of donations we did in 2012:
There were so many sad events in the wider world this year. They’re beyond the scope of this blog post, but it’s crushing to remember them.
Hurricane Sandy was responsible for the cancellation of the Google NYC Halloween party, for which the Google folks had ordered hundreds of chocolates from us. They said we should give the chocolates out to New Paltz trick or treaters, which meant we had the craziest, most fun (in spite of the Sandy sadness living in our hearts) Halloween ever in the shop, which was crammed with people for hours and hours—long after the chocolate ran out, actually. My oh my does word spread fast in this town.
We bought a dough sheeter, thus ending 10 months of a croissant desert that we (me!) barely survived. Croissants are back forever, woo!
The most fun and the most work I’ve had in a long time (which is saying a lot—I have a lot of fun and work a ton on the regular). I hope it continues forever. We did two dinners last year (you can see millions of photos of ‘em at the link above), this year I’m hoping to do one a month March-October.
Tuthilltown has quickly become a household name in the Hudson Valley as well as the country (the world, maybe?) for well-crafted whiskies and more. We were honored when they asked if we wanted to partner up on a special chocolate to be sold in their distillery shop. Our Four-Grain Bourbon Caramel Chile Bars are one of our best-sellers, and it’s always so nice to meet people who found us from a bar they tasted at the distillery.
The whiskey is delicious on its own, too, which is nice for a whiskey drinker like me. Manhattans (and chocolate!) for all!
I asked everyone who works at the shop for their best-ofs, too:
Fun events, amazing customers (truly, amazing), delicious tempeh, our anniversary party, so many delicious chocolates (cream eggs!), wrapping paper with yours truly’s mug on it, the back room renovations, PARIS, that crazy cute caramel apple I made!
But this is getting too long, and I’ve got to start my New Year’s Eve dinner preparations.
As I write this at 1 am on Halloween (I’m a night owl!), I can’t quite wrap my mind around November being here already. But here it is, and I’ll welcome it warmly, because this last week has been so tough for so many of us that turning the page seems like the best thing to do.
We’ve had a wild month at the shop, too, but less fraught, thankfully. Oprah and Halloween (which brought with it a truly bittersweet surprise) bookended a month of intense busy-ness, which will (hopefully!) only intensify as the holiday season approaches.
Which brings us to this month’s chocolate: Candied Orange and Cranberry Bonbons, which are inspired by an amazing Cranberry Citrus Compote I make every year for Thanksgiving, and think about making the rest of the year but never do because of that weird thing where it’s almost impossible to make holiday foods when it’s not that particular holiday.
In case you’d like to start and end your holiday meal with the fresh flavors of cranberries and zesty citrus, here’s my recipe for the compote, which I adapted from Fine Cooking magazine years ago. Don’t forget the chocolates, too!
CRANBERRY CITRUS COMPOTE
Makes 5 cups
Keeps a week. If making far ahead, stir in scallions at last minute. Let come to room temperature before serving.
19 oz. fresh cranberries, picked over and rinsed
optional: 5 oz frozen currants. I like using currants because you can get them locally. I usually freeze some during the summer for this dish.
zest of 2 lemons
zest of 2 oranges, preferably blood oranges
3 shallots, finely chopped
1 ¼ c sugar
½ c orange juice
1/3 c thinly sliced scallions
OK, you can also buy them from me, but I HIGHLY
recommend making them yourself.
Because if you don’t, we have to make them and…um. I know I’m not supposed to say this, because candy-making is supposed to be all rainbows and sunbeams, but
MAKING THESE IS PURE TORTURE.
But we’re going to keep making them forever, because they are, horribly, one of the tastiest things we’ve ever made.
After we sent these out to club members as part of the Chocolate of the Month, we almost instantly got a bunch of reorders. Here’s what one said:
Just a note to say that yes indeed, I intended to order 20 of the peanut butter bars. My husband requested one a day for a month, and we compromised at 20. They are phenomenal!
This bar blew my mind! The flaky layers on the inside—not too hard, not too crumbly, not too sweet, just perfect—replicate, nay, upstage and outshine the “real” butterfingers of my youth. This is by far the best vegan candy I have ever tasted. Make it a staple!
OMG I love this bar!! And I never liked Butterfingers. That is all.
I don’t eat candy and I ate an entire one last night. It was so good.
I just had one – and…. Yes, you are going to be making them for the rest of your life!
It really rocked!
Here’s the recipe. Please share my pain at what a pain it is.
Let us begin our journey.
Peanut Butter Toffee Crunch Bars
(that’s what we call them since we can’t really call them Butterfingers)
Oh wait, we also call these:
The Ridge Bar
Because their beautiful striated layers are reminiscent of the gorgeous mountain range 10 minutes from the shop, the Shawangunk Ridge, which is famous for its stratified folds.
1. CLEAR THE ENTIRE DAY. You will have 24 bars at the end of this epic saga. We do four times this recipe, and we swear like sailors the whole time. In fact, I whined so much about making these that in the end Maresa took over the recipe (now we call these bars Mareese’s!) in order to save everyone’s sanity from my endless whimpering.
I could just tell she thought I was protesting a bit too much about what an ordeal it was. Because of this, I greatly looked forward to her whack at the ol’ recipe.
About halfway through, she turned to me and said, “You know what? This is ridiculous!!“
And I laughed and laughed, safely on the other side of the kitchen, deep into the wonderful world of truffle-making I was ensconced in—beautiful, beautiful truffle-making! How unpeanutbuttery it is! How many you can make at one time! How not molten hot it is! (Even though other chocolatiers gasp when they find out we make hand-rolled truffles—no one does it these days because it’s so time-consuming, instead everyone makes these square thingies with something called a guitar cutter and an enrobing machine but not only do we not have those expensive pieces of equipment but also!!! Truffles are called truffles because they’re handmade looking, like truffle mushrooms, and round, like truffle mushrooms, and AHHH SQUARE TRUFFLES!! DON’T GET ME STARTED!!—making truffles is pretty much instant compared with these PB bars.)
Here’s Mareesey after finishing a portion of the batch of bars:
Ready to feel the same way?
Have you ever made croissants? If so, you’ll have a slight jump on this recipe, which is basically the croissant-making technique (puff pastry) crossed with molten hot sugar that requires you to work superfast. It’s a technique called leaf croquant, if you wanna get technical about it.
2. Make your filling.
400 grams peanut butter. We use organic, salted, smooth pb.
60 grams confectioners’ sugar
30 grams cane syrup—we make our own based on this recipe. You could use glucose syrup or corn syrup or probably even brown rice syrup or agave syrup.
3. Make your caramel. This is a dry caramel. It takes a bit o’ practice, but it’s a fun technique (I’m not being ironic, I really do enjoy dry caramel making). This photo shows a gross looking scale, because I melted my scale by putting the hot caramel pot on it when I added the cane syrup to the caramel, as described below. Fun times! The scale still works! (It also shows the filling recipe in progress the one time I forgot to sift in the powdered sugar—look at those lumps! Oy. That was a fun batch [I am being ironic, it was a giant pain.])
¼ tsp lemon juice
450 grams sugar
60 grams cane syrup (see above)
Just typing that up exhausted me.
Luckily, I happen to have a certain indescribably delicious candy bar right here to pep me back up. HOLY CRAP THIS BAR IS SO GOOD!
A fellow chocolatier in London recently contacted me saying she wanted to add a vegan line of chocolates to her business. She asked for some tips on how to make vegan ganaches, caramels, and white and milk chocolates. Yay! This is exactly why I’m in business—to make tasty things that are so ridiculously delicious that no one cares they’re even vegan (um, except for us vegans). To make treats so amazing that they reassure aspiring vegans that vegans can have treats that are just as decadent and amazing as ones made with dead and dying animals. To this end, I don’t really have secrets. Here’s what I wrote back to her:
What a lovely email! Your chocolates look so great. I’m so happy you’re working on a vegan range!
OK, here are my tips:
Our “white chocolate” and “milk chocolate” aren’t truly tempered or anything, they’re more like ganaches. I make the white chocolate with coconut milk, coconut oil, cocoa butter, powdered sugar, vanilla and sea salt. We just melt everything down and process it in the food processor and it hardens up just fine, though you can’t use it like regular tempered chocolate, obviously. We mostly use it as a filling. Then our milk chocolate is just the white choco plus regular tempered chocolate.
I’ve talked with some bean-to-bar makers around here who have said they could make me real white and milk chocolate that’s vegan with coconut milk, but I’d have to buy big quantities, so it’s a dream for another day.
As far as caramel and ganache—we mostly use coconut milk and coconut oil in everything you’d use butter and cream for. Coconut oil is about 15-20% more fatty than butter, though, so you need to use less of it and play around a bit. We use a refined coconut oil that doesn’t taste coconutty, and the coconut milk doesn’t taste coconutty once you add chocolate or make it into caramel.
Nextly: Mother’s Day is coming up. I wanted to take a moment to inform/remind/enlighten you to the fact that we make an entire line of chocolates named for the womens, including one named for my very own mom, one Pauline Benjamin Dubkin-Yearwood, that being Peanut Butter Cups (get it? PB!).
Moving along: Did you see this insanely lovely blog post about us? No, Well, go forth, then.
And finally: this very Sunday we will be at the New Paltz Regatta selling gorgeous hand-painted (and handmade, if you want to get particular about it) chocolate ducks to raise money for our local food pantry, Family of New Paltz. Every year hundreds of rubber ducks are raced in the Wallkill River to raise money for Family (personally this doesn’t seem super duper earth-friendly, but I’m told scrupulous care is taken to remove them all [but then where do they go?]), so that’s why we’re making ducks. 50% of the sales of each duckie will go straight to Family, so come on out!
*You’re right that Jews aren’t supposed to be named for living people, and that my lovely mom is still very much living. Tell that to my goyishe dad!
It’s a post-Valentine’s world in Lusciousland, and we’ve been using the wonderful calm to get reorganized and invent some new tasty treats. Here we go:
I’m very pleased to announce our new drink menu item: Caffè Cacao!
Caffè Cacao is our regular (insane, insane, insane) Drinking Chocolate with an ounce of beautifully crafted slow-drip coffee added! KAPOW! Topped with our almond and cashew whipped cream and garnished with cocoa powder, it’s a real eye-opener, on about a million different levels.
And also–I just announced a special discount code today which is only available to Facebook fans and Twitter followers. If you’re not already one or the other, or both, go join the club and get your discount code! We usually only do one sale a year, so now’s your chance!
We’re in full Valentine’s mode now–the busiest three weeks of the year are here! If you haven’t made your selections yet, here are some ideas for your loved ones, or, even better, to Valentine yourself.
When I need to add a photo to the website, I’m supposed to upload it to an FTP thingie. But my FTP program thingie is always annoying, and uploading photos to this blog is so easy! Thus, the purpose of this blog post is to upload this photo of the Luscious Locavore box (<—- fabulous new name, as mentioned in the post below, is thanks to Facebook pal Erica!). It’s a truly beautiful thing, this box in this beautiful porcelain container. Read all about it here!
Hey, a blog post with Valentine’s ideas is coming soon! The February Chocolate of the Month is already up though, and it is GIANT and amazing.