Candy. Who doesn’t like candy? We have a primeval urge to eat sugar. At its most base form, it brings us energy. At a more complex level, it can bring us joy. Remember being a kid? That moment when your tongue hit a sweet treat? A bite of melty chocolate? A hard sugary candy nubbin? Even bad candy was still pretty good. And as adults, we still love candy, but in some cases… the flatly sugary smack of an artificially flavored sugar eaten by dipping another hard sugary stick into it no longer holds any allure. The artificial flavors have become tinny to our palate, and I know I for one can no longer take the insane sugar hit of my youth. These days I tend to seek out more nuanced sweets, things that hit me in small, deeply complex little doses. Thank the gods for local confectioner, Katherine Anne Confections.
I was in a local coffee shop recently and noticed they were selling some of Katherine Anne’s truffles.The young woman behind the cash register saw me ogling them and said “oh yes, those are amazing. That woman is an evil truffle genius.” Fig balsamic. Bourbon Cherry. Creme de Menthe. Java. Blueberry Gin. Raspberry St. Germain. Strawberry Earl Grey. Toasted Coconut Rum. Blackberry Fennel. Goat Cheese Walnut. Apricot Basil. Yes, these are all truffle flavors. And that is just the truffles. There are also caramels, creamily succulent, causing uncontrollable eye rolls of joy as you slowly chew, rolling every last bit of flavor about your tongue.
And the marshmallows. OH the marshmallows. For those of you who have only had marshmallows from the store, dry and shoved full of air, you have not lived until you have had a handmade marshmallow. The truffle genius extends to a world of marshmallows delicately flavored by cinnamon, rose water, and in a particularly inspired summer treat, a shandy marshmallow (using local Half Acre Daisy Cutter Pale Ale and lemon juice.) So I dare say that young woman and her declaration of Katherine Anne as “an evil truffle genius” was dead on. Except for the part where Katherine Anne herself does not actually appear to be evil.
To begin with, she is a fellow Wisconsinite by birth, and a lover of Star Trek (except way more hardcore than I, having read all the books,) so of course I liked her immediately. Also, how many high end confectioners have you met that stroll in with a fresh green streak in their hair, and discussions in the shop involve shock that one of the women there has never seen “Raiders of the Lost Ark”? She has been in business for many a year now, and if you are a lucky, lucky person you have encountered her goods at many a local farmer’s market or coffee shop or cafe. Or perhaps someone who loves you has sent you some from her online store (because obviously they love you if you get these delectable sweets.) And now, for those of us in Chicago, she has opened a small storefront, a charming little spot where curly glass jars and gilded plates proffer up a tantalizing array of the truffles and caramels of the season. I even spied a stack of s’mores, a pillowy homemade marshmallow betwixt graham crackers and cloaked in dark chocolate. A mere glimpse of it made me blush.
They were kind enough to let me come in on a production day, where a small crew whirled around the small production kitchen (which you can totally see if you stop by their shop.) Ingredients were weighed, stirred, tempered, rolled, dipped, and sprinkled, all to a host of music which may or may not have been boy bands of the 80s. There was a never-ending succession of beeps coming from the myriad timers sticking to the refrigerator. I am still not sure how they managed to track which timer indicated what, as they all sounded exactly the same, and yet things whirred along.
In the few hours I was there, I saw them whip up two large batches of marshmallows, dip hundreds of truffles, create another truffle filling, and then I was distracted by the seductive sight of a fresh round of caramel being poured out. Not just any caramel. This was caramel infused with orange and thyme. And if I was keeping track correctly, walnuts were added.
For all the sugar rolling around, there was not a drop of corn syrup. Katherine Anne is dedicated to using all-natural ingredients, and locally sourced when she can. Obviously, no one is growing cacao beans in Illinois, but we do have cows who provide the cream, and bees who help out with all that honey. The cherry bourbon truffle uses bourbon whiskey from Few Distillery, who I visited earlier this month. If she can get something local, she will. This is something I am finding more and more as I meet more folks in the craft food industry in Chicago, be it chocolate or booze. Everyone seems to be very supportive of everyone else, and always willing to lend a hand, whether it be working with farmers to get local ingredients (hooray for keeping the local economy rolling!) or loaning a few bottlecaps (which is a story for another day, since this is ultimately about this candy store.) I am sure somewhere out there enmity exists, maybe two food trucks having a game of chicken over the same spot, but so far what I have seen is a group of people really passionate and dedicated to what they are doing, and thrilled about others in the city doing the same thing.
So put down that bar of assembly-line chocolate, dispassionately poured into molds by a craftily devised machine. Traipse on over to a place where the warm sweet scent of chocolate and honey float on the air, and you can see the sweet bites made one by one. Buy one. Maybe two. Find a quiet spot to sit, and sink your teeth in. Let your tongue roll around it and take it all in, slowly. And don’t be alarmed. That seemingly involuntary eye roll? That would be joy.
(Once again, more photos that I can put in this post, so if you really want some more sugar, see it here.)