Pumpkin Chocolate: Behind the Scenes at Dean’s Sweets
Collectively speaking, the U.S. has an obsession with everything pumpkin: pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin cinnamon beer, pumpkin nutmeg pasta, and pumpkin, of course, Doritos – have you tried these? Oh, and pumpkin chocolate, the best of them all.
We admit, we love our pumpkin chocolate truffle. It’s a bit of an obsession with us as fall rolls around. We look forward to this seasonal truffle every year. It’s made with real pumpkin from Maine (naturally) and all the spices you’d find in a pumpkin pie. To make the ganache, we use white chocolate and local cream from Smiling Hill Farm. Then we dip all that in 70% dark chocolate, and what’s not to love?
In the Kitchen
Dean is a talented guy. He has a real knack for combining chocolate and cream and getting truly fabulous flavors to emerge. It’s almost magical. As the co-founder and chocolatier, he gets credit for the creation of every recipe we make. As gifted as he is, it’s not always a quick process, though, to create a new chocolate. Sometimes the idea is there, and he’s got it figured out in his head, but in the kitchen, the combination of ingredients doesn’t quite pan out. He runs into the everyday glitches of cooks and chefs everywhere – the recipe needs more of this and less of that. He works in small batches and tries a few options, maybe adding a dash of salt or a splash of brandy. The rest of us are the taste testers. It’s tough.
A Rare No-Go Pumpkin Situation
Once, maybe a decade ago, we came up with an idea for a chocolate bar we wanted to make. It was to be our version of a healthy chocolate snack for on-the-go. As I remember it, it was inspired by a wave of sports bars that came out at the time, the kind made from mysterious ingredients that tasted like old brown shoes. We thought we could do better. We gathered our ingredients: dried cranberries, unsweetened coconut, semisweet chocolate chips. The main character of this bar was to be organic pumpkin seeds. Dean purchased ten pounds.
But no matter what combination he tried, the mix didn’t work. He added more cinnamon, took out some ginger. We thought perhaps white chocolate chips might be a good addition. How about cardamom? Dean worked to get the proper texture, and took pains to get the chocolate to hold together as a bar. Still, everything he tried tasted just slightly not-right. In the end, we concluded, we were not supposed to be in the “healthy snack” market anyway. We would leave that to others. Exceptional chocolate, we believed then and we still believe now, is healthy in its own right. We’ll stick with that.
Not Giving Up
But we weren’t giving up on pumpkin. On a business trip to Belgium six years ago (I know, it just keeps getting tougher for us), we found some surprisingly wonderful pumpkin molds: some cute little pumpkins and a good-sized Jack O’ Lantern. We love making them every fall in dark and milk chocolate (to be clear, they aren’t pumpkin flavored – they are “just” chocolate).
But the larger Jack O’ Lantern kept calling to us. We all heard it. It said “do something more!” Often, customers would ask if the Jack O’ Lanterns were chocolate-covered apples, since they are about that size and shape. So we thought, hmmm, let’s try it. But the apples got strangely soggy. So, we tried apples and caramel and chocolate, but again the flavors didn’t shine the way we thought they would. And once again we were out of ideas. Until. . .
Our amazing artist/chocolatier/manager Jazmin – never one to give up – came up with a dazzling idea. She tapped into her creative brilliance and put together what is now one of our fall best sellers: the party pumpkin! The party pumpkin does exactly what a Jack O’ Lantern is supposed to do – the chocolate pumpkin shell is filled with other fine, fun chocolates that rattle when you shake it and come falling out when you open it up, a little pinata style, minus the blindfolds, strings, and sticks. You can see our party pumpkin in action in this short video:
Along Came the Pumpkin Chocolate Truffle
Then one day – a busy afternoon in October – when we were somewhat frantically getting ready for an upcoming fall fair, Dean disappeared into the kitchen. We had a long list of to-dos: make and package our supply for the show, get more chocolate prepped for the weekend for the store at home, pack the car with our shelves and displays, and on and on. We knew it was going to be a long night till we got it all done.
That’s when Dean emerged from the kitchen with a metal mixing bowl filled with ganache, an assortment of spoons, and a smile as big as a Ferris wheel. He gave us each a spoon and offered the bowl. “Try this,” he said.
We tried it all right. It was the best pumpkin flavor we had ever tasted. We all agreed. Not a single thing needed. No adding of this, no taking away of that. It was perfect. Easy. Done. Dean turned on his heels and went back into the kitchen, proud and happy. Sometimes – and actually often for Dean – it works out on the first try.
That is our pumpkin truffle still today. It has a creamy texture, a nice snappy 70% bittersweet coating. And with all the spices of a pumpkin pie plus chocolate, it brings to mind everything great about the fall season. We bring this truffle out right after Labor Day and it goes away again by January 1, so be sure to get it while you can. And those ten pounds of organic pumpkin seeds? We gave them away. Maybe they’re in a beer somewhere, or in someone else’s energy bar, or part of a latte. Wherever and whatever it is, we know it’s good because it’s pumpkin!