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Candy Makers And Chefs Talk Sweets

Kealey Bultena

It’s Valentine’s Day and for many that means it’s time to buy a sweet gift for a sweet person or just for yourself. Local candy makers and chefs share what’s on their menu this holiday.   

Groups of people gather around tables filled with jewelry, wine and desserts at Chocopalooza in Rapid City. Many vendors showcase items packed in red and pink boxes for Valentine’s Day. 

Ben Zeller is an owner of Queen Bee Gardens in Lovell, Wyoming. He stands behind a table full of round chocolate candies with flattened bottoms neatly lining a display case.   

“They’re what you’d call a truffle. They have a honey sweetened center and then they’re coated with milk, dark chocolate and then decoration.” 

He says the store offers 20 flavors of truffles but milk, dark and white chocolate are the best sellers. These truffle recipes have been around for a while. 

“As a family business, it was actually my grandmother started it 40 years ago and these are all of her recipes because my grandpa was the bee keeper and he produced all the honey. And we always had honey in the house and she learned to cook with honey. She said the only thing she could not cook with honey was angel food cake and divinity. But anything else she could substitute honey in and make it work.”  

The family owned business keeps bee hives to make the honey for their products. 

“I’m a full time bee keeper during the summer and so we operate about 33 hundred colonies and produce quite a bit of honey. And then with the honey we make these different chocolates and confections.” 

Zeller says the menu also includes whipped honey, honey sticks and honey caramels. 

Across the room, Chubby Chipmunk’s colorful candies and heart shaped boxes attract a line of people. The business is known for its variety of truffles.

Mary Tautkus is the owner and founder.

“We have our Chipmunk Treasure. And that is a milk center that has our homemade toffee in it, toasted coconut, praline, then it’s dipped in a dark chocolate and topped almonds and our toffee. And it was actually featured in our very first commercial and it is our number one seller.” 

Chubby Chipmunk has stores in Deadwood and Rapid City. Tautkus says the truffles come in 36 flavors and are made with a special heavy cream you can’t buy in stores. 

She recently added a new type of chocolate to the menu.

“And then we actually do sell a very rare chocolate. It’s the Fortunato Number Four and it was thought to be extinct for 100 years. And two gentleman going through Peru found this funny looking tree. Turned out there were only thirteen of them.”

She says they used the chocolate to create several varieties candy bars.

Credit Chynna Lockett

“It’s a very intense dark bar. Seventeen times the antioxidants as blueberries. It is so healthy. It’s vegan. It is just amazing. And we’ve actually created different flavors with it. We have almond, we have Peruvian peppers in some and we actually have super berry which is 24 different organic berries from around the world ground up into this bar. And we just now started selling a 48 percent milk chocolate.”

The bar was included in this year’s Grammy gift bags for nominees. Tautkus says they also plan to contribute an assortment of truffles to Oscar nominee’s bags.

Another item featured at the event is cheesecake. Rhonda Pearcy is the Executive Director of Fork Real Community Cafe. She stands in front of a four small cheesecakes and platters with dozens of samples. 

“So we just kind of take a basic recipe and then we just go wild with different ideas. So we have a chocolate chipotle cheesecake. We have a maple bacon cheesecake. I call those two the manly cheesecakes. We have almond raspberry cheesecake as well as a honey lavender.”

The cakes are topped with icing and pieces of bacon, jalapeno and raspberries depending on the flavor. Pearcy says she plans on moving Fork Real Community Café into a building to sell cheesecakes and healthy meals. 

“Once the café is open, we are looking to be pay what you can. So anyone, it doesn’t matter your social economic background, you can come and have a nutritious meal. So we will not have hot dogs, we will not have fries. We will have real stuff from local farmers. And you pay what you can.” 

She says the cheesecakes are a great way for every customer to indulge. 

Across the state in Sioux Falls, CH Patisserie is decorated for the Valentine’s Day weekend. Chris Hanmer is the owner and pastry chef. 

“We do petit gateau which are small cakes. We do a full line of croissants every weekend—Friday, Saturday, Sunday. We do chocolate bars, confections, candies, caramels.” 

He says he wanted to bring a European inspired patisserie to the city.  

The business has been open nearly four years. Hanmer says some of their most popular items are French macaroons. 

“A French macaroon is a more flat, round cookie about two inches, an inch and a half in diameter. It should have a nice, smooth shell on top and it should have what’s called a foot—almost a little crackle—around the outside.” 

Hanmer says the cookies have a filling sandwiched between two brightly colored, meringue based almond shells. He says the flavor comes from the center. 

“We make ganache’s for all of our fillings and a ganache is cream and chocolate. So we use Valrhona chocolate which is one of the best chocolates out there from France. And we really impart all of our flavor in there.” 

He says the small cookies are not as easy to put together as they sound. 

“It’s probably the most fickle pastry item that you could make, I would really say. It’s only four ingredients but everything from temperature to mixing time to your oven to if you wore the right socks that day all matter on if the macaroons come out.” 

Hanmer says CH Patisserie tops the cookie with everything from vanilla bean powder to fruity pebbles. He says Valentine’s Day is the patisserie’s busiest day of the year.

It is the second busiest holiday behind Christmas for Queen Bee Gardens and Chubby Chipmunk.