By Rochelle Bilow, Finger Lakes Food Correspondent
I guess I had envisioned that chocolate making would be a quiet, relaxing sort of activity, zen-like and leisurely this past Saturday morning. But there we were, half an hour into it at 9:30, and the noise in the kitchen was so deafening you could’ve convinced me a train was running straight through the vineyard down below.
Cary Becraft had agreed to give me a lesson in dark chocolate technique at her production kitchen at Anthony Road Wine Company, where her husband, Peter, is Assistant Winemaker.
I’d had an inkling of what goes into a box of chocolates -- the word “temper” had crossed my mind -- but I definitely wasn’t expecting Cary to pound the molds against the stainless steel table again and again, her spritely frame producing a spine-tingling crash that reverberated throughout the room.
“Sorry!” She looked up, over her tortoise-shell glasses, and giggled. “It’s kind of loud.”
Cary is the owner and sole operator of CaryMo Chocolates, a gourmet chocolate and candy company based in the Finger Lakes. Chocolates are available at a variety of Finger Lakes locations, but your best bet is currently at Fox Run Winery, Zugibe Vineyards, or online at CaryMo Chocolates. Prices for her artisan chocolates range from $9 for a two-piece box to $40 for a 24-piece box. She also sells chocolate bars for as little as $3. Gift baskets and special pricing are also available.
She runs every aspect of the business, from flavor conception to chocolate production to packaging and selling. All this, in addition to working as a freelance stylist in the fashion industry, as well as taking care of her three-year-old son, Giles, gives her little time to rest. But Cary keeps it in perspective.
“I like being busy,” she said when I asked how she manages it all. And then she paused. “Well, I like being lazy too. But once I get going, I get into the groove.”
The way I see it, she hasn’t gotten out of the groove since her time as a pastry chef at the River Café in New York City. It was there that she learned the craft of making chocolates, and soon began selling them under the name CaryMo in addition to churning out desserts daily at the restaurant. Her confections earned a cult-like following, and soon she was selling at Stinky Bklyn, an artisan cheese and specialty food shop in New York, while creating custom orders for customers begging for her grey salt caramel chocolates.
She and her husband had made their life in Brooklyn, but when the opportunity arose to explore a new lifestyle on Seneca Lake, they couldn’t say no to the intrigue of starting over. Peter took a job working at Anthony Road and moved to the Finger Lakes, first living in an Airstream trailer outside the winery. Cary moved shortly after, and they made the transition to a bigger house.
There was never any doubt about whether her decadent, high-end chocolates could find a market in New York City. The question was whether she could attract a following in a much less densely populated area.
Fortunately, Cary found that the winemakers and restaurateurs in the Finger Lakes provided a backdrop that meshed with her vision almost seamlessly. Not only did she begin selling in local wineries, she began using Finger Lakes product in her chocolates. She’s experimented with beer, and one of the most evocative selections on her roster is a dark chocolate bite molded into a miniature wine barrel and filled with a caramel made of Anthony Road red wine.
That wine barrel mold was what was making so much noise that morning. Over the sound, Cary yelled to me, “I do this so all of the little air bubbles escape out of the chocolate.” I leaned closer and saw tiny bubbles rising to the surface of the liquid chocolate and popping, leaving behind a smooth, dark sheen.
I told her that she was patient and articulate enough to teach classes. “Yeah, but who would do this at home?” she asked. I thought back to earlier that morning, when she methodically melted chocolate over a double boiler, then took it off the heat and stirred it until it was cool to the touch: tempering, she had explained. It did seem like an awful lot of work.
But she sure did make it look fun. As she explained that tempering the chocolate makes for chocolate that’s slick and shiny, not granular, she plopped dime-sized discs of dark chocolate into the big mixing bowl. “My chocolate ice cubes,” she said with a grin. “They’ll melt into the liquid and cool it down further. The big companies do this with a huge machine" -- she made a grand sweeping motion with her arm -- “but I temper by hand.”
She does it by feel, too, dabbing a smear of melted chocolate onto the skin above her upper-lip every few minutes, giving herself a jauntily comical moustache. I wagered that the patch of sensitive skin helped her better gauge the temperature, and while she agreed, she didn’t place too much significance on it. “It’s just how I learned.”
After tempering the chocolate, polishing the plastic molds with cotton and cooling a thin shell of chocolate in each one, we were ready to fill them. Her flavors are constantly evolving and changing, and that day we were working with red wine reductions from both Anthony Road and Zugibe, peanut butter and creamed honey, cranberry and crystallized ginger, orange blossom buttercream and a thick curry and sesame cream. I took a bite of each candy, savoring the way the fillings burst onto my tongue then dissolved, leaving behind only a memory and hint of good, dark chocolate. I went back for seconds on the orange blossom buttercream, an elegantly floral concoction that’s light and ethereal, a far cry from the sticky-thick and sweet cream fillings of my youth.
We used piping bags and small spoons to fill the shells with flavor, then Cary poured another layer of tempered chocolate over the mold. After using an off-set spatula and, what looked to my untrained eye like a spackling tool, to scrape off the excess, she set the chocolates back in the refrigerator to harden completely.
As we cleaned the workspace, we chatted and visited with her son who had sauntered in, asking for some “medicine.” (Cary gave him a small handful of white chocolate chips, which he ate one by one and after, made a contented cooing sort of noise. She smiled.)
When the chocolates were finished, she placed a large sheet of parchment on the table and inverted the trays. She tensed for a moment and mouthed the word “Sorry!” before slamming the mold onto the table. The chocolates came tumbling out and she immediately began inspecting each one. “It just kills me if any of them have gaps or holes in the bottom,” she said. None of them did, but I wondered why it would matter. Most people don’t look at the bottom of a chocolate, do they? “Well, yes, that’s true. Except me,” she said.
We lined the chocolate in tight rows on a baking sheet. As I readied my camera for a picture, Cary pointed to the row of crown-shaped chocolates, filled with cranberry and ginger. They were gleaming, as if they’d been polished. “Aren’t they so cute?” She asked, dancing a bit and letting her short, pixie-like hair move with her. “I just love this.”