Toil and Truffle
By Meda Kessler
Photos by Ralph Lauer
Making chocolates is a challenge, especially when they need to look as good as they taste
Pitching in at Dr. Sue’s Chocolate was easily at the top of my list for the launch of our On the Job feature.
Chocolatier Sue Williams is a doctor specializing in internal medicine who turned a hobby into a thriving side business at her downtown Grapevine shop. Clients include individual chocolate lovers along with businesses such as Southlake Central Market, Eatzi’s, Japan Airlines and all Messina Hof Winery locations, including the one in Grapevine.
Using high-quality dark chocolate and butter, Dr. Sue and her staff turn out truffles, toffee, mendiants, slabs of fruit- and nut-studded “bark”and other specialty items.
While she now has a full-time staff along with state-of-the-art equipment for select tasks, she can recall a time when she tempered chocolate by hand (trust us, it’s an arm workout).
Dr. Sue and Aaron Drew, her longtime store manager, allowed me to play chocolatier on an afternoon after their holiday rush. As I stopped in for my shift, visions of “I Love Lucy” chocolate factory shenanigans began playing on an endless loop in my mind, but it was too late to cancel.
Thankfully, Dr. Sue and Drew quickly eased my anxiety, and the afternoon went smoothly thanks to their organization and clear instructions.
While I came out relatively unscathed — I wore both a brown sweater and an apron to hide any mistakes — I did manage to get chocolate on my face mask when I attempted to lick my fingers (before remembering that I was in a commercial kitchen). I also went through many pairs of disposable gloves.
Here are some of my other takeaways:
There’s a lot of math involved in culinary undertakings. That could be why I went into journalism.
Making bonbons also involves science. Again, the journalism thing.
Chocolate hardens fairly quickly. This isn’t a job for dawdlers or those with a short attention span.
It helps if you’re not totally dependent on one hand or the other. Some tasks require ambidexterity.
Consistency takes practice. Lots and lots of practice.
It’s hard to imagine how they get everything done in a 24-hour day during the Christmas and Valentine’s Day seasons.
Dr. Sue loves details. I had to tie perfect bows, neatly trim ribbons and learn how to make special knots — the kind she makes with forceps when she stitches up patients — in the cords used to attach little booklets to the chocolate box. They didn’t even bother teaching me how to shrink-wrap boxes, as that involves heat, timing and precision.
It was a learning experience. Chocolate takes on different flavors as it changes temperature. At first, the ganache used in the truffles I made tasted buttery, while the finished product had pronounced notes of orange and whiskey.
“Handmade” means just that. There are no robots at work in the kitchen.
Truffles are made in what looks like mini ice cube trays. There are multiple steps that include filling the trays, scraping off excess chocolate and tapping to make sure there are no air bubbles. And those are just the first few steps. At home, I roll the chocolate into little balls, dust them with cocoa and call it a day.
Finally, making chocolate is harder and more time-consuming than you can imagine. So, please, don’t grouse about pricing.
When I left the shop at the end of my shift, I tried not to compare the homemade chocolates I bundled out the door to Drew’s creations (and, no, nothing I made was good enough to sell). But you know what? They tasted darn good, imperfections and all.