Thursday, December 10, 2015

Ho ho ho!

Oh December, you wacky month of comfort and joy, sore muscles and tasty beverages, and gorgeous starry skies!

I love this month.  I always have.  My father hated the commercialism of Christmas, but my mother loved the whole thing.  When my brother and I were kids, she hardly ever wrapped a present before we fell asleep Christmas Eve, so it really was a wonder on Christmas morning.

Of course I see it a bit differently now that I'm in a business that is so crazy during December, but not too differently.  I love that people come in to buy secret Santa gifts.  I love that folks come in to buy candy filled dreidels, advent calendars, all that stuff.  I'm not a religious person, but I do love the bustle of it all.

After 16 years in business, one of the very coolest rewards is that we have become a tradition in some families.  The idea that Turtle Alley is a known, expected treat during the holidays makes me happier than I can express, actually.  It's hard to believe this all started with one machine and just me.

It's a whole different ball game now, lots of  apron-clad turtles gracing both stores, and lots of candy flying out the door. Chocolate on every surface, customers coming in and going out all day, so many turtles.  Soooo many turtles.

December is a month where attaining a work/life balance can be difficult, but every year it does get a bit better. One of the many added benefits to my job is that in December, it's also a lot of my social life -- I see everyone!  I'm also pretty lucky that my husband is Turtle Alley's shipping manager, otherwise I might not see him at all.....

candy cane pretzels!!
So this month's post is going to be a bit short.  I've got more of these to make:

FYI:  if you're in Cape Ann and watching cable on December 17th, tune in to John Ronan's TV show, "Writers Block".  You'll get to see little ole me chat about my book, candy, all sorts of things!

Until next time:  avoid the news at all costs, tell the people you love that you love them, smile at strangers, and by all means, do NOT make any chocolate related resolutions for the New Year!!

xxx.  Happy Holidays.

Monday, October 19, 2015

October, Witch City, & the Neverending Story of the Caramel Apple Forest

and so it begins...
It's not quite a month since my last dispatch, but man oh man, has it been a busy not-quite-a-month. First, let's just get this out there:  we have a sister shop in Salem Ma.  It's October.  I'm delirious.


This month has been really fun, exciting, and intense.  I've been able to do my favorite thing, making candy, but also have had the opportunity to do some other things, mostly around my book .  On the 10th, I did a chocolate making demo and book signing at Williams Sonoma  in R.I. (my home state).  It's a beautiful shop, and I had a really lovely crowd there.  Probably the best part about the whole thing was I got to troubleshoot a truffle recipe an attendee was having difficulty with.  When I was able to explain what the problem was, I swear, I actually saw a light bulb go off over her head.  It felt really good to connect in that way over one of my favorite subjects.  Also, we sold some books, which was excellent.

A couple of days later, I did an interview on local TV (here in Gloucester).  The show "Writer's Block" has been hosted by John Ronan for 26 years.  John's an old friend of my husband's, and a lovely fella.  We had a great time talking about the book and such.  It was a bit surreal to be introduced as an author -- I'm still getting used to that.  The actual show will air December 17th; I hope it looks as fun as it actually was.

In October, with the Salem shop in full swing, the shop here in Gloucester really starts to feel like a factory:  constant production, long hours, many hands making the work flow smoothly.  For me, it's about heading into work in the dark, and leaving work in the dark, too -- and that's fine.  Making hay is hard work.

I'm pretty proud of the caramel recipe I've been tweaking over the years.  It is exactly the caramel I always want to eat.  Probably about 8 years ago, our longest running manager in the Salem shop, Jennie the Boots, basically nagged me into adding caramel apples to our repertoire.  It was a truly brilliant idea. It is crazy how many of those babies we sell.  Right now, I feel like pretty much all I'm doing is cooking caramel and dipping apples into it.

Dark out.  
Also dark out.
This is actually really cool.  Early in the morning (when I can hear myself think), I sometimes take a second to think of just how many people have enjoyed our apples, turtles; all of the stuff we make here with our own hands.  Somehow it makes it not seem so dark out.

I'm going to sign off now, there's a batch of caramel on the stove that will not be ignored.  Before I do, I'm going to take a second and think about all the people at Turtle Alley that make the work so much fun, and make my days so much easier.  Graham, LeRoy, Amy, Kathleen, Hannah, Brandy, Bree, Julian, Fiona, Natalia, and Zoe:  thank you.   I couldn't do it without you, and wouldn't want to!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

In which the chocolate road leads to delicious POLLOCK!

On September 20th, I had the distinct pleasure to be one of 5 judges for a Seafood Throwdown at the Boston Local Food Festival.  It was an all woman event:  all women chefs, and the panel of judges, all women authors.  Total honor, and a hoot to boot!

Despite the fact that I make my nut on sweets, I'm no slouch in the kitchen, and am known for a pretty precise palate. This was a great way to meet some other food authors, and stretch my taste buds a bit.  Added bonus?  They wanted us to actually talk about our books, which I am always down with.

I'd only met one of the other judges in person, Heather Atwood.  She did a really lovely review of my book.  We found we had friends in common, and actually got on so well I came precariously close to burning a giant batch of buttercrunch (talk about getting on like a house on fire!).  Other than Heather, I knew no one on the panel (literally, a fish out of water. *sorry*).  What a fantastic group: Ali Berlow, Leigh Belanger, Diana Rodgers.  Fascinating conversations, cool jobs, good earrings, great books.  What else could one ask for?

Well hellooooo, Pollock!

There were two teams competing in this Throwdown, and the fish was pollock.  The goal of these throwdowns is to feature under utilized fish, and show folks what can be done with them.  Both of the teams did a fantastic job, but the Fishmongers came out on top (one of the categories to judge is use of the whole fish -- they cooked the skin to crispy perfection!).  It was a really close contest, and both teams were super talented.

As the teams shopped for ingredients and then got down to cooking, each of us in turn was asked to chat a bit about our books.  It was a really fun and informal atmosphere, so I only tanked a little.  The other ladies were on their games, though. Watch and learn, Hallie.  Watch and learn.

All in all, the day couldn't have been better:  the weather, the company, the chefs, the fish.  What an amazing food festival this is.  A total treat to step out of my chocolate covered clogs and into more fish-friendly flip flops.

SO:  not a chocolate blog at all today, just a chocolatier's lucky day out blog.

Not to worry:  I do not intend to marry chocolate and fish anytime soon.  Unless maybe we get into making mole.......

Up next:

Who knows!  It will be about sweets, though, I promise.

PS:  We're losing the light, but try to get out to see these sunsets.  They are fabulous!

No filter.  From my "front porch".

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Summer See Ya

Oh, Summer, must you leave so soon?!

Even though Labor Day is late this year, summer is slinking off before our very eyes.  Our student employees are getting ready to go back to school, the light is changing, thoughts turn to fall flavors.

Cider Caramels, hooray!
I had some really good luck with a new recipe for wrapped cider caramels, so that's exciting, and a nice change from pumpkin spice everything that we see come September.  I for one, have always loved autumn the best, but after last year's winter, the summer has been too sweet to let go of quite yet.

Let's cling to the last week of summer with a guilty pleasure recipe, shall we?  We're dipping into my recipe book, Turtle, Truffle, Bark!  for this one, so keep in mind, the recipe for tempering chocolate can be found in Master Recipe One.


 Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Crispy Bark

Can you say guilty pleasure?!

 Layer upon layer of childhood memories and guilty pleasures here!  Milk chocolate pairs with peanut butter in a most irresistible way, without a doubt.  If you're a dark chocolate purist, go right ahead.  To  my palate, though, the sweetness of milk chocolate and the saltiness of the peanut butter really complement each other well.  To really send this over the top, I stir in puffed rice cereal into the bark and then sprinkle with salt.  You can make this without the rice cereal, but why would you want to do that?                                                                                                                                     

What You'll Need:

1 sheet parchment paper
1/2 cup scoop of peanut butter
2 lbs. tempered milk chocolate
1/2 cup puffed rice cereal
2 pinches large flake salt
offset spatula, or a silicon spatula
chef's knife

Lay out the parchment paper.

Stir peanut butter into the tempered chocolate, incorporating fully, then fold in puffed rice cereal.

Pour chocolate mixture on the center of the parchment paper.

With your spatula, spread the chocolate out on the parchment.  Keep the thickness uniform (1/4 inch to 1/2 inch thick).

Using your hand (a vinyl glove is nice on that hand!), drag your fingers through the chocolate to evenly distribute the cereal.  Sprinkle salt lightly across the top of the bark (Go easy -- a little goes a long way.)

When it's just set, but not wet looking, cut the bark with a chef's knife.  Start the cut with the tip of the knife and rock the rest of the blade into the bark.  Remove from the chocolate and continue.  If there's too much chocolate buildup on your  knife, wash it off, rinsing with cold water.  Make sure the knife is completely dry before cutting into the chocolate again.

Best scarfed up within 2 weeks of storage in an airtight container.

Here's to the rest of summer!!

PS:  favorite chocolate right now:  dark mocha truffle

PPS: currently butchering NOTHING on the uke.  Too busy!

Friday, August 14, 2015

Hearty hellos and here goes!

Sooo serious, this chocolate stuff.
Hallie Baker here, from Turtle Alley Chocolates, my own personal haven, and your own personal pit-stop for all things sweet.  This is the place where I get to write about the things I'm elbow deep in, whether it's a new recipe, a flavor I can't get enough of, the latest song I'm butchering on my uke, chocolate tips, recipes, just whatever the hell I'm excited about -- on the sweet side.
Such freedom! Such overwhelming freedom!


About half my life I've been messing around with chocolate.  In 1999, I opened up my first shop in Gloucester, MA.  A few years later, a second shop in Salem, MA.  We've had a  lot of luck with great reviews, and extremely loyal and devoted fans.  In the past year, everything culminated in the chance to write and publish Turtle, Truffle, Bark! -- which was way more fun than I could have anticipated.

It's a lucky life I lead.
It's true.  All those words came out of MY HEAD.

As the business has grown, our Turtle Crew has expanded (in a most excellent way, I might add), leaving me more time to play with flavors and test out new recipes, which is my favorite thing. Because I really am a lucky so-and-so.

So welcome to the blog, welcome to my world, hold on to your hats, and enjoy the ride!

Papaya coconut caramel.  Genius!  
PS.  favorite chocolate right now:  dark chocolate papaya coconut caramel.

PPS. currently butchering "Girl Talk" on uke.

PPPS.  favorite smell on a scooter ride is beach roses on the back shore.

Over and out, good buddies!