That plain paper box printed with brown lettering, “www.turtlealley.com,” derails dinner parties, at best by distracting hungry guests who want to crack it immediately, at worst by making dessert taste second best.
Then there is that secret flush of greed that strikes when the white cardboard box arrives. You take the guests’ coat, smile, welcome them in, but you are are already plotting your own Turtle Alley Moment, when the soft caramel studded with salty pecans, wrapped in crackling chocolate is yours alone.
Now, you can secretly enjoy your “next day” truffles while flipping pages on how to make them. With her open, raucous confection-loving style, Hallie Baker (they call her Turtle Hallie) shares the Turtle Alley rules of the road in her new book: “Turtle Truffle Bark!
“I’ve spent many hours on the phone trouble-shooting home cooks’ chocolate crises,” Baker says, those why-did-I-ever-think-I-could-make-chocolate-covered-cherries-at-home moments; “Turtle Truffle Bark!” is not only the ambulance to those chocolate emergencies but a primer on creating confections at home.
Baker is a painter by education, a painter who worked in restaurants, candy and ice cream shops to pay for canvas. While kids in sandy bathing suits begging for soft serve did nothing for her, Baker fell in love with the chemistry of chocolate on the way to affording paints and brushes. After working in a Prides Crossing chocolate shop for eight years, Baker opened Turtle Alley chocolates in 2000.
“Chocolate is a highly satisfying medium to work with,” Baker says, eyes twinkling, “people who come in your store are happy, and then you make them happier. It’s an extremely rewarding way to live…I still eat chocolate everyday – and I’ve been making it for twenty-three years.”
Writing about chocolate making, not unlike painting creatively, was by Baker’s account a joy.
“I loved the process of writing the book, it’s a fugue state, like in painting – when you have something that you like – you want everyone to have it.”
For the uninitiated, Turtle Alley is not old fashioned chocolate. Those turtles’ squat lusciousness – “a chocolate, nut, and caramel sandwich” – are more free love than Whitman’s sampler. In her book Baker gives good, basic turtle-making tips, like making sure the caramel is completely cooled to the touch, or it will throw off the chocolate’s temper, and melting high quality caramels instead of making your own, a perfectly acceptable short cut.
About that temper, Baker opens the book with solid tempering guidance, the key to “beautiful, shiny chocolate that has a nice snap to it when you break it.” She trouble-shoots dull looking chocolate, crumbly chocolate, and chocolate that “blooms,” or acquires a white film. Tips for truffle making include being immaculate and patient: keep your tools very clean and allow the chocolate a little time exposed to air.
“Chocolate on your shirt? – Let it harden, flake it off, then spray it with window cleaner.”
In art school, Baker may have been more traditional than abstract, but in chocolate her flavors are more DeKooning than Whistler: White Chocolate Oreo Bark, Milk Chocolate Sesame Date Bark, Milk Chocolate Coconut Curry Truffles, Dark Mayan Truffles (with ancho chili powder, cayenne, and cinnamon). Baker does have rules, like fruits are generally best combined with dark chocolate; milk chocolate makes tart cherries or citrus flavors fall flat. That said, her White Chocolate Blueberry Orange Pecan Turtle – “these babies just say summer! – delicious with a glass of prosecco!” – break the rules with style.
For the record, Dark Chocolate Mocha Cherry Bark is Baker’s personal favorite. “Maybe too much going on?” in this bark, Baker writes, “perfect!”
“Turtle Truffle Bark!” is published by The Countryman Press, a division of W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. Photographs are by Allen Penn, including the white chocolate turtle photographed above. To order from Amazon go to this link: http://www.amazon.com/Turtle-Truffle-Bark-Indulgent-Chocolates/dp/1581572859/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1427728268&sr=8-1&keywords=Turtle+Truffle+Bark
Dark Chocolate Mocha Cherry Bark, from “Turtles Truffles Bark!” by Hallie Baker
1 teaspoon coffee extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract (secret weapon! Tell no one!)
2 pounds tempered dark chocolate
1/2-3/4 cup chopped dried tart cherries
Instructions Lay out a piece of parchment paper on the counter Stir the coffee and almond extracts into the chocolate, then the cherries.
Pour the chocolate in the center of the parchment paper. Scrape the sides down and start spreading the chocolate out to a uniform thickness with an offset spatula. Work fast – when you add ingredients to a bark it tends to set up fast. Use gloved fingers to spread out the cherries if they get bunched up. Spread to about 18×13 inches.
Let the bark sit until the chocolate has lost its wet look and starts to harden. When it’s just set, but not moist, 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. Make sure you are completely cutting through the cherries so the finished pieces of bark are easy to separate. (Baker likes diamond shapes for this bark, as the cherries look like garnets.)
Store bark in airtight container layered with parchment paper. The extracts lose potency when exposed to open air too long, so pack them up quickly and well. Baker recommends this bark chopped up and sprinkled on ice cream or used in a cookie recipe.