What's your favorite food on Valentine's Day? For many, it's chocolate. Yes, chocolate is a food group all its own -- any chocoholic knows that.
Whether you're looking to satisfy your own chocolate craving or splurge on your sweetheart, check out The Hot Chocolatier, 201 W. Main St. This place is a chocolate lover's dream come true, from the hand-crafted truffles lining the front case to the peanut butter mousse and layers of chocolate cake showcased elsewhere.
The business is a testament to the success of Chattanooga's Business Development Center, where owners Wendy and Brandon Buckner began in 2008.
"The center gave me the chance to finally open my business and start creating products," said Wendy, who received her training at the prestigious French Pastry School in Chicago.
While operating under the auspices of the BDC, there was no storefront, but the couple sold their chocolates from their shop deep within the giant center, as well as at Chattanooga Market.
When the opportunity came to open a standalone chocolate shop, the Buckners jumped at the chance. The strong customer base they developed during The Hot Chocolatier's early years has followed them to their new location at the corner of Main and Williams streets.
"We are extremely happy with our Main Street location," Wendy said. "We knew this place was for us when we saw it."
The building has been restored to bring out the structure's historic architecture. Once the chocolate cases were installed and other necessary accouterments added, the Buckners had created the look of an old-fashioned candy shop with a warm appeal. It's a place to take a respite from your busy day and step back in time.
There are two kitchens, one for the handmade chocolates, another for made-from-scratch pastries. Booths along one wall give customers a chance to sit down with a cup of coffee and a piece of pie or a truffle or two.
The Hot Chocolatier's most popular items are "squirrels," which Wendy likens to turtles, and the truffles of all kinds, including a Hottie Truffle made with ancho, chipotle and cayenne peppers.
"And our pastries have been extremely popular, too," she said, noting in particular the Opera Cake, made with delicate layers of dark chocolate ganache, and Almond Jaconde Cake, soaked in house-made coffee syrup.
Is your sweet tooth drawing you in? Business hours are 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; noon-9 p.m. Friday and Saturday. For more information, call 266-3066 or visit the website, www.thehotchocolatier.com.
Handmade chocolates also are being made in the chocolate kitchen at the Bluff View Art District by acclaimed chocolatier Jerome Savin. For years, the chocolate heart boxes have been a favorite Valentine's Day gift. You can buy them with handmade chocolate truffles tucked inside. Or, guys, get creative and secret a diamond inside. To order a chocolate box heart, call 265-5033.
Want to try your hand at making your own chocolate truffles? Here's a recipe from simplyrecipes.com that has been successful for me. Be sure to read through the recipe. It's best to make these a day ahead.
Simply Rich Chocolate Truffles
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon almond extract or 1-2 tablespoons amaretto
8 ounces semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate (high quality, 62 percent cacao or higher), well chopped into small pieces
Truffle coatings: Cocoa powder and/or finely chopped walnuts or almonds
In a small, heavy saucepan, bring the heavy whipping cream and almond extract or amaretto to a simmer. (This may take a while; be sure to stir and scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula every few minutes.)
Place the chocolate in a separate bowl. Pour the cream over the chocolate, and allow to stand for a few minutes, then stir until smooth. (This chocolate base is called ganache.)
Allow to cool, then place in the refrigerator for 2 hours. Remove and, with a teaspoon, roll out balls of the ganache. Roll in your hands quickly (as it will melt from the heat of your hands) and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Place in the refrigerator overnight. Roll in cocoa powder or chopped nuts, and serve, or place back in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
Makes 30-40 chocolate truffles.
Here's another bit of restaurant news ... Happy 20th birthday to 212 Market. It's hard to believe it's been two decades this week since the restaurant at 212 Market St. opened its doors. Next time you drop by for lunch or dinner, be sure to acknowledge this milestone and let the proprietors -- Margaret Moses and daughters Susan and Sally -- know what a tremendous job they've done. The restaurant is the first certified green restaurant in the state. The wine list has won numerous awards. And the food, made-from-scratch gourmet fare using fresh and local ingredients, is among the best in the city. Way to go, 212!
Finally, if you love gumbo and you're looking for a quick escape, visit Sandestin, Fla., Feb. 17-18 for the popular Gumbo Festival. Rates at the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort that weekend begin at $121, which includes admission to the celebration. I've never been, but I've heard the event is one of the tastiest ever, with gumbo made by area cooks. For more information, log onto www.sandestin.com.
Email Anne Braly at email@example.com.