Everyone counts Feb. 14 as one of the sweetest days on the calendar. Whether it’s a handful of hearts with traditional sayings, a heart-shaped box filled with creamy, crunchy surprises or an off-the-charts dessert, the occasion calls for something special that conveys caring thoughts from one heart to another. We asked four top spots in Colorado to share some of their favorite treats to make or to give. Read on for their sweet suggestions.
Chocolate Lab opened on East Colfax Avenue in 2010 when Phil Simonton first went public with his distinctive chocolate/ savory truffles, which now number more than 300 intriguing culinary combos. Seven years later, Simonton added a restaurant and bar to the chocolate shop. “The company mission is to incorporate science and art into each of the entrees, desserts, cocktails and most of all our chocolate creations. Each dish is carefully crafted to bring comfort and adventure to the guest,” he says, citing inventions like the pulled pork sandwich with bourbon chocolate barbecue sauce.
The Lab’s Valentine heart-shaped boxes speak to the occasion, but the contents tell an unusual story. The Drunken Onion Truffle, for example, offers the definitive, out-of-the-box gift. “We caramelize sweet onions and incorporate those into the ganache. In the center is a piece of drunken goat cheese,” Simonton says. “No matter if it is a simple chocolate truffle, a crazy chocolate entree or a uniquely crafted cocktail,” Simonton confirms, “love is always in the air at Chocolate Lab.”
Chocolate Lab “The Warrior” Cocktail
11⁄2 ounces of Tra-Kal (Patagonian spirit)
1 ounce espresso
1⁄2 ounce chocolate liqueur
1⁄2 ounce honey simple syrup
Mix all ingredients into a cocktail shaker without ice. Dry shake the cocktail. Add ice and shake a second time. Strain into a coupe glass. Shave dark chocolate over the top of the cocktail and serve. (The double shake allows the coffee to froth up, leaving a beautiful foamy cocktail that is light with unique flavors from Tra-Kal, a pear and crabapple liqueur.)
Turtles, seafoam, buckeyes and nonpareils are favorites at what owner Adrienne Johnson-Conway defines as “a small, Colorado-owned, modernized, Bavarian-style chocolate house with a flair for new chocolate trends.” Johnson-Conway and her partners changed the store’s name from Dietrich’s to Deiter’s, a multi-generational nickname of the Dietrich family, presenting something fresh but also honoring tradition at the business located near the University of Denver.
The innovative chocolate trends that Johnson-Conway speaks of are the choice on Valentine’s Day. “We offer handcrafted, edible heart-shaped chocolate boxes with love-struck flavors like raspberry, mango chili and Champagne,” she comments. “It feels fulfilling when a customer appreciates the time, effort and thought that goes into our chocolate. A process that begins with an idea becomes three- dimensional, finishing with a customer enjoying a creation.”
Deiter’s Bulletproof Hot Cocoa
8-10 ounces of 110-degree water or milk
1 tablespoon Meadow Gold butter
1⁄2 ounce unsweetened baking coins
2 dashes of stevia or 1 to 3 tablespoons sugar or honey to taste
1⁄2 teaspoon Ceylon cinnamon
1⁄2 teaspoon turmeric
1⁄4 teaspoon ginger
Dash black pepper
Dash cayenne pepper
Blend with hand frother or blender.
The award-winning Gateaux Bakery in the Golden Triangle neighborhood graciously offers pièces de résistance cakes, cookies and pastries. Known for luscious flavor combinations from petite bites to enchanting wedding cakes, owner and pastry chef Michelle Rasul took over Gateaux—a female-owned and all female-staffed enterprise—nurturing her culinary passion then realizing the dream of purchasing the business in January 2020.
“The gals of Gateaux live to celebrate each and every holiday throughout the year,” notes Rasul. “For Valentine’s Day, it would be common to find a slice of New York-style cheesecake covered in a raspberry ganache festooned with hot pink, glittery Xs and Os on them, or sweetheart cupcakes, assorted heart-shaped cookies and conversation hearts,” she adds, emphasizing that cookies can be customized to display a specific theme.
Each month brings new “edible art” to the display cases, including delectable breakfast items. Customers often express gratitude for special celebration creations. “How lucky to play a small part in the most important and joyful or meaningful moments in the lives of others,” she smiles.
Gateaux Bakery Raspberry Linzer Cookies
3 sticks unsalted butter
2 cups sugar
5 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
21⁄2 teaspoons cinnamon
11⁄2 cups hazelnuts, finely ground Seedless raspberry jam
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. With a hand mixer, cream butter and sugar in a bowl. Add eggs until combined. Add flour, baking powder and cinnamon until incorporated. Add hazelnuts. Mix on low speed until combined. Press by hand onto a parchment-lined sheet pan and wrap with plastic wrap. Store in refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Roll out dough on a well-floured surface, until 1/8 inch to 1/4 inch thick. Cut out your favorite shapes. Place half the cookies on a sheet pan, side by side. Top the cookies with your favorite seedless jam. Sandwich together by placing the remaining cookies on top of the filled cookies. Whisk a single egg in a small bowl and with a pastry brush, lightly brushing the egg wash over the cookie sandwich until glossy. Not too much, or you will have a side of scrambled eggs with your Linzer cookie!
Jim Simons, the fourth-generation owner and vice president of sales, is sticking to the company’s motto: “We are still just making a little candy for a few of our friends.” Today, it is on a much grander scale. Almond toffee remains Enstrom’s top draw, along with caramels, cherry cordials, creams and mint meltaways. Valentines are always delighted to receive a heart box packed with toffee or chocolate-covered strawberries. For extra fun, Enstrom’s has added chocolate-molded stilettos and cowboy boots to the shelves.
“I’ll be wearing an Enstrom shirt and someone will stop me in a random airport and proceed to tell me that their family has been buying our toffee for generations,” says Simons. “I will always love to see the look on a first-timer’s face when they take their first bite of our almond toffee. I can just tell when we gain a new customer for life.”
Enstrom Almond Toffee Pie
1 cup sugar
4 tablespoons cornstarch 1⁄4 teaspoon salt
2 cups milk
2 egg yolks
41⁄2 tablespoons cocoa
2 ounces grated German's Sweet Chocolate
1 tablespoon butter
1⁄2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 baked pie shell
4 ounces ground Enstrom World-Famous Almond Toffee
Combine sugar, cornstarch and salt. Add 1/4 cup milk, mixing well. Blend in egg yolks. Scald 1 1/2 cups milk over hot water in top of a double boiler. Add cornstarch mixture to scalded milk, stirring constantly. Beat well with a wire whip or rotary beater until smooth. Cook mixture over hot water, stirring frequently until clear and thickened.
Meanwhile, dissolve cocoa in 1/4 cup milk. Add cocoa and grated chocolate to cornstarch mixture. Continue to cook, stirring until chocolate is melted and mixture is thickened. Remove mixture from heat. Add butter and vanilla, stirring until butter is melted. Refrigerate pudding mixture until it is thoroughly chilled. Turn it into a baked pie shell and sprinkle ground almond toffee over the top. Chill.
Toffee Cake Enstrom-Style
Submitted by Becky Stow
1⁄2 cup white sugar
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1⁄2 cup unsalted butter (room temperature)
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
8 ounces Enstrom’s Almond Toffee, chopped until crumbled
1 teaspoon baking soda
1⁄2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
1⁄2 slivered almonds
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 10-inch cake pan. Cream the sugars and butter in large mixing bowl. Next, whip the egg and add to that cream, then slowly add the buttermilk. Beat in the vanilla, flour and baking soda.
Pour cake batter into the cake pan. Sprinkle the Enstrom's Almond Toffee and the nuts, if using, over the top. Bake for 45 minutes, or until a wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack. For added sweetness, frost with chocolate icing and decorate with slivered almonds and chopped Enstrom’s Almond Toffee. Stand back or you might be stampeded; it’s a crowd-pleaser.
2504 E. Colfax Ave., Denver 720-536-5037 chocolatelabdenver.com
1734 E. Evans Ave., Denver 720-925-5982 deiterschocolates.com
1160 Speer Blvd., Denver 303-376-0070 gateauxpastries.com
ENSTROM CANDIES, INC.
701 Colorado Ave., Grand Junction 970-242-1655
Retail locations: enstrom.com
Marge D. Hansen is a chocolate lover and writer/editor based in Broomfield. Her work appears in a variety of magazines and on several websites.
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