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Edible gifting: Handmade, locally made truffles for Valentine’s Day

Post by Sue Kidd / The News Tribune on Feb. 14, 2014 at 12:00 am | No Comments »
February 14, 2014 8:49 am
The Sonsie Chocolatier, Edie Rahlf , makes handmade artisan truffles at the French Hen Bistro in Lakewood.
The Sonsie Chocolatier, Edie Rahlf , makes handmade artisan truffles at the French Hen Bistro in Lakewood. Dean J. Koepfler/Staff photographer

Edie Rahlf’s chocolate truffles mirror her sense of humor – delightful and cheeky.

Take, for instance, the most rollicking flavors: A tickle of coconut milk with a note of lemongrass. A pop of peppercorn followed by a tiny push of lemon. Strawberry licked with balsamic vinegar.

Her two-bite truffles create movement on the palate – first, a deeply delicious coating of chocolate, followed by a tease of heady aroma and a touch of something sharp.

Move down her product line and find more muted flavors with a traditional approach. Dark chocolate with a burst of Grand Marnier. A simple citrus-tweaked lemon truffle. Her mint truffles appeal to kids and grownups.

She makes truffles with dark or milk chocolate – even some in white chocolate.

In all, she has more than 20 flavor combinations for Sonsie Chocolatier, the secondary business she has operated simultaneously with her French Hen Bistro in Lakewood since 2008. (See a list below of other local confectioners that make for great last-minute gift giving).

Truffles from the Sonsie Chocolatier come with pretty designs painted onto the chocolates.
Truffles from the Sonsie Chocolatier come with pretty designs painted onto the chocolates.

Last month, she turned over French Hen to her landlord and staff members because, as she described, “Restaurants have a way of taking over your life. I was hardly ever home. I would be there morning ’til night. I was making our own soup, quiche, desserts and chocolates and worked the floor. Chocolates alone are a lengthy, brutal, labor-intensive work. Thank goodness my kids were raised,” said Rahlf.

This week, she expects to make more chocolates than ever before with the luxury of not worrying about daily restaurant chores. She still sells her chocolates at the French Hen, even though she’s no longer a daily presence.

She’ll be at the bistro Friday selling her truffles, which she packages in see-through plastic boxes that showcase intricate designs she applies by hand. For her latest line of chocolates, a friend, pastry chef Dawn Rose, custom designed France-themed artwork, which Las Vegas company Chef Rubber transferred to cocoa ink. One design resembles a French tapestry, one is of the Eiffel Tower and another of a can-can girl.

The Sonsie Chocolatier, Edie Rahlf. Dean J. Koepfler/Staff photographer
The Sonsie Chocolatier, Edie Rahlf. Dean J. Koepfler/Staff photographer

Rahlf started making truffles 25 years ago when her son was a baby. She was a curious lover of chocolate. In our connected era where cheesemaking is taught via television and goat rearing through YouTube videos, it seems shocking that Rahlf had no reference materials.

“When I first started, there was no Internet or home cooking channel. I couldn’t find any books on tempering chocolate. I learned through making hundreds of mistakes,” she said.

Through trial and error, Rahlf pushed the limits of what she could do with a modestly outfitted kitchen. She purchased professional gear. Tempering by hand, she said, is not for the timid.

When she began making truffles, only Bellevue’s Larry’s Market (now shuttered) carried bulk chocolate. Today, she sources from numerous chocolate purveyors, using dark chocolate from different regions and chocolate makers to achieve specific flavor profiles.

“Chocolatiers are trying to educate the public to have a more definitive … sense of pleasure from chocolate. We want you to be able to detect a fruity note or a woody note. The cacao bean is just like wine – the land it’s grown in, the minerals in the soil, the altitude, the kind of tree defines the kind of bean it is. And that defines how you’re going to use it.”

In all of her years making truffles, she’s taken a single professional class. It was with Chris Hammer before he won the second season of the television show “Top Chef: Just Desserts.”

For newcomers to her treats unsure of what to sample first, Rahlf has simple advice: “Don’t be intimidated – go with what you know,” she said. “When you feel like being adventurous, move onto something else, try something else. But savor it – eat it slowly.”

WHERE TO BUY TRUFFLES AND OTHER SWEETS

Edie Rahlf's handmade truffles.
Edie Rahlf’s handmade truffles. Dean J. Koepfler/Staff photographer

Sonsie Chocolatier
Where: French Hen Bistro, 3810 Steilacoom Blvd. SW, Lakewood; 253-983-1313; frenchhenbistro.com/Chocolates.php
Find Edie Rahlf’s chocolate truffles anytime during French Hen’s operating hours. Rahlf will be at the bistro selling her chocolates Friday. Contact Rahlf for truffle inquiries outside of major holidays on her cellphone: 253-691-2620.

Brown & Haley Factory Stores sell all kinds of candy, including their popular Roca.
Brown & Haley Factory Stores sell all kinds of candy, including their popular mint Roca.

Brown & Haley Factory Stores
Where: 110 E. 26th St., Tacoma; 253-620-3067.
3500 20th St. E., Fife; 253-620-3030. brown-haley.com
Find Almond Roca and other candy from Tacoma-based Brown & Haley at two retail locations – one in Fife and another in the Tacoma Dome neighborhood where the factory is located. Year-round, find a variety of candies made by the company, including Mountain Bars. Also find boxed dessert mixes.

Emily’s Chocolates/AMES International
Where: 4401 Industry Drive E., Fife; 253-235-4866, emilyschocolates.com
This international company based in Fife is known for its gourmet chocolate-dipped fortune cookies and other nut-based and chocolate confections. It operates a Fife retail store where shoppers can find the high-end items typically sold only through upscale businesses.

Johnson Candy Co.
Where: 924 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Tacoma; 253-272-8504
Handmade flavored truffles start at just a few dollars for a half dozen. Counter workers will wrap up your box of hand-picked chocolates, or find larger pre-wrapped boxes decorated for Valentine’s Day filled with handmade chocolates and nut concoctions. Johnson Candy Co. specializes in mints, as well as sugar-free candies.
I’m partial to the company’s sea salt caramels dipped in dark chocolate, but expect those to be in short supply by Valentine’s Day. Chocolates have been made at this Hilltop neighborhood candy company for more than 50 years.

Tacoma Boys Fudge
Where: 5602 Sixth Ave., Tacoma; 253-756-0902, tacomaboys.com
If you have not yet tried the handmade fudge at Tacoma Boys, you need to fix that. Offered in a variety of flavors, the fudge is made at the Tacoma store. A daily selection is available, but custom orders are taken, too.

Consider this a Valentines Day six-pack. The Johnson Candy Company offers prepackaged gifts of chocolate big and small.
Consider this a Valentines Day six-pack. The Johnson Candy Company offers prepackaged gifts of chocolate big and small.
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