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February 13, 2013

Experimenting with chocolate

Cellar Door Chocolates takes on a daily challenge

When the New Year dawned, many of us dared ourselves to try something new. Whether that means brushing our teeth with the left hand instead of the right, frequenting different restaurants, or walking a new route to work, the turn of the calendar always brings with it the promise of discovery. It is in this spirit that the chocolatiers at Cellar Door began the 365 Days of Chocolate.

First carried out in 2009, Cellar Door’s self-imposed task is to create a new confection each day of the year. And there is another catch: Each treat must be totally different than the 365 chocolates concocted four years ago.

Also different this time around is the fact that they will document the process through written recipes and photographs, which they hope to publish in the form of a book when the project is complete.

It’s a tough task, but Erika Chavez-Graziano, owner of Cellar Door, says, “In my industry, it’s important to stay relevant, and this is a way to keep us up on our game.”

The chocolatiers took the day off on Jan. 1 (a well-deserved break after the sweet madness of the holidays), and 365 Days of Chocolate launched on Jan. 2. Though just a little more than a month in, they’ve already learned some lessons.

“It’s exciting to experiment, fail, and then build on that failure,” Chavez-Graziano says. “Each time we can make something better, it adds to our knowledge base.”

When asked for an example, she tells the story of a hot chocolate made during the month of January. “We had this idea to do a hot chocolate with white chocolate, rosemary and lemon oil, because white chocolate is a great canvas for savory flavors. Well, it turned out, white chocolate is horrible with lemon. I was out of town and Kate (Cellar Door’s lead chocolatier) said it tasted like floor cleaner, so we tried dark chocolate, which was intense enough to carry the flavors. We learned something new.”

I’ve long enjoyed Cellar Door’s wares, which can be purchased at a wide variety of shops around town, but had never stopped in their retail location — the only place the daily specialties of the 365 Days of Chocolate experiment are offered.

Cellar Door is located in a back corner of the Butchertown Market. After walking through Work the Metal, snaking past rows of scarves and earrings, you’ll find counters and cases full of deliciousness. During a recent visit, the 365 special was a cookie dough truffle, a mound of chocolate filled with the dough of a classic favorite, the chocolate chip cookie. I picked one up, along with a sea salt peanut butter cup, an item from Cellar Door’s standard milieu.

After dinner, my sweetie and I sampled the chocolates. The cookie dough truffle was crumblier than it was creamy, which I suspect was partially due to it being created without eggs to squash any customer raw-food fears. But the truffle was soft and distinct, making for a tasty after-dinner sweet, which we quickly gobbled up along with the peanut butter cup. Of the two chocolates, the sea salt peanut butter cup was our favorite. But that doesn’t mean I’m giving up on the 365, just that I’ll be picking up a peanut butter cup each time I stop in for a daily chocolate adventure.

And as a sucker for documentation, I’m also looking forward to the forthcoming book. The style of Cellar Door’s products is classy and understated, a quality Chavez-Graziano credits to Danny Cash of Logic Creative, the designer of Cellar Door packaging. She says Cash is the commonsense choice as the book designer, but it’s still too early in the experiment to know what form the book will take.

I’m all for taking chances and building successes from the ashes of failure. That, along with a sweet tooth and love of books, will have me stopping in Cellar Door Chocolates throughout the year. 

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