CHASSELL - Andrea Aho's love affair with chocolate began when she was a child, with a sweet tooth she seems to have inherited from her grandmother. Grandma Shultz taught her to make fudge, and once, "we ate a whole pan of maple walnut fudge, an 8-inch pan, except for one piece," she remembers.
Later, her dad would take her to the Saunders Ice Cream shop on Michigan Ave. in Detroit, where she'd bypass the ice cream in favor of fudge. As a teen, her dad, a teacher, would smuggle home huge Hershey's bars, with almonds, and share them with her while she helped him grade papers.
"Mother didn't find out about all those Hershey's bars until the day of dad's funeral," she laughed.
Dan Roblee/Daily Mining Gazette
Chocolatier Andrea Aho and her daughter and assistant, Jenny Aho, sample their creations, which can be found at craft fairs, The Yummy Bar in Houghton or special ordered.
Over the years, Aho followed her passion and learned to mold chocolates, mix creamy ganache fillings, decorate candy with colored cocoa butter, roll out hand-made truffles and experiment to create more and more extraordinary chocolate creations.
Less than a year ago, she completed an addition to her family's home with a kitchen dedicated solely to chocolate-making, as well as a room for hosting students hoping to learn her craft. She's sharing her sweet tooth and her craft with her daughter Jenny, who "helps out when she's not eating the chocolate," Aho jokes.
Aho, who has cooked for candy shops and craft fairs over the years, often working late into the night in rented restaurant kitchens, now has a place to make her dream a full-time reality, and the Lake Superior Chocolate Company to market her creations. She's currently selling molded chocolates and truffles through The Yummy Bar in downtown Houghton, creating unique orders for special events, and offering chocolate-cooking classes to private groups looking to learn more about the art.
This summer, she'll be returning to the craft fair circuit, which she'd left for a few years after her parents passing and then while her kitchen was being built, and she also soon hopes to begin selling her chocolates online.
Walking into Aho's chocolate kitchen, you pass through a door inscribed "Speak chocolate and enter," an homage to the "Lord of the Rings" fantasy trilogy, and once inside, it's as if you've entered a magical world.
The kitchen features shelves overflowing with cookbooks dedicated to chocolate, unique appliances for melting chocolate and spraying on cocoa butter, and countless bottles of the colored and flavored bottles of cocoa butter, used to decorate molded chocolates and truffles, the more organically-shaped hand-rolled chocolates.
Recently-finished chocolates on display feature intricate patterns in cocoa butter, some sprayed on with an airbrush, others drizzled or spattered. Aho says she uses the cocoa butter, which can be ordered "in pretty much any color under the rainbow," to hint at the flavors hidden beneath the chocolate shell. Watch out for dark orange, she warns, the habanero chocolates can be spicy.
When the Gazette visited, there was chocolate stirring in a tempering machine, which melts chocolate and keeps it at the right temperature to be poured into molds. It has different settings for white, dark and brown chocolate, Aho said, all of which melt at different temperatures.
The right temperature, she said, forms crystals in the chocolate that lead to a smooth finish once it's formed and hardened. Aho said she favors a thin chocolate shell on most of her creations.
"There's a little bit of science to be learned," she said.
Aho pulled out some ganache, the creamy chocolate and flavoring-mixed goo that fills the truffles and chocolate shells. Ganache often includes flavoring oils and heavy cream, and can infuse anything from habanero pepper to tea into the mix.
"You can make all kinds of yummy centers," Aho said. In Europe, liqueurs are traditional, originally as much for their preservative qualities as their flavor, she noted.
Today, she would be making one of her favorite recent creations, molded chocolates with a coffee ganache using Elbow Grease Espresso roasted by Keweenaw Coffee Works in Calumet.
Aho said she's constantly collecting new books on chocolate-making and trying new things.
"We make interesting experiments all the time," she said, adding that "the kitchen is my classroom."
Jenny Aho, 15, said she's enjoying learning the craft from her mother. Mostly, she said, she's sticking to the recipes for now, but whether it's by-the-book or experimentation, "taste testing is always good."
Andrea Aho said making chocolates continues to intrigue her, and that she's far from exploring all the possibilities of the trade.
"It gives me a great deal of joy," she said. "Where some people may have to go to work, I say I have to go play."
People interested in ordering chocolates or setting up a class can email Aho at LSCCAndrea@sbcglobal.net or call 370-1839.