One of the things I love about Asheville compared to where I used to live is that there is more than one of most everything. There are multiple restaurants for Indian food, Thai food, Mexican food, and even multiple top-notch pizzerias within 5 minutes of my house. Spoiled for choice, we are here!
Nowhere are we more blessed than in the fact that we have multiple high-quality dessert shops here in town, offering everything from ice cream to cake to sweet beverages… and at Asheville Chocolate, you can get all of the above.
My journeys around Asheville take me down Broadway frequently, and I’ve often admired the beautiful sculptural details on the Asheville Chocolate sign and the warm, cozy vibe of their interior, but there are so few days when it feels like the right time to pause my day and try a treat. On a hot August day, though, I committed to the pursuit of pleasure and went in to try a few flavors.
In the front is a gelato serving case, but to the side are two large display cases full of every conceivable kind of truffle and chocolate confection. This space took me back: I grew up in central NC, and my first job ever was working for a gourmet chocolatier.
I remember the many steps it takes to get the perfect little truffles in the display case, from mixing the perfect proportions to create the ganache centers to piping them and rolling them into the perfect shape. I wasn’t in the chocolate business long enough to hand-roll truffle centers in the liquid chocolate, but I’ll never forget the skill needed to perfectly coat them and set them on a tray to dry and harden with a perfectly smooth round shell of crisp dark or milk chocolate.
I did sometimes get to add the colorful details to the tops of truffles to distinguish an amaretto truffle from an espresso truffle, and as I admired all the artistry in that case, I felt impressed in a way that typically only originates from having at least an inkling of the work that went into that item. Food production of all kinds is a bit of wizardry, but beautiful chocolate will always seem one of the most impressive forms to me.
I got the opportunity, however, to return to my chocolate-making background through Asheville Chocolate’s chocolate-making classes. This isn’t a mixing-cocoa-solids-with-milk kind of cooking class, but rather a chocolate assembly and decorating class, which is far more in my wheelhouse anyway.
I was joined by a friend and a couple in the class who were spending a weekend away in Asheville – the wife had surprised her husband with this class and, of all things, made him guess what they were doing. He didn’t figure it out until they arrived!
The class began with a discussion of chocolate’s fickle temperament. Anyone who has melted some chocolate chips and accidentally gotten a drop of water into the shiny hot mixture realizes what it means for chocolate to “seize,” where the water disrupts the solid-crystal structure that gives chocolate its smoothness and excellent snap when broken.
Cooling the chocolate incorrectly, heating the chocolate incorrectly, or putting water into the chocolate can all result in a shine-less, crumbly result – still tasty, but not the smooth-as-silk treats from the confection case. The solution is to know your chocolate’s needs, our instructor taught us, and use a machine to “temper” the chocolate, bringing it to the right temperature to work with so that it will be able to cool to a beautiful final finish.
We learned how to use particular dipping forks to dip chocolate sandwich cookies into both milk and dark chocolate, and then learned about the ways the team makes chocolate ganache centers for truffles – we had four different truffle “centers” ready on our trays and we got to pick whether to dip them in milk or dark chocolate.
Lots of smaller errors ensued, but it was a fun experience, realizing that even the mistakes in a chocolate class are edible and many of the mistakes can be undone by dipping the truffle center back into the chocolate for a new finish.
Our instructor regaled us with her own process of learning through doing as a chocolatier, and we all quite nicely got the hang of dipping various items. She then brought tempered chocolate out in piping bags and showed us how to add designs to our chocolates, from curlicues of milk chocolate to decorate the top of a dark chocolate-covered cookie to edible contact paper designs that we could layer on top of truffles to make them look truly professional. It was really a bit of an art class!
Our second portion of the class involved learning a technique for piping designs and creating custom chocolate bark with our own unique artwork. We fit a lot of chocolate making into 90 minutes – I was particularly impressed with the instructor’s eye for timing the temper of the chocolate, placing the treats into the fridge or freezer based on how much time was left, and leaving enough time for us to box up our truffles and treats in a lovely to-go box at the end of the class, all hardened and ready to brave the world outside the shop.
I have to say that Asheville Chocolate is a worthwhile stop, even if all you need is a perfect afternoon pick-me-up like I got the day I came in and tried, of all things, their Roasted Banana Gelato. I looked at the gelato case and thought, “I’m going to love all the traditional flavors. What’s a flavor that would be a stretch to make me love?” and the banana one came to mind.
I’m not big on bananas in the first place, so I didn’t hold high hopes, but goodness gracious, they made me a fan. The caramelized banana content made it more like a lightly-banana-flavored caramel ice cream, full of a round, fruity flavor that I rarely experience in a gelato.
I’ll also shout out the zen feeling of the space – from the huge landscape photography that was on the walls when I arrived to the very cute window seat where I enjoyed my Roasted Banana Gelato, it feels like a place where you can relax and unwind.
Whether your preference is a slice of cheesecake, a bottle of beer, a glass of wine, or a box of truffles infused with spicy peppers (there are multiple options!), this spot has treats and taste treasures in abundance. I especially appreciate the nod to kids, with chocolates with names like Jurassic Bark and chocolate-dipped Oreos, and the fact that there’s a well-stocked board game shelf so that you can enjoy your treats while taking a break together with family or friends.
Don’t forget that they have multiple kinds of chocolate drinks as well as non-chocolate coffee bar items. As you bask in the peaceful mountain portrait on the wall, you can also enjoy the open kitchen where staff may be bustling around filling orders or actually preparing chocolates and other treats in full view. It’s got the same fun and magical energy that I remember from working at my chocolate shop as a teenager, and seeing the friendly and kind staff, I can tell that they love what they do as much as I did.
Certainly, there are people who wouldn’t like this spot… people who aren’t fans of chocolate might find somewhere better to be, for instance. But for the most part, Asheville Chocolate has flavors to cater to a very wide variety of people and outing purposes, from a quick stop in to buy a present to a leisurely afternoon of wine and gelato over a board game. I think you’ll find something that surprises and delights you no matter how much chocolate you’ve already tried.
Asheville Chocolate: 25 Broadway St, Asheville