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Scotts Valley Confectioner Sweeps Festival Awards

Susanna Gaertner

When I first introduced Ashby Confections back in September, I knew that I was onto something special, but no one could predict the results of this this past weekend's Santa Cruz Chocolate Festival, where Jennifer's creations swept the awards: Best in Show, Best Truffle, Best Caramel, and Most Unique Use of Chocolate. Here, for those of you who missed it, a closer look at this treasure trove of tempting truffles...

Assorted  Truffles
Susanna Gaertner

As a dark chocolate lover from childhood, it's easy to tempt me with truffles, those mouth-watering yet mouth-filling morsels of enrobed globular goodness. The variety of truffle fillings is limited only by the imagination of the chocolatier, in this case the talented Jennifer Ashby of the eponymous shop in Scotts Valley's Victor Square.

Jennifer's best seller, the caramel pecan tortoise is made with her proprietary caramel recipe, which eschews butter, customarily a main ingredient in caramel. Another customer favorite is the key-lime pie marshmallow covered in white chocolate, set onto a graham cracker base. The marshmallows are a concoction of boiled sugars—honey and agave syrup are among those she uses—whipped with gelatin. If you've never had a hand-made marshmallow, give these a try. Instead of the fake cotton-candy punch of commercial ones, these pillowy marvels melt into the lime zest and perfectly set off the white chocolate. I'll never like these as much as marzipan, ginger, or Kirsch but they are surely the best iteration of their genre.

Fresh, organic, and non-hydrogenated are the key operating words here: the dairy is only and always organic (Clover Dairy) as is the fresh fruit, locally sourced whenever possible.

Many items are available in both dark and milk chocolate; the latter is a revelation: creamy yet not too sweet, ”because I use a higher cacao content than is usually found in milk chocolate.” The entire assembly is performed by hand, including the enrobing—elsewhere often done by machine—because, she admits, “I need to completely control the process.”

Her perfectionism has been honed over a lifetime of baking, which she began when she was 4 or 5. “Basically, I learned to read and to bake at the same time,” says Jen, whose mother allowed her to work independently in the kitchen from the age of 7. So she has had a lot of practice. “I always knew that I would end up doing this.”

After completing a degree in Sociology at UCSC, Jennifer attended the prestigious Culinary Institute of America (CIA), where she specialized in Baking and Pastry, was introduced to the confectionary arts, and fell in love with working in chocolate. In 2004 she got interest from a local bakery and began to make her artisan chocolates there. With the exception of the two years she took off to birth her twins in 2006, Jen has been making her marvelous morsels ever since.

Ashby Confections
16C Victor Square
Scotts Valley, CA

open Tuesday through Sunday 11 to 7

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