There may have been a bigger line for Elvis, but not by much. Braving a blustery Sunday where snow skidded from squalls to flurries and back again, the first group of 400-plus supporters of “Chocolat,” Lewiston Middle School’s Second Annual Chocolate Competition and fundraiser, shivered in a frosty parking lot. At 12:45 p.m. b.c. (before chocolate, that is), mouths watered and palates poised themselves behind scarves and ski masks in anticipation of the doors opening in a few minutes and the knee-deep sugary spectacle that waited within.
With proceeds funding Lewiston Middle School’s end-of-the-year activities — including events like last year’s visit from a representative of Lisbon’s Butterfly and Insect Museum, a trip to Spare Times Bowling Lanes, and ice cream social and barbecue — pre-event ticket sales at $10 apiece had already nearly doubled from 2010. Add to that projected sales from a gift basket raffle and a “50/50” raffle, where half of the spoils go to a winner and half to Lewiston Middle School, and students clearly have a season of end-of-year miracles to look forward to.
“The idea is to turn funds into something that benefits the kids directly,” said event co-chair and middle school French teacher Mike Courchesne, “not for school repairs or anything like that.” The event was held at the Lewiston Regional Technical School’s student-run The Green Ladle restaurant/culinary arts program, and participating vendors included Bates College, The Bread Shack, Island Candy Company (of Orr’s island), Betty ReeZ, Rolly’s Diner, Maine Gourmet Chocolates, Pastiche, Ella’s Candies, and Cake and Candy Creations.
Once inside, category judges and chocolate civilians circled troughs of chocolate crepes, truffles, tartlets, fudge, chocolate-dipped brownies, cupcakes, English toffee, rich gelato and more, laced with cherries, mocha cream, Kahlua, espresso, raspberry coulis, caramel, roasted almonds and pecans.
“We develop these products so we can sell them at the shop – it’s a way to get us to make new things,” said Bread Shack baker John Wright of their pioneering chocolate cherry bread (which will be available around Valentine’s Day) and caramel pecan tartlets (which were disappearing at warp speed from his post). Working alongside daughter Georgia, four-and-a-half, who knew her way around a treat table, Wright emphasized the significance of supporting the community through events like this.
“It’s a grueling process, especially with the way the economy is today,” said event co-chair and The Green Ladle pastry chef instructor Katie Liguori, referring to the difficulty of finding vendors for the fundraiser. Merchants are generally just trying to keep their heads above water, she said, so making enough chocolate treats for the fundraiser is an added challenge. Last year two vendors reportedly ran out of wares. This year, Bates College presenters ran out of chocolates during the bustling event and hastily drove back to their kitchens, however, returning with platters of freshly baked cookies so as not to miss a beat.
The Food Network calling
For triple crown winner Sadie Blais, 18, a Leavitt High School senior who took first place in the Chocoholics’ Dream, Decadent Display and (people’s choice) Candy Is Dandy categories, being the daughter of Rolly’s Diner owner Ken Blais apparently had nothing to do with her unanticipated success. Blais’ skyrocketingly popular chocolate crepes with mocha Bavarian creme, raspberry sauce and chocolate glaze (word spread fast that day) were the results of a monthlong kitchen-as-laboratory experiment, where she admits she refused all assistance from her dad.
“I didn’t get serious about all this until last year, though it’s become a dream of mine to be a pastry chef,” Blais said. While she waitresses at the Auburn diner on weekends and concedes learning a lot over the years by observation, Blais plans to formally study her craft in the future and embark on a dessert catering business, “Sadie’s Treats,” this summer. “He can be my assistant,” she said of her father.
For Orr’s Island resident Melinda Richter of Island Candy Company, offerings of English toffee with milk chocolate and roasted almonds, and mocha truffles with Kahlua and espresso, were displayed amidst two-by-three-foot blocks of white and dark chocolate. Because the business is seasonal and the store was closed for the winter, Richter said she had to re-open and re-heat the store to begin the preparation process. “Her toffee is definitely my favorite thing,” said smiling fellow Orr’s Island resident William Beazley, whose wife, Kit Hildebrandt, is a guidance counselor at Lewiston Middle School and makes the daily commute. “It’s nice to see my neighbor here,” Beazley added.
As an antidote to sweetness (if you needed one), a savory table prepared and emceed by The Green Ladle students included nachos, chili, chicken Alfredo with pesto, another pasta dish with spinach, and blackened beef. In the kitchen, a cadre of Lewiston High School students, including senior Zach Hall, who is part of The Green Ladle program and is chef-world bound, tirelessly seared the blackened beef over high flames. Hall said he was grateful to be volunteering for the cause.
Kim Robitaille of Lewiston felt the same. “It’s my first year at Chocolat," she said. "I’ll be back.”
Sadie’s award-winning chocolate crepes
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups chocolate milk
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/4 cup vegetable oil or melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla flavoring
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar
Mix ingredients together and whisk or beat well with hand or electric mixer until smooth and shiny. Put in a covered bowl and refrigerate for an hour.
Heat skillet, frying pan or griddle on medium-high heat. Put 1/2 tablespoon of oil in pan or on griddle and spread around evenly. Pour enough crepe mixture to create a thin layer (about 1/4 cup). Cook until browned on one side, then flip. When both sides are done to your liking, remove to plate on the side.
Mocha Bavarian Cream
2 tablespoons water
1 package gelatin
2 cups milk
1-2 tablespoons instant coffee
1/4 cup sugar
4 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup cold heavy or whipping cream
Soak package of gelatin in 2 tablespoons of water until moistened. Beat together egg yolks and sugar. Put egg-sugar mixture in a double boiler and begin heating. Scald (cook until just under boiling) 2 cups of milk. When milk is scalded, slowly add to sugar and egg mixture, mixing well. Add gelatin mixture, instant coffee and vanilla and mix until gelatin is dissolved. Refrigerate until mixture has consistency of an unbeaten egg. Whisk the gelatin mixture until fluffy. Whip heavy or whipping cream until stiff and fold into gelatin mixture. Refrigerate until set.
Spoon Bavarian cream into crepe or pipe in using a pastry bag. Fold crepe. Top with chocolate glaze or sauce and add raspberry jam, fresh raspberries or any fruit of your choice.
Need more chocolate?
SeniorsPlus is holding its first ChocoLArt fundraising event on March 21.
Organizers are calling this chocolate tasting event and art silent auction "a delectable afternoon filled with the delights of chocolate, wine and art.
Guests will sample a variety of chocolate-inspired dishes from the area’s finest restaurants and chefs as they browse the art, pottery, crafts and jewelry composing the silent auction. Wine, as well as other beverages and hors d’oeuvres, will be available.
The event benefits Meals on Wheels and other SeniorsPlus programs.
Tickets are $35 each. Event is on Sunday, March 21, from 2 to 5 p.m. at the Hilton Garden Inn in Auburn.
For tickets, call SeniorsPlus at 1-800-427-1241 or mail checks payable to SeniorsPlus to: SeniorsPlus, P.O. Box 659, Lewiston, ME 04243-0659