Rob Tschudin Lucheme knows his chocolates. That is the first thing you learn when talking with the affable chocolatier of Tschudin Chocolates. If you ask him, he will gladly explain the finer points on cacao percentage and fat content and their different influences on the taste and texture of chocolate. But his vast understanding of chocolate is most evident in the remarkable quality of his chocolate confections.
Tschudin Chocolates offers classic candies such as dipped fruit, dipped pretzels, chocolate peanut butter cups and the like, but they also sell their own creative creations like the award-winning “Night in Tunisia” candy (chocolate filled with pepper and coriander) and the “Cinderella” (milk chocolate honey ganache). In the warmer months, moussicles (frozen mousse popsicles) are extremely popular. There are also certain other sweets that are also made there, such as marshmallows with white chocolate and pandan leaves (one of Rob’s favorite things to make because of the unusual flvaor) and vanilla whipped cream for cakes.
Tschudin Chocolates sometimes offers creative and delicious pastries, such as an inverted chocolate puff pastry, with an almond rum filling, covered with candied apples. Rob walked us through his process for this complicated dessert.
Rob makes his own inverted chocolate puff pastry (inverted because it has the butter on the outside) ahead of time. One piece can have as many as 784 layers! Rob cuts the pastry into long rectangles and scores the edges – partly for decoration and partly to hold in the filling and let out steam when baking. He mumbles as he does this, as if talking to himself. He explains, “It’s important to talk to your pastry”. Then he places small strips in the outline of smaller rectangles on top of the large rectangles, making an enclosure for the filling. Rob uses egg yolks as glue. He then paints an egg wash of eggs and cream onto the outside, which waterproofs the pastry against the filling and also gives it a soft sheen after baking.
The pastry comes out of the oven and the almond rum filling is poured into the pastry enclosure and spread out evenly. Rob dramatically finishes it with a blowtorch. Then he works on the apples. He has a special mix of shaved candy and cinnamon that he calls his “Tartan mix”. As he sautés the apples in this special mix, they sweat off some of their water and the mix gains a thick syrupy texture. The syrup caramelizes on to the surface of the apple pieces, coating them in a thin layer of sweet candy. These apples are then evenly spaced out over the top of the pastry and voilà – it’s finished! The desert is as delicious as you would imagine it to be.
As he cooks, Rob tells us facts about chocolate. The chocolate they use has to be “in temper”, meaning that it has beta 5 crystals. The tempered chocolate placed in a smooth mold and refrigerated will be shiny. Chocolate with less water in it will have a longer shelf life. Chocolate, like glass, never fully hardens. To make even the simple-looking chocolate buttons, there is a multi-step process to follow:
- Rob makes sure the chocolate is in temper.
- The button molds with beveled edges are preheated.
- He paints the surface of the molds with a thin layer of chocolate to ensure an even surface.
- Then, he fills the molds with tempered chocolate.
- The trays are left to set.
- The chocolates are capped with more chocolate until overflowing and the extra chocolate is scraped off.
- The trays of button molds are vibrated on the chocolate machine to even out the surface.
- The chocolates are cooled in the refrigerator.
- The chocolate contracts with the cold.
- When fully hardened, the chocolates can be banged out of the molds.
Besides all these delicious treats, Tschudin may be best know for their impressive chocolate statues, particularly their chocolate shoes. The shoes are most popular at Christmas and Valentine’s Day. They have white chocolate wedding shoes, red Valentine’s day ones that appear to be made of sued, shoes with dog bone patterns, and many more. The shoes are extremely delicate, but also beautiful. They sometimes take twenty minutes just to take out of their molds. There are also mini shoes for a more mini price.
On the other end of the candy spectrum, Rob has been known over the years to make trick candies, especially for other candy makers. He has, on different occasions, made chocolate covered dried calamari and chocolate covered bacon. He was surprised when his chocolate covered cheese balls and chocolate covered anchovies were actually very well received. Perhaps chocolate really can make anything taste good.
Rob studied candy and chocolate making at the Culinary Institute of America, as place he refers to as the CIA, hoping you will do a double take. Then he took a pastry course. He studied under two professional chocolatiers to perfect his craft. Now, he continues to read about techniques online and in books.
He currently has three employees. None of them are currently Wesleyan students, but he usually has at least one working with him. Many of his past employees are now working in the culinary arts and sciences. He doesn’t expect new employees to come in knowing everything already; he prefers that they have a natural curiosity and strong work ethic. The first thing he teaches is knife skills because safety is top priority to him. So, if you’re curious, go down to Tschudin Chocolates. Have a chat with Rob about chocolate – or just go for the amazing desserts. Either way, you’ll be glad you stopped by.
- Laura Hess ’16 (photos by Rina Kremer)
Corner Main & Court, Middletown, CT 06457