Life doesn’t get much sweeter than creating a successful gourmet chocolate business on a Maine island that’s home to a remote section of Acadia National Park, and that’s what Kate and Steve Shaffer have done with Black Dinah Chocolatiers on Isle au Haut. And now, Kate is sharing the secrets of her success, along with the charms of island life, in her cookbook Desserted: Recipes and Tales from an Island Chocolatier.
Kate and Steve never imagined living on a remote island off the Maine coast, but after marrying in 1999, the couple, who met in a California commune, packed their low-impact lives into a 20-foot RV and headed for the Pine Tree State.Their introduction to island life began when Kate took a job cooking at the former Keeper’s House, a lighthouse B&B on Isle au Haut.
“Maine was certainly never a place I had considered living, and certainly not an island,” Kate says. “Nor did I ever imagine I’d be making chocolate for a living, it never once crossed my mind.” But when the inn closed, they combined Steve’s business savvy with Kate’s long-standing yearning to work with chocolate, and opened Black Dinah Chocolatiers, an Internet cafe and truffle-making company, naming it for the local landmark behind their home.
Desserted is a must for chocoholics and island-dreamers. As the title promises, Kate weaves tales of island life in with her recipes, which range from her signature truffles to savory preparations. The book opens with a Foreward by Isle au Haut fisherman and author Linda Greenlaw, then after Kate tells her story, it progresses into all chocolate, all the time, beginning with Chocolate 101. That detailed primer is alone worth its weight in chocolate gold.
Kate learned from experience that “anyone can work successfully with chocolate using very common tools in a small home kitchen.” That said, she does recommend a few tools, including a few surprises, such as a drywall spatula and a hair dryer.
Recipes are divided into chapters titled: Truffles; Chocolate for Breakfast; Tarts, Pies, and Cakes; Cookies and Sweet Snacks; Ice Cream, Sorbets, and Puddings; and A Few Savories. Two things I love about her recipes (other than they’re all for chocolate) is her use of real ingredients: eggs, butter, cream, milk are constants, and her preference for natural ingredients; in addition to sugar, sweeteners might include honey or molasses.
I’ve included two recipes from the book. For other recipes as well as more on island life, read Kate’s blog. You might also enjoy a short article I wrote for Islands. And here’s a post on Isle au Haut.
Flourless Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Blondies
One day, in an effort to come up with a recipe for an energy bar that I could actually choke down, I accidentally came up with this. Not exactly what I was going for, but each day found me more in love with them than the last. Despite the absence of flour, the bars have a super-tender, cakey texture that seems to be just barely holding on to each melty bit of chocolate. And as far as energy? Well, or now, they get me where I want to go. Makes 16.
1 cup natural peanut butter
¼ cup raw honey
1 large egg, at room temperature
½ cup sweet potato puree, or 1 banana mashed
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon sea salt
1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and line an 8” by 8” square baking pan with parchment paper.
Place the peanut butter, honey, egg, sweet potato puree, baking soda, and salt in a food processor and whir together until smooth.
Remove the blade, stir in the chips, and then scrape the mixture into the prepared pan.
Bake for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the pan comes out almost clean. Allow the blondies to cool completely before cutting into 16 portions.
Bittersweet Chocolate Pudding
Though my single mother did an admirable job of keeping us kids fueled-up on unprocessed foods and fresh vegetables, she had a few breaking points. They were: canned tomato soup, boxed macaroni and cheese, and Jello-O instant pudding. In fact, I remember more than a few post-work Monday night meals that consisted of exactly these three items. Occasionally , even now as an adult, if I’m feeling like I need a little comfort food, these are my instant stand-bys. Luckily, the island store happens to stock all of these items, but even I can admit there is nothing like pudding made from scratch. All the comfort, none of the chemicals. Serves 6 to 8
2/3 cup granulated sugar
¼ cup corn starch
½ teaspoon salt
4 large egg yolks
3 cups milk
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped and melted
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped and melted
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoons vanilla extract
In a medium-size saucepan, whisk together the sugar, corn starch, salt, and egg yolks until smooth. Whisk in the milk, and then place the pan over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture boils.
Simmer for 1 minute, and then remove from the heat. Press this hot mixture through a sieve into a heat-proof bowl, and then stir in the chocolates, butter, and vanilla. Mix thoroughly until everything is melted and the pudding is smooth.
Press a sheet of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pudding and place in the refrigerator to chill thoroughly.
Serve the pudding in parfait glasses with a dollop of lightly sweetened whipped cream.