Hot chocolatier: Katherine Anne Confections

September 24, 2012

Katherine Anne Confections opened shop in Logan Square Saturday, with the truffles, caramels and marshmallows that have earned a following at farmers markets around town. I was invited to the media tasting that took place on a cold and rainy afternoon last Friday, and it was the hot chocolate that had me thinking my Parisian pastry chef friends could learn a thing or two from this Wisconsin farm girl.
 
Katherine Anne Duncan melts E. Guittard artisan chocolate into hot Kilgus Farmstead milk then offers you whipped cream or your marshmallow flavor of choice. My advice: get the marshmallows; there is no other choice. Then walk away. Look around the shop, chat about the charity chocolate truffle of the month; currently it's a Bad-Ass Bourbon Bacon truffle by City Provisions chef/owner Cleetus Friedman, who carries Duncan's products at his fiercely locally-focused shop. Each month Duncan will collaborate with a new chef to create a truffle, with proceeds benefitting a charity of the collaborating chef's choice.
 
By now your hot drinking chocolate should be ready, suffused with a melting cloud of marshmallow. On Duncan's recommendation, I tasted the salted caramel hot chocolate with salted caramel marshmallow, beautifully balanced, neither too sweet or salty. The marshmallows themselves carry a pillowy heft, yet are delicately nuanced in texture and taste.
 
Then try the caramels — inspired by the famous Paris caramels of Jacques Genin, said Duncan — with the similarly shocking suspension of butter and chew that I know well. Duncan's are heartier and made with uniquely American concerns, like organic sugar and local ingredients. For the seasonal-only apple cider caramels, she uses Seedling cider from Michigan and May's Honey from Marengo, Ill. Duncan uses fresh ingredients when possible, instead of the industry standard of frozen fruit purees.
 
One thing she doesn't make herself are the pastries, which are from a new farmers market vendor, Beurrage. What they call a ham and cheese croissant, I call pain au jambon et fromage, and some of the best viennoiserie I've had in recent memory, here or in Paris. French pastry chef friends, I think you've got another thing to learn here too.