PHOTOS BY KATIE NOBLE
Beth Kirsch’s interest in artisanal chocolate making began four years ago, when—with the best of intentions—she ruined a perfectly good bar of dark chocolate.
Nowadays, the chocolatier behind Beth’s Chocolate knows that the tempering process is critical to getting the “smooth, melt-in-your-mouth texture” she covets. But in late 2012, Kirsch nuked the chocolate bar in a microwave, poured the mixture into a plastic mold with 14 tiny Eiffel Towers and put it all in her refrigerator.
Later, she found herself banging the mold against the countertop, eventually chiseling out pieces that tasted nothing like she had hoped.
“I had this beautiful chocolate bar that would have been delicious if I had just eaten it [on its own], and it then tasted awful,” says Kirsch.
As a lifelong chocolate enthusiast who has held a house party with homemade chocolate desserts and planned trips to Europe around exploring chocolate shops, Kirsch had the passion—but not the knowledge—to create on her own.
So she embarked on a journey to fix that lack of knowledge—and she did.
Kirsch began with an afternoon class where she learned the basics of tempering chocolate, exploring her hobby for more than a year before she decided to take it to the next level. She participated in a three-month internship at the acclaimed EHChocolatier in Somerville, then earned a professional chocolate certificate with honors online from the Vancouver based Ecole Chocolat, and finally traveled to France to complete the master chocolatier program at the Valrhona École du Grand Chocolat.
In the spring of 2015 Kirsch got the kitchen of her Newton home certified as a professional kitchen and launched Beth’s Chocolates—“partly because we just couldn’t eat that much chocolate,” she says, laughing.
Tens of thousands of chocolates later—including many made successfully with the Eiffel Tower mold—Kirsch found that her career producing children’s television for WGBH and PBS lent itself surprisingly well to being a chocolatier.
“Creating television requires a lot of creativity and inspiration and artistry, and for public television, you want to set a high bar for your audience,” says Kirsch. “That’s how I feel about chocolate. It’s creative, it’s unique … but I also want to set a high bar for my audience in terms of what the chocolate tastes like. It’s not just any old chocolate.”
After extensive taste testing, she uses different kinds of Valrhona chocolate in her products, she says, because it is “hands-down—to me—the best tasting.”
“The chocolate is always front and center,” says Kirsch. “I don’t want flavors that overpower or mask the chocolate in any way, but I want the [other] flavors to sing as well.”
Kirsch often looks to other local food businesses for flavor inspiration. Salt & Olive, a specialty oil and vinegar shop in Cambridge, sells an unapologetically fiery batch of cayenne pepper, which she mixes with cinnamon into chocolates for a spiced and spicy bite. Fastachi, the popular roasted nut shop with locations in Boston and Watertown, sells a pistachio butter that she is experimenting with in the form of a rich pistachio crunch.
A shrub—a concentrated mixture of fruit, vinegar and sugar—by Spiker’s Shrubs in Amesbury inspired Kirsch’s popular “ginger three ways” chocolates. She infuses the ganache cream with grated ginger and adds the ginger shrub; after dipping the ganache in chocolate, she tops it with an itty-bitty sliver of crystalized ginger.
“When I tasted the ginger [shrub] I’m, like, ‘That’s what I need to make the ginger [chocolate],’” she says. “Adding a little bit of this Spiker’s Ginger Bite shrub gives it a little zing and a little brightness.”
Kirsch tries not to add extra sugar to her chocolates unless doing so is essential to the recipe, like for caramel or a pâte de fruit. And because sugar acts as a preservative, this means her chocolates have a shorter shelf life, she says. The texture and taste will dissipate over time.
“You don’t want to buy artisan chocolates and say, ‘These are so special and precious, I’m going to save them for a special occasion,’” says Kirsch. “The special occasion is that you just bought these beautiful chocolates and you should eat them right now!”
Kirsch plans to keep Beth’s Chocolate small enough that she can still run it as a single-woman operation out of her kitchen, overseeing the quality of every single piece and feeling like she is a personal chocolatier for her customers.
The majority of her business is online orders, plus a few retail locations. She also offers chocolate-tasting and -making classes, where she enjoys passing along her knowledge and enthusiasm for her “favorite food group.”
“People will taste six different 70% chocolate bars and they can’t believe how different they taste,” says Kirsch. “It’s so much fun to see the awakening in their eyes.”
Kirsch still continues to experience that same feeling of awakening. She recalled how shortly after getting into chocolate making, she met a renowned chocolatier in Paris who told her that he had been doing this since he was 15.
“I said, ‘I’m just starting out, I’m just learning,’” Kirsch says. “And he said, ‘So am I.’”
At the time, she didn’t know whether to be intimidated or humbled. Now she understands.
“You are always learning with chocolate,” she says. “Every day is a different adventure. Some days, something comes out just beautifully, and other days you have to struggle to get it right.”
But when she sees how happy her customers are, Kirsch says, it’s worth the challenge. For a complete list of where to find Beth's Chocolate and a link to the online store, visit BethsChocolate.com
NICOLE FLEMING is a metro correspondent for the Boston Globe and a columnist for WGBH's Craving Boston. She is also the author of The Girl Who Ate Boston food blog at TheGirlWhoAteBoston.com. Follow her on Twitter @ GirlEatsBoston.