Ah, chocolate. It's a mood elevator, an expression of love, and a treat of infinite variety. If you love chocolate, you will want to visit a source of great chocolate since 1977. Originally Candy man, now Adirondack Chocolates, is that source of sweetness.
The tradition continues with the original recipes and hand-crafted quality from the local chocolate chef, Herman. He began by selling his chocolate creations on holidays for local children. One of the friends who accompanied me on this trip remembered looking forward to the chocolate holidays of Easter and Christmas because of his work.
The "Chocolate Factory" is now located in Wilmington, staffed with a few enthusiastic specialists. They are continuing the artisanal approach of small batch, handcrafted, chocolates.
No matter how you get to the Adirondack Chocolate Gift Shop, it's a scenic drive. To get there, I drove north on State Route 86, and the leaves were gloriously peaking.
This stretch of road leaves Lake Placid and passes by two golf courses, and then winds beside the west branch of the Ausable River, known for its world class fly fishing, giant rock formations, and boulder-strewn streams. There are abundant pull-offs all along this route, some for the excellent hiking, some for fishing, some for photographic opportunities.
The gift shop appears on the right at the four-way stop sign. There is a lovely garden area with benches which is a great place to try your new chocolates before leaving. Because why should you wait any longer?
The garden offers great views of the McKenzie Mountain Wilderness, which dominates the western skyline. As soon as you step inside the gift shop you can smell the chocolate.
Joe, the owner and head candyman, has been expanding the gift shop with popular souvenirs such as themed clothing, a variety of mugs, stuffed animals, and small toys.
I am a fan of their sweatshirts, and I am always in the shop for chocolate, of course. They also create gift baskets featuring their mountain mascot, Little Adirondack Teddy.
The lighted glass display case filled with treats dominates the space. There must be at least thirty different kinds on each tray. To help organize the overwhelming number of choices, think of categories.
For example, "creams" have a smooth melty center of fruit or savory flavors. The variety of creams to choose from is another reason to visit. There are Adirondack flavors like maple, blueberry, and raspberry. There are also classics like coconut, peanut butter, vanilla, and chocolate. Try the wonderful complements like orange and chocolate as well as coffee and marzipan.
Choosing is also made easy by the fact that I can pick all varieties. Adirondack Chocolates charges by the pound.
I was thrilled to see a lot of dark chocolate. My husband prefers milk chocolate. So, I can choose a few of the kinds he likes, and several of the kind we both like.
Sea salt cashew turtles and peppermint patties may be palm-sized, but they pack in the goodies. Other palm-sized treats range from raspberry gels to cherry cordials and amaretto cheesecake bites. Hand-dipped pretzels (with white chocolate "ski trails" drizzled over them) and almond bark are two favorite specialties.
Choosing is the tough part.
I met two friends at the shop because we were all getting a look "backstage." The window from the lobby overlooks the chocolate kitchen, so people can peek in, but we were allowed a rare glimpse behind the scenes.
I was hoping to see the creation of my favorite concoction: their special Cherry Cordials. This state of the art confectionary creates these masterpieces by using their own unique fondant recipe, hand-dipping them twice, and then actually letting them age for a bit so the flavors blend to perfection.
One of the secrets as to how these candymakers can be so successful, in such a small space, is how they make batches of only a few things at a time. We saw the end of a batch of almond bark, freshly decorated at the work bench. The splashes at the front and back of the table are the overflow.
The kitchen is arranged for each different variety. There are not as many exotic devices as I might have imagined, but there are two enrobing devices running full tilt which had a hypnotic effect on us.
Much of the space is arranged in a typical pastry chef setup, with long counters and rich smells. Behind us was the storage area, with storage boxes full of product, ready to be rushed out to replenish stock in the gift shop. I'll be remembering that sight in my dreams.
During my visit I discovered the shop was getting ready to roll out a new item: chocolate dipped apples with caramel on the inside. Me and the other guests looked at each other with eyes lighting up. This sounded incredible!
Joe explained that it is a much more elaborate process than any of them had anticipated. Preparing the apples starts with wax removal and stick insertion, then the many steps required, from filling to dipping to decorating. But, he said our reaction was why they had gone forward. Everyone expressed great enthusiasm for these treats.
Caramel and apples are indeed made for each other.
I'm a bit staggered by the elaborate extent of the crafting and decorating. The number of flavors and the intricacy of the decorating is astonishing, especially when I consider these are all handmade.
Me and the guests bid farewell to the chocolate goodness. I knew I was getting the cherry cordials and the famous peppermint patties in dark chocolate. Each patty is 1/6 of a pound, and double dipped. The coconut comes in either milk or dark chocolate.
When I returned home, I got a surprise. My husband was surprisingly willing to experiment, since these treats were from Adirondack Chocolates. Before I knew it, he claimed a dark chocolate patty.
I've got to go back soon, and get more of those cherry cordials.