AUBURN — Gretchen Christenson knows that chocolate is an indulgence. So if you're going to have one, she reasons, it should be as good as it possibly can be.
Christenson is the owner and chocolatier at Gretchen's Confections, which opened in Auburn's East Hill area Nov. 1. Along with her chocolate creations, the shop also sells lattes, cappuccinos, espressos and other coffee drinks prepared by her husband, William, as well as scones, muffins, cheesecakes and other treats baked by her aunt (and barista) Eleanor Wilcox.
The Christensons moved to central New York last year from Tacoma, Washington. It was out west where she studied chocolate, graduating from Le Cordon Bleu Culinary School in Seattle and interning at Tease Chocolates in Tacoma. She has since taken classes in Montreal and Chicago, and completed the online Ecole Chocolat's Certified Chocolatier Program.
One of the more popular items at Gretchen's Confections resulted from a homework assignment: Stargazers, which consist of passionfruit jelly and white chocolate vanilla bean ganache dipped in dark chocolate. Tart and decadent, it's already one of the shop's most popular items, Christenson said. Another is the Dreamboat, a slow-cooked caramel dipped in bittersweet chocolate and topped with a sprinkle of sea salt. Christenson said she honed its recipe over the course of a year, noting that a single-degree change in temperature can significantly affect the character of the caramel.
"I'm a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to flavor, combination and mouthfeel," she said. "The chocolates I produce are at my highest standards."
That approach extends to Christenson's ingredients. She uses premium Belgian chocolate, and sources other items locally whenever possible. The cream and butter in her creations is genuine and fresh, the chocolate and cocoa butter pure. She also doesn't use additives like palm oil, nor preservatives that extend the shelf life of mass-produced chocolates.
For those reasons, Christenson encourages eating her chocolates within a month or so. They don't spoil, she said, but their flavor quality begins to dip.
No matter how good the chocolate, though, Christenson said that making it for so long has dulled her sweet tooth. She takes tiny tastes for quality control purposes, but at the end of the day, she's done with sweets. That also makes her perfectionism easier: Christenson has to throw out a lot of chocolate, she said, despite the cringes of onlookers.
Quality control will be a concern if Christenson is able to mass-produce and distribute Gretchen's Confections chocolates, which she hopes to do one day.
"We would love Auburn to be the birthplace of that," she said. "We want to be part of Auburn's growth."
Before that, though, Christenson has to set up another kitchen to make her chocolates. After she and William moved to the area to be closer to Gretchen's family in Skaneateles and raise their daughters, Desi and River, the Christensons purchased the former Poppy's ice cream shop on Mattie Street. They wanted the space for its commercial kitchen, but in the process, they decided to open the shop as Sweet William's Ice Cream Cafe in June. However, the Christensons realized the shop wasn't a good fit as they focused on opening Gretchen's Confections, so they've since closed it.
Because Christenson is using the East Hill shop to prepare her chocolates, its hours are currently limited to Wednesday through Saturday mornings and afternoons. After she moves into her new kitchen, though, the hours will be extended. Meanwhile, she's been swamped with online orders, as her chocolates are available as packaged gifts, wedding favors, corporate gifts and more.
Also in the works, Christenson said, is partnering with Potatoes and Molasses food truck, of Skaneateles, to sell its soups and salads at Gretchen's Confections. She'd like to offer paninis as well.
And when it comes to chocolate, Christenson believes she still has "a long way to go" before she's the best she possibly can be at making them. She doesn't know if she ever can be. But as far off as she may be, and as much patience and precision as chocolatiering requires, she's having fun doing so.
"Making products that people just love and come back for," she said, "that's satisfying."