A ‘berry’ special Valentine’s treat

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By the Spoonful owner Katie Ruff plans to make over 1,000 chocolate covered strawberries for customers this Valentine’s Day. (Photos by Audrey Posten)

Ruff tempers the chocolate to create the perfect dipping consistency. “You have to bring the temperature high, then, as fast as possible, bring it down low,” she explained. “You stir as much as you can during that process.”

Tempering the chocolate makes it shiny. You’ll know it’s tempered properly when, after it’s hardened on the berry, the chocolate snaps.

Ruff offers strawberries in both dark and milk chocolate.

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

Valentine’s Day is often the busiest day of the year for florists, who spend countless hours leading up to the holiday deftly arranging beautiful flower bouquets for customers. For By the Spoonful owner Katie Ruff, her preparation isn’t much different—she’s just dealing with food.

Ruff began dipping chocolate covered strawberries at her McGregor shop last Thursday, and will continue through this week, assuring customers have these fruity works of art to take home to their significant others—or keep for themselves.

This year, she plans to make over 1,000 berries. That number has grown significantly since she first began offering them five years ago.

“The first year, I only did 400,” Ruff noted.

Ruff learned how to make chocolate covered strawberries before opening By the Spoonful, and recalled painstakingly researching and practicing how to perfectly temper the chocolate. 

When she opened her small business, “I was trying to think of something fun to do for Valentine’s Day,” she said. “I thought, ‘Well, I’ve got this skill. I should use it.’”

Ruff orders the large, American-grown strawberries from a distributor. While their size, and preferably long stems, make them ideal for dipping, it’s the chocolate that makes or breaks the sweet treat.

“Anyone can cover things in chocolate,” said Ruff, but some of those easy-to-melt mixtures contain additives. “I use real chocolate, from a chocolatier. That makes the flavor more intense and good.”

The chocolate is broken off a bar in solid chunks. Ruff then tempers it, creating the perfect dipping consistency. 

“You have to bring the temperature high, then, as fast as possible, bring it down low,” she explained. “You stir as much as you can during that process.”

It’s a touchy process. Heat the chocolate too much and it will burn. Rush it and white streaks called “chocolate bloom” will form.

Tempering makes the chocolate shiny. You’ll know it’s tempered properly, said Ruff, “when it snaps. You can feel that crack on your teeth.”

Ruff prefers tempering dark chocolate: it’s easier and comes out more glossy on the strawberries. Not everyone likes dark chocolate, though, so Ruff also finds some good milk chocolate, giving customers a choice as to how they’d like their strawberries covered.

With her materials ready and station set up, Ruff can whip out chocolate covered strawberries quickly. Tempering the chocolate takes around five minutes. Then, once dipped, the chocolate hardens on the berries in another five minutes. 

As a result, customers can pick up fresh berries not long after they’ve been made. That’s a better alternative than driving two hours away to find them, or ordering them online and waiting several days for arrival.

“Here,” said Ruff, “you don’t have to drive, and they can be a last-minute thought. Plus, you’re supporting someone in your neighborhood.”

Ruff is taking pre-orders on chocolate covered strawberries until Saturday. You can order a half or full dozen in dark or milk chocolate, or a mixture of both. She will also have some grab-and-go berries ready at By the Spoonful.

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