Chocolate, Monterey Bay Style: Ashby Confections

 

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Locavore treat: A box of Ashby Confections chocolate

“We need a marshmallow renaissance!” proclaims Jennifer Ashby, owner Aptos-based Ashby Confections. “The commercial marshmallow has ruined the marshmallow’s reputation; homemade marshmallows are awesome!”

Ashby’s idea of a marshmallow renaissance is a key lime marshmallow in white chocolate with a graham cracker crust. And that’s just one of Ashby’s numerous, ridiculously creative confections, many of which the company will offer at tonight’s Independent Marketplace in Sand City. (See ediblecommunities.com/montereybay/blog/blog/food-fest.htm for more information about the market.)

Although no local chocolate maker could source all of its ingredients here in the Monterey Bay region—cacao does not grow in our climate and Ashby uses a proprietary blend of chocolate from Europe—Jennifer Ashby counts on local foods for her inspiration, and uses organic and local ingredients whenever possible.

“Food is such a part of our local culture I get inspired being here,” says Ashby.

Such inspirations include the wine reductions from Santa Cruz vineyards that enrich a caramel cream, as well as local Meyer lemons and lavender from Happy Boy Farms in Aptos that scent a gorgeous, heart-shaped bite of dark chocolate decorated with deep purple swirls. Local blueberries and blackberries also find their way into her confections.

Ashby says the other inventive food artisans that surround her also pique her creativity. “I see something someone else is doing and it inspires me,” she says, noting a recent experience with plum blossom ice cream at the Penny Ice Creamery in Santa Cruz that led her to wonder what she could do with plum blossoms.

Aside from chocolate, Ashby makes pates de fruits (fruit jellies) with organic apricots from Frog Hollow Farm on the Sacramento River Delta, and other candies.

Among her new projects, she’s working with Robert Kirkland of Monterey Salt Company to develop chocolates using his locally sourced sea salt. For example, she’s planning a 9-piece New World Salt Collection of caramels that will include Kirkland’s plain sea salt and his super-spicy ghost pepper salt. She’s counting on the creaminess of her caramel filling to cool the burn; if her dark habanera chile chocolate is any indication, the balance of heat and sweet should be perfect.

Her candies are handmade and her dedication to aesthetics is evident. Each piece has a perfect glossy or matte finish; colors and flavors are carefully harmonized.

Flavors range from the simple—caramel with sea salt, peanut butter cups—to the outrageous: For Christmas, she and her team came up with a star-anise infused Brazilian white rum reduction which was used to re-hydrate blonde Turkish figs. The figs were topped with a spot of white chocolate and then enrobed in dark chocolate.

Ashby started baking as a youngster and graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in 2002. After a stint at MacKenzie’s Chocolates in Santa Cruz, she opened Ashby Confections in 2004.

“I always knew I wanted to have a business,” she says as she sips a cup of coffee in the small space she shares with Heather’s Patisserie. “I really love my job. There’s something about the reaction when you give people candy—we make people smile all day long.”

Ashby Confections • 7486 Soquel Drive, Aptos • 831.234.1171 • ashbyconfections.com


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