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By Kevin Shalin
In 2004, Jennifer Ashby established Ashby Confections, an artisan confection company located in Aptos, California. For Jennifer, making sweets is a passion. And whether she and her crew stick to the classics or create original flavor combinations, it’s all about utilizing quality ingredients to satisfy the most discerning sweet tooth. Treatsie recently caught up with Jennifer to learn more about her business.
Treatsie: What inspired you to start making artisan confections?
JA: I was introduced to the art and alchemy of chocolate and sugar work at the Culinary Institute of America Greystone. I had always been into baking. When we worked with chocolate, I became so fascinated. A lot of what inspired me was the beauty that is in the products and ingredients–things like how melted chocolate looks as it is moved around a granite slab, or how the pate de fruit looks once it is poured out into a frame for cooling, all vibrantly colored, or how the marshmallow is so fluffy and makes beautiful peaks on the whip as I pull it out of the bowl after whipping. Secondly, I find candy-making to be particularly challenging, and therefore interesting.
Treatsie: What makes your business unique?
JA: A few things come to mind that make Ashby Confections unique. Definitely the personalities of myself and my two loyal assistants. We like to have fun. I think that it is unique that we use so many local, fresh and organic ingredients to flavor our confections. It helps that we are located right on the central coast of California. I also think that it is unique how much I put an emphasis on quality and on the ultimate experience of the consumer. I want the consumers to remember how good the sweet treat was that they got from Ashby Confections.
Treatsie: Is there an ingredient that can be particularly challenging to work with at times?
JA: Making ganaches with 90% cacao chocolate is temperamental and tricky.
Treatsie: On any given day, approximately how many pieces of chocolate does Ashby Confections produce?
JA: On a slow day we make a few hundred pieces, and that may be many different kinds. When we are in high production mode, we can bust out 2000-3000 pieces of chocolate or candy.
Treatsie: The Tortoise–what goes into making this signature item?
JA: We make these by hand. We start by roasting the pecans. Next, we make a batch of caramel, which one of us stirs for up to 45 minutes. The caramel is then ladled out in a small puddle on the pecans, a few hundred times. Once cooled, we use a squeeze bottle to put on the chocolate, followed by a sprinkling of the appropriate salt. I want to expand this product concept, and have done some R&D on it, so look out!
Treatsie: What’s been the most rewarding part of your business?
JA: I am always rewarded by interactions that I have with my happy customers. I think that the most rewarding moments are yet to come, though. Opening up my retail store and kitchen to the public, where I will get to interact with my community and find out what they want to see in their local chocolate shop will be a lot of fun. I am very excited about this!
What is your favorite music genre?
JA: Classic rock. I grew up to it, and still love all those old hits.
What is the craziest thing you’ve ever eaten?
JA: Calf brains.
Where would you go on your dream vacation?
JA: I am dying to go to Italy. I want to stay in a little inn in the mountains for a minimum of two weeks.