The art of chocolate: Whidbey confectioner delights in creating new flavors

  • By Sarah Jackson Herald Writer
  • Tuesday, March 31, 2009 10:10pm
  • Life

It all starts with a high-pitched beep.

“We’re ready to mold chocolate,” says George Brunjes in his pronounced Brooklyn accent.

He immediately dips a ladle into the dark Belgian goo and pours it into an Easter basket mold.

Holding the mold carefully, he rotates his wrists to spread the thick, shiny liquid evenly around the edges.

“You want to build up the side of the wall,” Brunjes says. “You swirl it around again so you get a second layer. You get a nice shape of a box.”

This, chocolate lovers, is how edible masterpieces come to life. Once it hardens completely, this basket will hold an assortment of truffles, such as coconut rum, marzipan apricot and espresso.

“You can use it as a centerpiece,” Brunjes, 66, says. “After the meal, you can eat everything.”

Brunjes, who works part time as a senior services director at Trinity Lutheran Church in Freeland, started making chocolates as a hobby.

When he began selling his confections in 2005 at the Bayview Farmers Market on Whidbey Island, however, Brunjes quickly found avid followers of his business, Chocolates by George.

That’s where Art Herrera, the wine shop manager at Greenbank Farm on Whidbey Island, discovered him.

“I handed him a bottle of our loganberry dessert wine,” Herrera said.

Brunjes, always up for a challenge, used the wine to create the custom truffles now sold at the farm.

“His chocolates are amazing,” Herrera said. “I really wanted an essence of the loganberry dessert wine and that’s exactly what they did for me.”

Brunjes, who runs the business with his wife, Cathy, 70, has partnered with numerous winemakers to create custom truffles for special events, including Greg Martinez of Holmes Harbor Cellars on Whidbey Island. Martinez offered his syrah alongside syrah-enhanced truffles at a recent tasting.

Though he generally prefers to eat milk chocolate, Brunjes imports dark Callebaut-brand chocolate from Belgium, typically 60 percent cocoa.

He employs three $450 automatic tempering machines in the commercial kitchen at Trinity.

“I cheat,” he said of the devices, which temper 1½ pounds of chocolate at a time. “You just throw the chocolate in. You push a button.”

Though tempering chocolate can be an arduous process on a stove, Brunjes’ machines beep after they’ve brought the chocolate up to 115 degrees, then back down to 88 degrees. The process gives his chocolate creations a longer shelf life and an elegant sheen.

Brunjes, who worked as a Lutheran pastor and a hospice administrator and minister for more than 40 years, delights in making new flavors of truffles in his semi-retirement.

“I’m not the retiring type,” he said. “I’m trying to come up with my own signature chocolates.”

Though his caramels are by far his most popular sellers, Brunjes loves to experiment with new combinations.

His Great Balls of Fire truffles, made with habanero and pepper sauce, won first prize in the candy category at ZestFest 2008, hosted by Chile Pepper Magazine in Fort Worth, Texas.

“Hot and spicy is in,” Brunjes said, adding that his newer offerings include a pistachio caramel with green chili powder and a honey chipotle truffle.

“I’m now expanding into peanut butter balls,” Brunjes said, hinting at a possible marriage of peanut butter, pretzel pieces and sea salt. “This is the Willy Wonka dream — to make chocolate and be creative.”

Sarah Jackson: 425-339-3037,

Where to buy the chocolate

Chocolates by George Langley 800-319-2181

Greenbank Farm 765 Wonn Road, Greenbank 360-678-7700

Payless Foods 1609 Main St., Freeland 360-331-4812

Bayview Farmers Market Highway 525 and Bayview Road, Whidbey Island 360-321-4302 Opens April 25

Ballard Sunday Market 5330 Ballard Ave. NW, Seattle 206-781-6776

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