Forget the oysters, forget the jug of wine, forget the loaf of bread. The food of passion is chocolate.
In a chocolate-making workshop held in the Lee District Park recreation center in Alexandria on Saturday, confection-crazed cupids labored over love potions of gooey bon-bons and fattening fillings.
Admitted chocoholics spent six hours melting, painting, pouring and mixing, transforming jars of messy, melted, multi-colored chocolates and tubs of fillings into tiny, bite-sized works of art, all topped with red, white and green swirls. They were there to make Valentine presents for spouses, family and friends, but they were also carrying on a longstanding love affair with their tastebuds.
"I thrive on chocolate," said Linda Whittemore of Springfield, sighing with the resignation of one who has accepted her addiction and no longer feels contrite. "I have books on chocolate and make a lot of chocolate desserts."
With no concern for calories or cavities, she and others spent Saturday like apprentices to an alchemist, watching as Alexandria chocoletier Susan Harrington led them in creating both modest and ambitious concoctions with white, green, milk and dark chocolates as well as vanilla, strawberry, maple and, of course, chocolate fillings.
Harrington is a self-taught expert who caters parties and whose confectionary repertoire includes miniature candy pianos, a rendition of a $5 bill and highly detailed Christmas trees. "Where I come from in Tennessee, we don't have Godivas," she said.
Harrington's tools included molds in the shapes of hearts, birds, flowers and squares with cameos, diamonds and crowns imprinted on them. Harrington and her class dipped paint brushes into jars of melted, colorful chocolates, kept moist and fluid with periodic immersion into a roasting pan of hot water.
"You coax chocolate, you don't force it," she said, instructing students on how to spread melted chocolate around the mold with paint brushes. To make fancy candies, Harrington-style, students first outlined their molds using the colorful chocolates as paints, sometimes going for elaborate color schemes and intricate designs, sometimes favoring the simple, one-tone outer layer.
Peering over the shoulder of Harvey P. Stein of Gaithersburg as he attempted a complicated mold, Harrington scolded him. "Harvey, you never learned to color. You have to stay within the lines."
"Hmmm, what's that?" asked Harrington with a slight frown as she pointed to one of Whittemore's less successful efforts, a heart mold overflowing with strawberry filling.
After freezing the decorated outer layer of the candies until they were hard, students scooped out about a teaspoon of Harrington's home-made fillings, and rolled the fillings between their palms until they softened. Then the students patted, stretched and spread the filling on top of the frozen chocolate layers lining the mold.
Finally they poured the bottom layer of melted chocolate, making sure it blanketed the filling entirely, before putting the completed candy into the freezer and later popping it out of the mold like an ice cube from a tray.
"This is for my wife," said Stein proudly as he popped his chocolate creation from one of the more difficult molds, a heart with two doves. "I'll have to help her eat it."
Harrington will teach a six-week class on the subject in April and may give another chocolate workshop for Easter.