Sunday, February 13, 2011

And a fun time was had by all: Eureka Springs Chocolate Lovers Festival 2011.

TINY BIRD NESTS:  Chocolate covered shredded wheat & jelly beans
  • TINY BIRD NESTS: Chocolate covered shredded wheat & jelly beans
The snow this week could have really made a mess of things in Eureka Springs this weekend — but thankfully enough, the sun came out and road crews cleared the highways in plenty of time for crowds to roll in for the Eureka Springs Chocolate Lovers Festival Saturday.
This year’s festival saw some major improvements in exhibits and a good number more vendors and such at the Best Western Inn of the Ozarks conference center. Hundreds came in to view the chocolate competition, eat a cupcake and check out one of the four chocolate fountains going on-site.
I had an interesting time of it. I was fortunate enough to come up here last year, a building year for the festival. Snowed that year, too. Last year we had five or so entries in the chocolate competition; this year there were 20. About half were amateur entries, including the cutest little chocolate mice made by a 16-year old girl. They were really cool — the creamy half of an Oreo cookie topped with a chocolate dipped maraschino cherry and a Hershey’s Kiss with piped dots for eyes and almond slivers for ears. The cherry stems were the tails. Very cool.
This cake was the winning cake in the Best Decorated competition. I am kicking myself right now because I cannot find my notes on who won! Look at the little details, though — the acorns and branches and twigs along with the two cute little owls. Right before the competition began the artist was using a makeup brush to dust cocoa powder onto the little flowers and ribbons to make them “blush.” So cute.
Then there was Sugar Leaf out of Branson, a commercial operation I discovered a couple of years ago when working on a Culinary Branson article. I was glad to see them participate. Their extensive wedding cake included a wine bottle made entirely from chocolate that I swear looked like the real thing, a single strapped high heel shoe and several gorgeous layers — including this layer of rose blooms. This cake came in third in the Best Decorated competition. They also placed first in the professional Best Tasting Cake competition with these adorable little chocolate “paper sacks” full of chocolate cake, a gooey vanilla icing, whipped creams and fresh blueberries and strawberries.
The organizers took great care once again in making sure everyone had their absolute fill of chocolate. I’d estimate there were close to 50,000 chocolate pieces there! There were all sorts of items, like the pieces at the top — ‘bird nests” of chocolate covered shredded wheat with jellybean “eggs.” There were turtles, chocolate covered marshmallows and S’mores, white chocolate German chocolate cake balls, all sorts of fudge, chocolate coated popcorn, chocolate covered espresso beans, chocolate pretzels, malted milk balls, brownies of just about every sort and shape. This year Cabot Cheese Company from Vermont donated 300 pounds of cheese — and this was pretty excellent, since after all that sweetness it’s good to get a bit of savory stuff, too. I noticed quite a few people actually using the chocolate fountains to chocolate-coat their cheeses!
It’s good to see the festival grow. It was a disappointment that the chocolate conference originally scheduled for Friday had to be cancelled, since the roads were just too treacherous for people to safely make it. I came in Friday afternoon and had no problem in that area — though leaving Little Rock Friday morning I did deal with the mess on I-430! Coming through Rogers there was still far more than a foot of snow on the ground. Eureka Springs didn’t get so much, but it’s still everywhere here — everywhere except on the pavement, thank goodness.
I ended up taking off before the end of the big event — the gala dinner and dance offered up for a separate admission. Some of the dresses were fabulous… and I envied the chance the folks there because some of the silent auction items were just awesome.
Anyway, more going on this weekend in Eureka Springs I’ll be covering. If you’re thinking about it, put a note in your appointment book about saving next Valentine’s Day weekend for the Chocolate Lovers Festival. I think you’ll get a kick out of it.

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