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Craving for a good cause

The 28th annual Chocolates Galore event will be held from 7 to 11 p.m. Feb. 20. Times-Mirror File Photo
Whether you eat your chocolate in a candy bar, stir it powdered into hot milk or drizzle it over a scoop of chocolate ice cream, you are luxuriating in one of the world’s most beloved foods. One study by the Chocolate Consumption in 2014 group shows that Americans eat about 11.6 pounds of chocolate annually.

With such an overwhelming American delight in all things chocolate, it is no wonder that a savvy Loudoun County group initiated a fundraiser that beckoned crowds with, what else, chocolate. It started rather casually 28 years ago by local resident Lois Armstrong.

“The event started out as a small fundraiser to help strengthen the YMCA’s mission of serving children and families in Loudoun.” said Laura Fears, executive director, YMCA Loudoun County. “Similar to a Valentine’s Day-themed bake sale at first, only six bakers participated and the event was held in the old Leesburg Chrysler Dodge dealership. It was a way for the presenters to showcase their baking and decorating skills.”

But in the last 10 years, the event has grown exponentially, featuring 25 presenters and attracting about 800 guests. Even the location has gone way upscale at Lansdowne Resort. And all the proceeds from this delicious event go to support a worthy cause: the YMCA’s Caring for Community program, which provides assistance for working parents to pay for beneficial programs for their children.

Carla Wiley, the active event chairperson and affiliated with the event sponsor Transaction Network Systems confirms that her company supports this spectacular chocolate feast because the YMCA benefits so many children with its after school programs and summer camps. She is also thrilled with the public’s response and the numbers of presenters who fill the room. “People are eager,” she said, “so all the tickets are sold,” adding that attendees love the samples of sweets and savories provided by the presenters.

Among the 25 presenters – from Salamander Resort to the National Conference Center and including numerous local bakers and restaurants – this year, is one of the event’s original chocolate creators and bakers, Dennis Stanley of Chantel’s Cakes and Pastries in Sterling. As soon as customers enter his store, they know that a lot of sugary, chocolately magic is going on in the adjoining kitchen. And that is no surprise, considering Stanley has been a passionate, dedicated baker since childhood. “I grew up in the country,” he said, “and I watched my mother and my grandmother bake. The more they baked, the more I wanted to.”

He even experimented with cake recipes when the adults went to town, and was often forced to clean up a sticky, buttery mess.

But as he matured, Stanley started working in restaurants, first as a dishwasher and then as a line cook. “My first baking job was for the Myrtle Beach Hilton,” he said. “I then transferred to the McLean Hilton, where I worked for five years.” But the draw of running his own bakery inspired him to start his business. “At first,” he said, “it was like a hobby. Then it was home-based until I moved into a warehouse and finally into this store.”

While customers may relish the sweet baked-goods aromas, what they will not find are cases filled with cookies, cakes, cupcakes, pies and tarts. “That is not the philosophy of my company,” said Stanley. “This is a custom-made bakery, so nothing is visible … I never wanted a showcase bakery.” Instead, he added, he makes whatever a customer wants, including offering a full line of gluten-free and sugar-free baked goods. “I cater to all who have food allergies,” he said, but regular customers can find their perfect baked good as well.

As for the upcoming chocolate event, Stanley will offer, among other goodies, fried cheesecake balls with a chocolate sauce. “It is cheesecake dipped in eggs and rolled in Oreo crumbs, the deep-fried for a split second,” he said. “So it is warm on the outside and chilled on the inside. As for the event itself, Stanley described it as the “most phenomenal event Loudoun County offers. “It all goes to support the YMCA,” he said. “And it is most like a gala. You get dressed up and have a good time … We are spending our money for a good cause.”

If you go:
YMCA's Chocolates Galore & More. 7 to 11 p.m. Feb. 20. Cost, $50 per person. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit http://www.bidpal.net/chocolatesgaloreandmore.

Chantel’s Chocolate Coconut Macaroons

Makes 36 cookies

2 cups unsweetened coconut flakes
2 egg whites
½ teaspoon coconut extract
1 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar
2 ounces semisweet chocolate

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment or use a nonstick sheet. Mix together the coconut flakes, egg whites and coconut extract. With the mixer on low, slowly add the confectioners’ sugar. Increase the mixer speed to medium, and beat until the eggs whites are almost stiff. Using a small scoop, form mixture into small balls, and place on the cookie sheet.
Bake for 15 minutes until browned on the outside. Remove from the oven and cool. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler over boiling water. Drizzle over the macaroons using a slotted spoon.


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