19 year old Catherine Shearer of Pleasanton, CA, has won the Ghirardelli Chocolate Championship at the Alameda County Fair for her Beethovenkugeln (Beethoven-KOOG-ell-in), a marzipan and cherry confection modeled after her favorite Austrian chocolates.
Shearer competed last year as a youth in three fair contests, including the King Arthur Flour Competition, the Guittard Contest and the Ghirardelli Chocolate Championship. She won several prizes in those competitions. This year she entered as an adult and says it is more challenging to win in this category. "After last year, I knew what they [the judges] were looking for," said Shearer.
Shearer, who created her award-winning chocolate recipe, says she was inspired from her father's travels when she was a child. "My dad use to go on business trips to Germany and Austria and he used to bring home these amazing chocolates called Mozartkugeln," Shearer commented. "They were named after the composer, Mozart, so I named mine after Beethoven. I wanted to create a recipe that regular people could make that was a symphony of flavors."
Dad wasn't the only positive family influence to help push Shearer take home the blue ribbon. "My mom has always been my No. 1 supporter. Every year she puts up with my weeks of planning, and nail-biting and fretting over details for my other fair entries," Shearer said. "She helped me bounce around ideas for my winning entry for Ghirardelli, and encouraged me when I was about to throw in the towel. She has been my rock, I know that I couldn't have done so well without her."
When asked about her award winning secrets, Shearer says it had to do with innovation. "I came up with my own marzipan recipe. I substitute water for egg whites and bumped up the flavoring with a good quality almond extract," she said.
As the grand prize winner, Shearer won a chocolate basket (Ghirardelli, of course) along with a $150 and a blue ribbon.
1 jar maraschino cherries, with stems
1-1/2 cups blanched almonds
1-1/2 cups confectioner's sugar, plus 1/2 cup
1 tablespoon water
1/2 teaspoon good quality almond extract
1 (12 ounce) bag Ghirardelli chocolate chips (milk, semi-sweet, or dark as desired)
1. Drain cherries and pat dry with paper towel. Set aside.
2. Place almonds and half of the confectioner's sugar in a food processor, blend until almonds are very finely ground. Add rest of confectioner's sugar, pulse until mixed. Add water and almond extract, pulse until mixture clumps and forms a paste. Turn out and knead in remaining 1/2 cup confectioner's sugar until homogenous and workable, akin to the consistency of fondant. Form into 32 balls - they should be slightly larger than the size of your cherries. Place in plastic bag and set aside.
3. Make sure cherries have no residual moisture, patting dry again if necessary. Take one marzipan ball, flatten it, and place one cherry in the center. Cup your hand and work the marzipan around and up the cherry, pinching around stem.
4. In a double boiler, gently melt Ghirardelli chocolate chips until smooth. Dip marzipan covered cherries into melted chocolate and place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Keep at room temperature until chocolate hardens and serve. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.