Dessert In Two Bites

Before she became a master chocolatier, Diane Pinder was an intensive care head nurse— a career that prepared her surprisingly well.

“When people come into the ICU, they are all freaked out and upset,” she says. “I felt my job was to make them feel better, and I enjoyed the interaction. I still feel that’s my job, except with chocolates, people are so much happier when they come in.”

Pinder says she ran a tight ship as a head nurse (“I kicked people out for being incompetent”) and applied her knowledge of chemistry to maintaining high standards of food safety, nutrition, and hygiene. But you needn’t fear Nurse Ratched when you enter her shop, Donna Toscana Artisan Chocolates & Lounge, on Eastman Street in Cranford. She’s as relaxed and sunny as Louise Fletcher’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest character was malevolent.

When Craig Shelton, who has a degree in molecular biophysics and biochemistry, was looking for a chocolatier to team up with, Pinder’s scientific background appealed to him almost as much as the quality and craft of her CocoaBee Exceptional Chocolates, Donna Toscana truffles, and Tuscan Style Chocolates. After the demise of his Ryland Inn following a water main break in 2007, Shelton started Chef’s Coffee Company this year to sell premium coffees and biscotti he creates. After several months of development, he and Pinder have introduced a line of what they describe as culinary chocolates, to be sold at Pinder’s shop and on their websites (,

“It’s not very often my wife complimented my food,” Shelton said at a recent tasting of the six debut confections (which were consumed in the order at right), “but when she tasted these she said they were the best chocolates she ever had, because each one is designed to be a complete dessert.” A box of six is $30.

Turkish Delight

Shelton calls this subtle sweet “the foreplay.” Fluffy marshmallow infused with rose water and sprinkled with chopped pistachios is topped with rose petal jelly and enrobed in thin white chocolate garnished with pistachios, cardamom, and a candied rose. “The fresh-roasted cardamom comes in like a piccolo. Without it, it’s nice, but it lacks that significant melody.”

Pillow Book

Named after a movie by British director Peter Greenaway about a Japanese model exploring her sensuality. A foam ganache infused with sencha green tea and fresh-shaved wasabi is placed on a bed of Asian pear soaked in Japanese yuzu juice, covered with a blend of white and milk chocolate, and adorned with a Kanji peace symbol and a sprinkle of fresh wasabi root.

Tropical Night

“This is the first one where chocolate becomes a full presence,” says Shelton. A somewhat thicker shell of green-swooshed white chocolate dusted with ground star anise is filled with a layer of fresh mango marmalade atop a layer of white chocolate ganache flavored with fresh lemongrass.

New England Autumn

Indian pudding made with cornmeal, molasses, butter, and Chinese five-spice powder is topped with apple jelly flavored with Vermont maple syrup and coated with semi-sweet chocolate garnished with handmade walnut praline. “I couldn’t dip it because it was so delicate,” says Pinder, “so I sat it on a fork and sprayed on the chocolate.”

Gateway to God

“Cinnamon is one of my least favorite spices because it overwhelms things, like the dinner guest who takes over the conversation,” says Shelton. Solution? Use mellow Tung Hing cinnamon to flavor dragon eye fruit (“a more delicate version of passion fruit”). Add dark chocolate ganache with Szechuan pepper. “The Szechuan pepper on top is citrusy and tingly on your tongue,” says Pinder.

Classic Bonbon

“This is the cigarette afterwards,” says Shelton suggestively. Dark chocolate ganache is infused with Armagnac and topped with caramel accented with fresh Tahitian vanilla. (“Tahitian is not as in-your-face as Madagascar vanilla, which has this weird end note on it,” Shelton says.) Enclosed in dark milk chocolate, garnished with scrapings of Tahitian vanilla bean.

If you enjoyed this article, you also might like this story about Aaron McCargo, Jr.— the Camden man who won The Next Food Network Star. Click here to read: A Rising Food Network Star.

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