WCL: Chicago native and dessert diva Sarah Levy on WCL

Sarah Levy was in our kitchen to whip up some delectable baked treats to put one in a holiday mood year round.

Chicago native Sarah Levy developed a passion for all things sweet at an early age. Sarah started her company, Sarah's Pastries & Candies, in March 2004 by making chocolate candies out of her mom's kitchen. After a year she had built up a wholesale business that included Whole Foods Markets in the Midwest, and smaller gourmet grocery shops such as Olivia's Market, Southport Grocery and East Bank Club.

Sarah launched her first retail store at 11 E. Oak St. in September 2005 and expanded her line to include morning pastries, specialty and wedding cakes, tarts, chocolate gift baskets, and other delectable pastries. She has since moved to a larger location at 70 E. Oak St. and opened a second location inside of the Macy's on State Street (street level) in November 2007.

In 2011 Sarah competed on Food Network Challenge, and won the $10,000 prize for best extreme dinosaur cake. Sarah's has been featured in USA Today (top ten candy stores across the country) and has been featured on Chicago's 190 North, WGN Lunch Break, ABC and NBC morning news, and Eye on Chicago television show, and has also been featured in Better Homes and Garden, BRIDES (America's most beautiful wedding cake issue - Sarah's Pastries was the only cake out of the 23 chosen from Chicago), Elegant Bride, Complete Woman Magazine, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Magazine, Time Out Chicago and other publications.

In 2007, Sarah was honored to receive the 2007 YWCA Promise Award. Sarah launched her first cookbook, Sweetness, Delicious Baked Treats for Every Occasion, in October, 2009 (Surrey books) which is now on its third printing. In 2010 she was nominated for a Jean Banchet award for "celebrity pastry chef." Sarah's pastries & Candies is a certified WBE (women's business enterprise) and DBE (disadvantaged business enterprise). Sarah has trained at several of the country's top restaurants and bakeries, including Spago Beverly Hills (where she apprenticed under the James Beard Award winning pastry chef Sherry Yard) and Bittersweet Bakery in Chicago. Sarah is a graduate of Northwestern University, French Pastry School of Chicago and Francis W. Parker.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: http://sarahscandies.com/

70 East Oak Street
Chicago, IL 60611
Store Telephone (312) 664-6223
Store Fax (312) 664-4918
Oak Street Hours:
8am-6pm Mon-Sat and Sunday 10am-6pm

111 N. State St., Street Level
Chicago, IL 60602
Macy's Phone: 312.781.3004
Macy's Fax: 312.263.8242
Macy's Hours:
10am-8pm Mon-Sat and Sunday 11a-6pm


Mom's Almond Moon Cookies
ACTIVE TIME 30 minutes
YIELD About 28 cookies

Take your butter out of the refrigerator a couple of hours before you make the dish. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Grease 2 baking sheets. Clean out some space in your fridge so you can place the dough balls on the baking sheets in it before baking. Sift the confectioners' sugar and the flour. Toast and chop the almonds.

Slivered almonds are the best kind to use for this recipe. You can find packages of them in the produce section of most supermarkets, and you can buy them in bulk at Whole Foods stores. You can find Nielsen-Massey vanilla extract at Williams-Sonoma stores.

Stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or a hand mixer
2 greased baking sheets
Cookie scoop (1 and one-half-inch diameter)
Knife or food processor
Wire rack

INSTRUCTIONS: 10 days at room temperature in a sealed airtight container; dough can be stored for as long as 2 months in the freezer

Unsalted butter, warmed to room temperature 2 sticks (16 tablespoons)
Confectioners' sugar, sifted one-quarter cup, plus roughly 1 cup for coating the cookies after they're baked
All-purpose flour, sifted 2 cups
Vanilla extract (I recommend Nielsen-Massey brand) 1 teaspoon
Almonds, slivered, finely chopped 1 cup

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a mixing bowl (if using a hand mixer), cream the butter until it is light and fluffy.
2. With the mixer still running, slowly add in the one-quarter cup confectioners' sugar and the flour, mixing until well combined.
3. With the mixer still running, add in the vanilla extract. Turn off the mixer, and slowly add the chopped almonds. Mix until the almonds are just combined, about 1 minute.
4. Use the cookie scoop to scoop out balls of dough, and place the balls 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Try not to touch the dough balls, as doing so will warm the dough.
5. Bake at 325 degrees F for about 30 minutes, or until the bottoms are lightly brown.
6. Cool the cookies completely on a wire rack. Pour the remaining 1 cup confectioners' sugar into a low bowl and roll the cooled cookies around in it until covered.

Vanilla Bean Chocolate Truffles
YIELD 20 truffles
Make the ganache the night before, as it must cool overnight in the refrigerator. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

2 baking sheets
Parchment paper
Candy thermometer
Offset spatula
Latex gloves, for dipping
1-inch ice cream scoop with a spring release

Store in a cool, dry place at room temperature for 3 to 4 days or in the refrigerator for 7 days.

Do not overmix the ganache, or it will "break" and will not be smooth and creamy.

Because you are coating the chocolate-dipped truffles with cocoa powder, you don't have to go through the tempering process, but you should still melt the chocolate gradually so it remains as close to 98 degrees F as possible. You might want to try my earlier tip about using a heating pad to keep the chocolate warm as you do the dipping. If the chocolate is too hot, it will be too thin and won't form a thick enough layer on the truffles. If it's too cold, it will be too thick and hard to work with.


For Ganache:
Vanilla bean one-half
Bittersweet chocolate (64 percent) 3 ounces
Milk chocolate (38 percent ) 3 ounces
Heavy whipping cream ½ cup
Karo Light corn syrup 1 tablespoon plus 1 and one-half teaspoons
Unsalted butter, warmed to room temperature 1 tablespoon
For Coating:
Chocolate (I like 64 percent), melted 1 pound
Cocoa powder 1 cup

1. Using a paring knife, extract the seeds from the vanilla bean by splitting the seed pod in half; then, rake the back side of the knife down the inside of the pod to scrape out the seeds.

2. In a mixing bowl, melt the dark and milk chocolate for the ganache halfway by heating it in the microwave for about 2 minutes at 50 percent power. By halfway, I mean that half of the chocolate should be melted, and the other half will still be solid. I like using chocolate pistoles or coins, but you can also just chop solid chocolate into small pieces before melting it.

3. In a saucepan, combine the cream, vanilla bean seeds, and corn syrup, and bring the mixture to a boil. Remove the mixture from the heat.

4. Pour the hot cream mixture over the partially melted chocolate. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside for 5 minutes.

5. Using a rubber spatula, stir the cream?chocolate mixture in concentric circles, starting in the center of the bowl, only widening your stirring circle when the small area you are working through is thoroughly incorporated (it will look shiny and smooth). Always stir in the same direction to avoid "breaking" the ganache. Continue until the mixture is combined, creating a ganache.

6. Once the mixture cools to 100.4 degrees F, mix in the room-temperature butter, stirring until thoroughly mixed.

7. Cool the mixture in the refrigerator overnight.

8. After the ganache has thoroughly cooled, use a 1-inch ice cream scoop (one with a spring release) to scoop out the ganache. After you create each scoop, roll it into a perfect ball in the palm of your hand. Place each ball at least 1 inch apart on one of your lined baking sheets.

9. Chop the coating chocolate into small chunks. Gradually warm the chocolate in the microwave at 50 percent power until it is completely melted (about 2 minutes). The chocolate is ready when it has reached 86 degrees F.

10. Pour the cocoa powder into a small bowl.

11. Set up your mise en place (that's chef-speak for getting everything in place) by setting your ganache ball tray on your left, the bowl of melted chocolate and the bowl containing the cocoa powder in the center, and the other baking sheet lined with parchment paper on your right.

12. Using your left hand, drop each ganache ball first into the bowl of melted chocolate. Then, shake off excess chocolate and drop into the bowl of cocoa powder. Use your clean right hand to cover the truffle with cocoa powder and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

13. Repeat with each ganache ball, transferring the truffles onto the prepared baking sheet.

14. Before serving the truffles, allow them to gradually warm to room temperature (should take about 30 minutes). Ideally, truffles should be stored in a room that is approximately 65 degrees F, but you can also store them at room temperature for 3 to 4 days or in the refrigerator for 1 week.