So if you’ve been following lately on The Gluttonous Geek‘s social media, you might recognize the brilliant company I’m featuring today. If not, let me introduce you to the creamy, dreamy, chocolatey world of Sweet Steam.
Sweet Steam is a wonderful chocolate company in the Midwest known for their creative, steampunk-inspired confections. I first met two of their four founders, Jeff Berndt and Darrow Bernick, at Teslacon in 2012 and instantly fell in love with their spiced chocolate cogs (which are now burning chocolate airships – oh, the humanity!).
Over the years they’ve never failed to impress me with new shapes and flavors such as their Salted Caramel C’thocolate, their Absinthe Chocolate Eiffel Towers, and Root Beer Float Chocolate “Roustabout” Bars. They even have a line of hot cocoa mixes that are to die for with flavors like spicy chocolate, peanut butter, and mint. But honestly? They are some of the nicest people I have ever met, and a portion of their profits also goes to support educational groups in S.T.E.A.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math)!
Why I especially want to feature them today is that you have the opportunity to help these fine artistic folks bring their chocolate to your home. They currently have a Kickstarter for their Roustabout Bar going which has reached its goal, but every penny widens their scope. Also, the rewards include their hot cocoa mix, which I have featured in today’s recipe: Spiced Chocolate and Hazelnut Crusted Rack of Lamb.
So why don’t we find out a little bit more about these folks? Jeff was kind to sit down and answer a few questions about Sweet Steam for me, so let’s get this show on the road!
Who is behind Sweet Steam and where do you operate out of?
Sweet Steam is a partnership between Darrow Bernick, Doug Richter, Jeff Berndt, and Joe Becker. We’re scattered all over southern Michigan and do a lot of our collaboration and brainstorming online and via text. Sometimes we even call each other on the phone like 20th-century people. Our official mailing address is in Dearborn, Michigan, but we meet pretty much anyplace that serves coffee.
How did Sweet Steam come about and where did you get the idea?
Back in 2011, we were part of a creative/entrepreneurial support group. We got together at a local pub to talk about whatever projects we were working on, bounce ideas off each other, help each other bring their dreams to fruition. We’d all been interested in steampunk for a while, and in Spring of 2011, we went to the World Steam Expo in Dearborn. We had an amazing time, and we wanted to figure out a way to get more involved. But all of our ideas were already being done–and done really well–by other folks. So we thought, what isn’t being done? Well, chocolate! And chocolate is very steampunk–it’s sensual and decadent and romantic, and who doesn’t like chocolate? So how do we make chocolate more steampunk than it already is? Creative shapes and flavor combinations. We started riffing on ideas and pretty soon we had a product catalog.
What is your background in confectionery and cooking?
A couple of us are pretty good amateur cooks, but when we came up with the idea for Sweet Steam, we didn’t really know much about confectionery. We had a lot of learning to do. A friend of ours helped us learn about making chocolate, and in some ways, being beginners helped us to try ideas that a more experienced confectioner might have dismissed. We’ve been learning as we go, and we’re always looking for ways to make our chocs just a little bit better. It’s become a passion for us.
What is your favorite part of the creation process?
There’s a lot to love, really. The flavor experimentation is a lot of fun, ‘cos we get to eat chocolate. But it’s also fun to banter back and forth to come up with clever names and shapes to go with the flavors. We spend a lot of time laughing when we get together, so even if we don’t come up with anything workable at a given session, it was still time well spent.
Where do you get inspiration for your chocolates?
Everywhere! It’s all about noticing things and making connections. When we were first getting started, we thought about different shapes that would appeal to steampunks. One idea was a pocket watch, and that’s cool and all, but a chocolate pocket watch by itself isn’t all that interesting. Then one of us recalled that fruit flavors go well with chocolate, and another of us thought we have to flavor the pocket watch with orange. The name was obvious, and our Clockwork Orange became a perennial favorite. The Roustabout Root Beer Float bar was inspired by TeslaCon 5’s Wild West theme. We wanted to create a product that would be at home in Rusty Gear Gulch. A sheriff badge made the most sense to us. But what should it taste like? We tried a couple of different flavors, but couldn’t get them to work. Then one of us thought about sarsaparilla. We tried it out, and it was pretty good, but not all the way there. Then another of us came up with the idea of sprinkling root beer flavored sugar on the backs of the stars, to give them a little more texture and flavor. Sheriff Daly’s Sarsaparilla Stars were a huge hit both at TeslaCon and at Steampunk World’s Fair, and we decided that we needed to share that flavor beyond the steampunk world.
What chocolate products are you most proud of and why?
The newest product is usually the one we’re most excited about, and right now we’re most proud of our Roustabout Bar. As far as we know, no other confectioner in the world is making a chocolate bar that tastes like a root beer float. We’re very excited not only about the flavor of the bar, but also the packaging design, the design of the bar itself, and the fact that we’ll be using the Roustabout to give forward: a portion of Roustabout profits will go to a charity that helps young people get involved in S.T.E.A.M. fields: Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math.
Tell me about your Kickstarter and what do you hope to achieve with it?
We’re very excited to be able to say that as we’re talking, our campaign is 133% funded, with seven days left to go! (Can we take this opportunity to send a huge Thank You to everyone who backed us? Thanks, everyone! You’re awesome!) The Kickstarter funds will bring the Roustabout Bar from dream to reality. We’ll pay for the creation of the molds for the bars, the packaging of the individual bars and for display boxes for retail spaces, and of course for fulfilling our promises to our backers. But we’re not only bringing a tasty chocolate bar to the marketplace–we also hope to bring some of the joy, the creativity, and the inclusiveness of the steampunk community to the wider world. As we mentioned before, the Roustabout will help support a cause that helps people get involved in S.T.E.A.M. Our backers will get to vote on which group the Roustabout will support. When this product becomes a smashing success, we’ll develop another product, and that product will benefit a different organization. We want to give forward, help other people achieve their dreams, and do our part to make sure that everyone gets to play.
What’s coming up in the future that you’re the most excited about?
The Roustabout, of course! But beyond that, we’ve got several product ideas in the hopper. We just need to decide which one makes the most sense to develop. One of our first products was a chocolate cameo of Nikola Tesla. It looked really great–Tesla’s face was white chocolate, the back of the cameo was milk chocolate, and the frame was dark chocolate. We loved them! But they were really hard to make, and for some reason, people didn’t buy them. So we don’t make those anymore. But there are other ways that we can do chocs with Tesla–or other scientists. We’ve been thinking of doing a medallion-style choc featuring Marie Curie. Also, we’ve spoken with another creative person in the steampunk world about a possible collaboration–nothing definite yet, so we can’t say more than if it does happen, it’s going to be a lot of fun for everyone!
Anything else you’d like to add or promote that we did not cover here?
Absolutely. To anyone who’s wondering whether to try that thing they’ve been dreaming about all these years: yes, by all means, try it! When we were starting out, we made all kinds of mistakes. You probably will too. That’s okay! Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Recognize that you don’t know everything, and don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. You’d be surprised at how willing people are to help someone who’s working on creating something new. Never stop learning, never stop growing, and never stop improving. Believe that you can succeed, and act on that belief. You’ll be amazed at what you can do.
So did that pique your interest? I mean come on, chocolate, geekery, imagination, AND charity? How can you resist supporting these wonderful causes?! Go to Sweet Steam’s Kickstarter page and be a part of the revolution!
In the meantime, I hope I can sweeten the deal with this recipe. I mixed some of their spiced chocolate hot cocoa mix with kosher salt and used it as a spice rub. After roasting a bit, I brushed on some honey and coated it with a panko breadcrumb and crushed hazelnut crust.
Did I mention it was amazing? Pictured with it is a red wine, leek, and mushroom risotto I whipped up at the last minute (the recipe for which may appear at not so later time on this blog). I found that Sweet Steam’s salted caramel c’thocolate and sarsaparilla sheriff stars went along wonderfully as dessert.
Sweet Steam's Spicy Chocolate and Hazelnut Rack of Lamb
Equipment: Oven, roasting pan with a rack, aluminum foil, grilling or pastry brush, instant-read thermometer.
- 1 lamb rib roast with 8 ribs, trimmed
- 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
- 2 1/4 teaspoons Sweet Steam’s Spicy Chocolate Hot Cocoa Mix
- 3 teaspoons grapeseed oil
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
- 1/4 cup crushed hazelnuts
- cooking spray
- Preheat the oven to 450° F. Line the interior of the roasting pan with foil for easy cleanup and set the rack on top. Spray it with a coat of cooking spray. Wrap the bones on the lamb with foil and set it on the rack of the roasting pan.
- Combine 1 teaspoon of kosher salt, 2 teaspoons hot cocoa mix, and 2 teaspoons of grapeseed oil in a small bowl until it makes a paste. Brush the paste all over the meat and fat cap of the lamb. Roast the lamb in the oven for about 10 minutes while preparing the crust ingredients.
- Mix the remaining cocoa mix, salt, and grapeseed oil in another bowl with the panko and crushed hazelnut. Remove the lamb from the oven and brush the honey over the top and sides. Sprinkle the crumb mixture to coat the honey and roast another 10-12 minutes, or until an instant-read thermometer reads 145° F.
- Transfer the lamb to a cutting board and remove the foil from the bones. Let rest for 10 minutes before cutting between the ribs to serve.