On Saturday, it was a winter wonderland outdoors, but inside the 360 Youth Services Chocolate Festival in Naperville, the falling snow was the last thing on anyone’s mind.
And, why would it be? There were plenty of delicious distractions to ward off the taste of bad weather.
For 11 years, the Naperville-based organization has been hosting its annual Chocolate Festival to raise money for services including prevention education, counseling and shelter for local teens in need.
More than a dozen local vendors were on hand Saturday to dish out samples, and sell their creative chocolate concoctions.
“This is our only storefront,” said Pam Bolen, of Mamies Toffee and Treats. Based out of Plano, the company has no storefront location. Instead, Bolen and her husband rely on fairs, festivals and farmer’s markets to sell their selections.
The couple began their business three years ago, and garnered a great amount of attention on Saturday afternoon alongside local staples like Le Chocolat and the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Company. Everywhere you looked, there were giant cookies and tiny truffles. There were chocolate-covered gummy bears and deliciously dipped pretzels. There were cakes and cookies and cupcakes, as far as the eye could see.
But, it was so much more than that.
“Festivals are common in the summer, but this is a family-friendly, winter event,” said Angella MacDonald, of Lisle. From bounce houses to face painting, martial arts demonstrations to cookie stacking contests, there was no shortage of fun for everyone.
Drawing quite the crowd this year was the festival’s Sweet Treats Baking Competition. More than 30 local bakers competed for top honors, cooking up everything from Mason Jar brownies to chocolate hazelnut crepe cakes.
As a former competition winner, MacDonald tried her hand this year as a judge, a difficult but delightful task.
Entries, which included cakes, cookies, bars or candies, were judged based on taste, creativity and appearance.
Winners get a blue ribbon, but to MacDonald, the win means so much more than that.
“Winning does add a little credibility to you as a baker,” she said. “It also gives you bragging rights.”
It would be a hard task to top MacDonald’s dark chocolate salted caramel cupcakes from two years ago, but more than two dozen local bakers were sure going to try.
They brought brown butter chocolate chip cookie dough truffles and S’mores cookies. There were gluten-free baked goods, and toffee selections.
“The whole event is a lot of fun,” said Dawn Porter, Special Event and Marketing Coordinator for 360 Youth Services as she eyed each entry.
Once the judge’s ballots are cast, the public is allowed to descend on the room and devour what’s left of each entry.
“They line up at the door, rush in and grab everything,” MacDonald said. “You should see what it looks like in here after they are done.”