Chocolate bunnies are multiplying at Krause's Chocolates in Saugerties (with video feature, recipe)
Elmer Fudd would have an absolute blast if he ever stumbled upon Krause’s Chocolates in Saugerties, especially at this time of year.
It’s officially the “wascally wabbit” hunting season at the candy factory on Partition Street.
The beloved Looney Tunes character might be a tad disappointed, though.
There aren’t any “wittle gway wabbits” to be found at the Saugerties landmark — just deep, dark, chocolate ones —a ll made by hand, the old-fashioned way.
It’s such a potently productive place that the chocolate Easter treats are multiplying, dare we say, like rabbits.
In fact, Krause’s Chocolates pumps out thousands of bunny litters a day, using the same tempering recipes and careful craftsmanship that founder Alfred Krause did more than 80 years ago.
“We do tons and tons of bunnies each year,” said Karl Krause, the third-generation owner of the family-run business.
“These guys see bunnies in their sleep,” he said, motioning to the workers in the molding room.
“You get so fed up with bunnies by the end that you probably want to have a target shoot.” Continued...
The Krause story began in 1929 when his grandfather left Germany because of the collapsing economy.
Alfred Krause was a chef on an ocean liner. He came to America, where he built what began as a general store brick by brick.
“He and my grandmother, Hannah, started with homemade pies, which were kind of like the predecessor to the candy,” Krause said.
The operation grew in New Jersey and eventually reached into New York.
Krause’s parents, Manford and Jean, bought the Saugerties building for $8,000 in 1972.
“It was a real fixer-upper, but my father was handy like that,” Krause said.
The business grew slowly at first.
“We had one cook, one dipper and one tiny, little store,” Krause said.
But, once people came in and tasted the chocolate, the lines began forming outside the combined factory and retail store.
“It got to be almost more than we could handle, especially around the holidays,” Krause recalled. Continued...
“To get from one end to the next, I’d have to wedge myself around the crowd.”
Krause convinced his mother in 1995 to build an addition to the business, which had then become a 7,700-square-foot space.
“We took a big gamble,” said Krause, who assumed ownership in 2001.
But it paid off. Even today in the slow economy, the novelty chocolate shop does a brisk business.
Easter is one of the most lucrative times of the year, followed only by Christmas. Valentine’s Day ranks third.
Krause has a hunch it’s because he’s continued the same hand-dipping techniques that his grandfather perfected years ago.
A lot of the work begins in the molding room, where the tempering process takes place.
Chocolate starts as a solid and is then melted and turned back into a solid again in the molding tanks.
The goal is to re-establish the cocoa butter crystals that are found in real chocolate, which can then be formed into molds.
Tempering the chocolate, according to Krause, gives it a nice sheen and an extraordinary taste. Continued...
Once the properly tempered chocolate is pumped into molds, it goes to a vibrating table that pushes the bubbles out.
The molds are then placed in a cooling tunnel and later split to remove the rabbits, ducks, eggs, crosses, trucks and other shapes popular at this time of year.
Strict procedures are followed to get everything just right, Krause said.
In the molding room, workers wear hair nets and gloves and are not permitted to wear perfume (Krause calls it an “odor-control zone”) because the chocolate will absorb outside fragrances, he said.
The day the Freeman visited the chocolate factory, two female employees worked rapidly in the molding room.
Nancy Lavalle, the primary bunny molder, said she does so many a day that it’s even affected her dreams.
“I don’t see sheep in my sleep anymore,” she said, “only bunnies and rabbits.”
And you just got to love chocolate to be part of the Krause team.
Jessica Saehloff, who was removing the shapes from the molds, said it goes without saying what the best part of the job is for her.
“Oh, it’s the chocolate for sure,” she said, reaffirming her taste for the satiny, smooth confection.
Krause clearly loves the rapport he has with his workers. He takes a lot of pride in the operation that is one of Saugerties’ best loved spots.
He’s hoping to one day pass the business on to his son, Ian, who is now 12.
That would make him the fourth generation to keep the Krause chocolate tradition alive.
Although the owner willingly gave the Freeman a tour of his place, he wasn’t willing to divulge everything for the sake of a story in the Life pages.
Some of his recipes are closely guarded secrets.
“I keep them under lock and key,” he announced sharply when pressed for some of the ingredients he uses to make the more than 50 varieties of chocolates he offers to customers.
He also takes great care to guard some of the antiques still used to make fudges, creams and hard candies.
Heavy copper kettles dating back to 1906 and a hand-cranking caramel presser are a few of the original gadgets Krause wouldn’t trade for modern mechanizations.
“They don’t make them like that anymore,” he said. “Some of them were antiques when my father bought them.”
Nor has Krause tried to improve on any of the recipes his grandfather conceived in the beginning.
“He was blessed by God to have the right kind of taste buds,” he said.
The tour of the work facility ended with a stop in the dipping room, where a worker named Mary sat in a corner with a tool as simple as a spoon.
Shiny milk chocolate drizzled from it onto some ginger fillings, not one of Krause’s more popular fillings.
Ordinarily, Mary and others dip fillings like peanut butter, cherries, pineapples and apricots.
The morning tour ended in the store, which was as busy as a springtime rabbit colony.
Customers lingered in front of the glass casings that held jelly beans, barks, marshmallow Peeps, edible baskets and even an assortment of large chocolate rabbits.
Many of them had names like the giant “Opa,” meaning grandfather in German.
An even bigger one, standing 3-feet tall and weighing 30 pounds, was named “Ian,” after the owner’s son.
Krause sold the prized bunny last week, but, by the time the Freeman photographer got to the shop later in the day, he was making another one.
He and his employees would have to come up with another catchy name for it.
Meanwhile, somewhere around the shop, you’re even bound to find a “scwewy wabbit” named “Bugs.”
If you do, remember to save him for Elmer.
After all these years, he’s still looking for that “tweachewous twickster.”
RECIPE: Truffle Fudge
1 pint heavy cream
3 lbs. Dark or Milk or White chocolate (your choice — and preferably Krause’s!)
Gently heat cream to a simmer (195 degrees Fahrenheit). Put broken chunks of chocolate in a mixing bowl. Pour heated cream over chunks and stir with s rubber spatula, scraping sides as you mix. Mix until uniformly blended to a puddinglike consistency. Pour into pans and cool until firm in fridge. Cut and serve.
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