| Sweets |

Baker Spotlight: Annie Rupani, Chocolatier and Owner of Cacao & Cardamom

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Annie Rupani makes some of the most beautiful chocolates you have ever seen; each creation is like a work of art. After graduating from Boston University with a degree in Anthropology and Religion, she set her sights on becoming a lawyer. And like every person studying for the LSATs, she found ways to de-stress during breaks. But unlike everyone else, her stress-reliever was making chocolate.

That passion and love for the sweet confection helped her discover what she really wanted to do in life, and law school wasn't in the picture anymore.

"I was just obsessed with food; I was obsessed with cooking. Chocolate was just one of those things that I had a certain affinity to just because of the process," Rupani says. "Chocolate somehow captures people's hearts. There are so many things that surround chocolate that are just so intriguing and people have a strong memory to it, and I was one of those people. I was really intrigued by the process. I wanted to be a chocolate maker."

After researching how to make chocolate and everything that was required, Rupani realized that she would need hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of machinery to create chocolate, so she chose to buy Hawaiian chocolate to make chocolate creations, such as bon-bons and truffles.

"I would just give them away to my friends and family and that was it. I went to Pakistan thinking about chocolate and I guess the decision to not go to law school anymore is what brought me back to chocolate," Rupani says. "I ended up finding a pastry school in Malaysia and I went there for ten days and just took some chocolatiering courses; I moved back home, still trying to figure out what I was going to do in life. I ended up getting an internship at a private club, Houston Racquet Club, just making chocolates for them and then I'd go home and make more chocolates; I was still like what am I going to really do in life?"

During the summer of 2012, she competed in the Curry Crawl charity event at CityCentre; where her chocolate creations sparked interest in those attending. At this time, her business was strictly online; she was making chocolates in her parents' home, specifically in the laundry room, and would use various kitchens around town, such as Green Plate Kitchen and Kitchen Incubator. It's safe to say, Rupani's chocolates and work space took over her mom's laundry room.

"A big Indian thing is to match everything; so we have all of these Indian outfits and my mom has every color shoe you could imagine," she says. "The laundry room was devoted to shoes, I mean like 300 pairs of shoes -- I mean like cheap! You get them from Pakistan and they are $10-$15 a pair and every time you go, you add to the collection. She was so bitter because she had to move everything out into the garage. They turned the laundry room into a chocolate room for me because chocolate does best below 70 degrees and so I just would sit in that room for hours and hours."

Rupani experimented with bon-bons and truffles, as well as shelling and creating different molds for her chocolates. She loves playing with the different cocoa butter colors to create a variety of designs, but she also loves incorporating spices and fruits into her chocolates.

"It was so natural to me because I grew up with food that was so spiced up, but it was also something that I kind of learned to love in college -- pushing the limits with food," Rupani says. "Boston is such a foodie town and all of the restaurants there, everything was seasonality, everything was about being creative and beautiful, and I would eat out at least two or three times a week because there were so many deals for college students and I wanted to bring that into chocolate in a way."

The first spice she experimented with was cardamom, hence the name of her chocolate shop, Cacao & Cardamom. Rupani made a cardamom and rose water chocolate ganache that her mom said tasted exactly like the South Asian dessert, mithai. Realizing that she could easily blend spices, such as cardamom, into her chocolates and make confections that tasted like desserts, such as mithai, Rupani decided to continue experimenting with bold spices and fruits. Her original flavors, such as Cardamom Rose, Coco Curry, Mango Caramel and Guava Tamarind, remain some of the most popular flavors among her customers today.

But, the exotic spices and flavorings aren't the only unique aspects of her chocolates. Rupani doesn't add sugar to the chocolate because sugar is inherently in the chocolate; she does incorporate sugar into the caramel fillings and anything fruit-based to balance out the flavors of the fruit, but other than that, her regular ganache is as natural as it can be. Depending on the size of the piece and its filling, each chocolate ranges from 35 to 45 calories with a maximum two grams of sugar.

"That's how I got into chocolate, too -- my love for chocolate was through health," Rupani says. "I was researching [chocolate] bars like crazy because I still wanted to eat dessert, but I wanted to eat something semi-healthy. I would read the back of the bars and a really good chocolate bar will have a lot of fiber [and] it will have a lot of protein if it is a high percentage cacao bar. I have a 100 percent chocolate bar from Granada and there's 12 grams of protein in the whole bar and 15 grams of fiber, and the antioxidants in that bar are probably unbelievable."

Rupani uses chocolates sourced by 20 different chocolate makers from around the world, such as from Venezuela, Bolivia, Granada and Madagascar, which is her favorite; it has a fruity, acidic undertone that makes think you're eating fruit and forget you're eating chocolate.

Because she has such a wide variety of chocolates, her customers can experience different flavors just as they would with a wine tasting or a coffee tasting. She hopes to expand the opportunities for customers to explore the elements of chocolate by offering classes, tastings and hopefully, permitting she receives her TABC license, Cacao & Cardamom can offer happy hours with chocolate and champagne.

She's got her kitchen and she's got the storefront, but Rupani is just getting started with the opportunities to expand Cacao & Cardamom.

"Like I said, people are really intrigued by chocolate, just as much as I was when I first started and still am with chocolate," she says. "It's fun to be able to teach people about where it comes from and allow them to experience it with their own hands."

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