Piece By Piece
Xchocol’Art Owner Joann Hofer Creates Gourmet Hand-painted Chocolates
She isn’t Willy Wonka, but Joann Hofer’s chocolate creations are also breathtaking and often yield some wonderful responses from customers.
The Carmel resident has taken her two greatest passions — chocolate and art — and made a career out of it. Hofer is the owner of Xchocol’Art Gourmet Chocolate. She is a chocolatier with a knack for creating tasty and beautiful works of art. Hofer creates artisanal chocolates and truffles that are handcrafted and hand-painted — piece by piece.
The idea for the business came together organically. Hofer’s family roots are in Colombia, where some of the world’s finest cacao is grown. She also spent several years living in Europe, where gourmet chocolate is quite popular.
“I am actually an artist and often do a lot of painting on acrylic and porcelain,” Hofer says. “I lived in Europe for many years and tasted real chocolate while over there. I loved what they did with it. I became enamored with the process of making chocolate — from the bean to the bar.”
She later enrolled in a “Bean to Bar” course in Canada, where she learned the process of harvesting cacao and making chocolate. Once she got a taste of creating her own chocolate, Hofer was hooked. In 2000, Hofer and her husband moved to Carmel and she continued researching and pursuing her dream.
A trip to Austria around 2011 allowed Hofer to meet a world-famous chocolatier who mentored her. She then became a distributor for him, finally getting her foot in the door to the world of chocolate. Just a few years later, Hofer took the leap to become a chocolatier and now creates her own recipes through her business.
It’s much more than a hobby for Hofer, who is always looking for ways to perfect her craft.
“Each year I take a master class on chocolate-making,” she says. “I’ve been to Italy, Austria, Canada — all over. Last year, I went to Ecuador and now I source the chocolate that I work with directly from there.”
“It’s Too Beautiful to Eat!”
It’s one thing to create delicious, gourmet chocolate, but what really sets Hofer apart is her ability to turn each piece into a work of art. She estimates that it took her about a year to really perfect the craft of hand-painting her chocolates.
The results and feedback she gets from customers speak for itself.
“I am always amused by the responses,” Hofer says. “A lot of people are sometimes hesitant to eat the chocolate because they are ‘too pretty.’ The first response is typically: ‘this is too pretty to eat!’ Of course, our goal is for people to eat the chocolate. But the reason why I try to make the chocolates beautiful is that I really would like people to take a closer look and have a little appreciation for the color and what it takes.”
Hofer’s worries don’t last for long though as customers do eventually indulge and eat her creations and most marvel at how the chocolate tastes as good as it looks. Hofer fills her orders online through her website and Etsy shop. The online shop has plenty of reviews from customers like: “Absolutely gorgeous! As delicious as they were attractive.”
Trust the Process
Hofer’s process of creating artisanal chocolate is — as you might imagine — quite detailed.
She typically starts working early in the morning at her commercial kitchen in Carmel, especially in the summer because her kitchen must be at a certain temperature with low humidity for the chocolate to be created successfully. She starts by tempering the color for her creations, which is made out of rich cocoa butter. Then she uses the color to hand-paint her chocolates and truffles.
The truffles are Hofer’s specialty.
“Making a truffle is a good three-day process,” she says. “It starts with the recipe and the ganache has to rest overnight. The next day I cut it and enrobe it. Then I adhere the art to the truffle. The third day involves the packaging.”
Hofer has trusted this strenuous process, and it has paid off for the chocolatier. In 2017, her Chili Truffle Collection took home the Gold award at the International Chocolate Salon Top Spicy Chocolate competition.
Xchocol’Art has also won awards over the last five years for “Top Truffle Artistry.”
“It is great to be recognized by our customers and by colleagues in the chocolate world,” Hofer says. “To be noticed, in any way, by fellow chocolatiers, is fantastic.”
Where’s the Chocolate?
Hofer estimates that she uses more than a ton of chocolate a year. So, where can you find all of those delicious creations?
Xchocol’Art doesn’t have a brick and mortar location. You can only find the chocolates in three places around Indianapolis: the Carmel and Broad Ripple farmers markets and downtown at the Conrad.
The Conrad discovered Hofer and her art after she provided chocolates for a treat bag at a wedding held at the popular Indianapolis hotel. Today, Hofer works in partnership to create her chocolates as a complimentary gift for guests that stay in the Conrad’s suites.
“It has been a great relationship with the Conrad and one that we are very happy to be in,” Hofer says. “Being a part of the community and at the farmers markets has also been a backbone of our business. We’ve been discovered more at the markets and now do a lot of weddings in Carmel as well as corporate gifting for local businesses.”
Hofer’s passion as a chocolatier won’t be melting away anytime soon. She says she will continue to learn how to perfect her craft in creating inspiring and delicious chocolates and delivering them to the world.
“What I enjoy is that time of creation at the very beginning,” Hofer says. “When I am about to use color or think of a recipe, that little moment before I take off — I just love creating something new. I also love the afternoons after I’m at the farmers markets and we’ve sold out for that day. Those are times that I reflect and think about the joys of something sweet and beautiful that is passed along to others. That’s why I do this.”
For more information and to shop online, visit Xchocol’Art at xchocolart.com.