Arkansas Fresh Bakery’s Ashton Woodward Bakes Cocoa Rouge With Love

It’s popping up all over town: Cocoa Rouge.

If it doesn’t sound familiar yet, it will. It’s a fairly new line of chocolates, made in Bryant by Arkansas Fresh Bakery owner Ashton Woodward. So far, a dozen Little Rock businesses are selling these artisan chocolates and the reviews are in. “We had six deliveries during the holidays because we couldn’t keep it on the shelf. People are so excited to have an artisan chocolate made locally. It has been so popular,” says Lindsey Gray, owner of Eggshells Kitchen Co.

Credit: Dean Wheeler

“The response has been nothing short of overwhelming,” says Woodward.

For Woodward, the transition from baking bread to making chocolate was a logical one. “Chocolate is one of my favorite foods and I am attracted to working within the medium of bread, chocolate, and pastry. It’s all working within the confines of an ingredient base. I learned to make Belgian-style chocolates at Belgian Chocolatier Piron in Evanston, Ill. It’s a small shop, but they do huge amounts of handmade chocolate. I lived close by, but I got into it because I love the stuff,” says Woodward.

But make no mistake, there’s a huge difference between working with the two products, since both pose great challenges. “They’re opposite in many ways. Bread is a long process and chocolate is less so. Bread has a short shelf-life, while chocolate is much longer. Bread is a hot preparation, involving an oven and high temperatures, while with chocolate, there is much less heat, sometimes none,” says Woodward.

Credit: Dean Wheeler

Cocoa Rouge hit the shelves in November 2013. Woodward and his staff currently produce thirty individual pieces, incorporating ingredients like various fruits, nuts, caramel, alcohol and chocolate fillings, while also utilizing a great range of textures, a diversity of milk, and dark and white chocolate shells. Boxes come in six-piece, 12-piece, and 24-piece assortments and feature pieces like green tea, brandied cherry, milk whiskey pecan, orange peel marzipan, mint extra dark, passion fruit coconut, ginger, and dark strawberry chocolate, among others. “The best is watching someone’s response for the first time. They examine the box, then open it and their eyes light up. It’s really funny, but a lot of people feel compelled to sit down right after they bite into one,” says Woodward.

Credit: Dean Wheeler

As for the baking side of the business? That too is as popular as ever, and you’ll still be able to find Woodward’s bread products in various establishments all over central Arkansas, as well as his very own café which we’re very excited about. The Arkansas Fresh Café in Bryant (Monday-Saturday, 7 a.m.-3 p.m.) will be serving up sandwiches made on Arkansas Fresh bread, as well as great coffee, breakfast pastries and the full line of Cocoa Rouge chocolates. The breakfast selection should be particularly exciting for a town lacking in quality breakfast options. “It’s basically all the great things people came to love about our farmer’s market stalls plus more,” says Woodward.

This is all fantastic news, but for now, we’ll focus on the chocolate. With Valentine’s Day quickly approaching, your sweetheart probably prefers a fine confection over a crispy baguette. Either way, Ashton Woodward and his crew have you covered.

Credit: Dean Wheeler

Q&A: Ashton Woodward

Soirée: Any plans on expanding your line of chocolates in the near future?

Ashton Woodward: Absolutely! Look for interesting bars and novelty items, new holiday packaging, candied fruits, truffled almonds, espresso beans, chocolate pretzels and more!

SO: What has been your most well-received piece in your box of assorted chocolates?

AW: It’s very hard to say, as it just depends on the person’s taste. I think our coffee pieces stand out in my mind as being the crowd pleasers.

SO: How did you go about making the designs for each of your chocolates?

AW: I waited for six agonizing months to receive all of our equipment and chocolate. All the recipe work was done in the meanwhile, so I knew what flavors and textures I wanted to use. Ninety percent of our recipes worked the first try because I had written and rewritten them so many times. Assorted chocolates got a bad reputation for many years. Some of the big names in confectionery really let their product quality slip. Currently, a huge majority of new chocolate innovation is happening in candy bars and that’s a great thing for the industry. I wanted to do an assortment that had both mass appeal and a sense of innovation.

Credit: Dean Wheeler

SO: If you could pair your chocolates with one other Valentine’s Day gift, what would it be?

AW: I’m smart enough to know what my wife would say, flowers!

SO: What’s easier … making chocolates or baking bread?

AW: They both require a lot of attention to detail, but which is easier to do at home? Chocolates.

Come see us and I can help anyone buy the chocolate they need to make something special. It may not look great your first try but it will taste incredible with the right ingredients.

Credit: Dean Wheeler

Where to find Cocoa Rouge: Accessories for the Home, Catering to You, Good Food by Ferneau, Hillcrest Artisan Meats, Tanarah Luxe Floral, Patticakes, Terry’s Finer Foods, Cherry’s Hallmark Stores, Arkansas Yoga Collective, Rock Town Distillery, Tipton & Hurst, Eggshells Kitchen Co., and Box Turtle. It’s still early in the process, but the list of places stocked with Cocoa Rouge is steadily growing.

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