Key Lime Pie bonbons (with white chocolate ganache) | Photo by Charlie Bennet
Swedish chocolate master Håkan Mårtensson brings award-winning bars, bonbons, and pastries to the Hudson Valley.
Nothing is what it seems to be at HÅKAN Chocolatier.
The first time someone walks into this Beacon business, they may assume they’ve wandered into Main St’s hottest new cocktail lounge. However, the stylish space is actually the full-time atelier of Swedish chocolate master Håkan Mårtensson.
“I have the job that all kids dream of having when they’re young. I just never grew out of it,” Mårtensson says of his vocation. In his studio, he crafts truly one-of-a-kind confections. For visitors to the shop, the experience of sampling bonbons at HÅKAN Chocolatier is more akin to a high-end sushi tasting in Midtown Manhattan than a traditional bakery run. Guests “eat with their eyes first,” as he puts it. To get the most out of his award-winning desserts, visitors to HÅKAN Chocolatier must have an open mind and fully submit themselves to Mårtensson’s world. His dominion is full of surprises, including a giant “chocolate”-breathing dragon, plenty of unexpected flavors and textures, and some of the most gorgeous chocolates in the region.
Even Mårtensson himself subverts expectations. His imposing stature more closely resembles a Scandinavian strongman than a delicate, precise chocolatier. However, his artistic prowess has earned him endless accolades and competitive victories.
His journey into the world of chocolate began shortly after he became a teenager. In Sweden, at the age of 14 or 15, many young adults decide between continuing academics at college and taking up a trade.
“I was an athlete, I swam and played soccer. And I ate like a horse,” Mårtensson says. “I decided to pursue culinary because, if it didn’t work out, at least I could feed myself.” He joined the Culinary Institute in Kristianstad, Sweden at age 15. After that, he became a member of the Swedish National Culinary Team and competed against elite chefs with decades of experience. He joined the team when he was just 22 years old.
“When I found out I made the team, I asked my mom not to tell anyone. Soon they’ll find out I’m a fraud, and it’ll all be over. Well, word got out pretty quickly,” he reminisces.
Mårtensson’s journey was not always headed toward candy. The world of chocolate captivated him on his first visit to a true cocoa studio. Through large panes of glass, he watched burly Swedish men working with expert finesse on tiny pieces of edible art. The contrast was bewildering, and he couldn’t wait to try it himself. In the Hudson Valley, perhaps a visitor to HÅKAN Chocolatier will be inspired in the same way upon observing a master chocolatier in his element. In a similar vein, the shop even pays homage to Mårtensson’s inspiration with its design; a massive wall of reclaimed glass reveals his studio to customers.
Mårtensson’s toasted quinoa hazelnut pieces—a flagship staple of his business to this day—won his country two gold medals in the IKA/Culinary Olympics in the late 2000s. He ended up working for FIKA for many years in New York City, until the pandemic drove him upstate. For his entire life, Mårtensson has dreamed of owning a gorgeous piece of land. For him, the Hudson Valley is like “Sweden on crack.” The region’s diverse landscape and wide spectrum of available adventures through nature blew his mind.
“In Sweden, you have one mountain, one beautiful river, and a small village of people. In a town here, you have five mountains, five bodies of water, and a ton of people,” Mårtensson remarks. When he first arrived in the Valley, he and his business partner Steven Pipes toured every one of the region’s hotspots—Kingston, New Paltz, Hudson, etc. When he turned onto Main Street and made eye contact with Mt. Beacon for the first time, he was sold. Plus, Dutchess County presented an attractive place for his two young children to grow up.
Tenderness exudes from Mårtensson in all that he does. Parent, sculptor, baker, conversationalist, and chocolatier, he is just as much of a draw as the candy he crafts. Since opening in late May 2020, HÅKAN Chocolatier has drawn (and connected) many members of the Swedish community living in the Hudson Valley and beyond. One visitor drove from Vermont just to pay him a visit. Above all, this Beacon chocolate studio is an experience.
“I wanted this place to have a speakeasy atmosphere. My guests will sit down in a comfortable environment and experience moments piece by piece,” Mårtensson explains. His shop offers good vibes and a hip setting for unique conversation. Large neon signs help create the mood. The line Klappa takten alla bagarbarn illuminates the tasting area, and Bullfest, bullfest hela da´n glows above the climate-controlled studio. These are lyrics to a song close to Mårtensson’s heart, and a representation of his excitement. Lighthearted and encouraging, the signs exclaim, “Clap to the rhythm, all you baker’s children. Bun feast, bun feast, all day long!”
In the former space of The Underground Beacon comic shop, Mårtensson strives to “screw with your mind.” He and Pipes, a longtime veteran of the hospitality industry, love nothing more than to disprove expectations.
“Many people come in with the preconception that they don’t like milk chocolate. We love to prove them wrong,” Pipes says. Milk chocolate garnered a reputation for being cloying and simplistic in flavor. When in the hands of a master chocolatier, flavors are anything but simple.
In a similar vein, every element of a bonbon is curated with intentionality. According to Mårtensson, when eating chocolates, one experiences the look, texture, and saltiness/acidity/bitterness before the flavors begin to emerge.
First, the story starts with the eyes. It takes expert tempering, precise temperatures, and well-polished molds to get perfect chocolates. For instance, Key lime pie bonbons made with a white chocolate ganache take the shape of a diamond and feature a glossy sheen. An avid fisherman, Mårtensson considers his time in the Florida Keys one of the many “gems” of his American experience. Visitors will notice fiery-red color and a scaly texture on the “Dragon’s Breath” bonbon, which resembles the spine of a flying monster. This ruby chocolate delight is filled with a yellow habanero cream, coating the palette in a simmering heat. One look at this smoldering sweet, and you can tell it’s hot.
Second comes the texture. The bumps and ridges on Mårtensson’s award-winning toasted quinoa pieces are coated in a dusting of cocoa powder. Many of his geometrically complex creations have more sides than one can count, which produces a wild mouthfeel. However, no tactile experience at HÅKAN Chocolatier is quite like the salted caramels. These small round spheres hide a burst of liquid caramel inside a crunchy chocolate shell. With devilish smiles, Mårtensson and Pipes pass these treats to any caramel naysayers.
“When people think of caramel, they usually imagine something chewy and aggressively sweet. I cook my caramel almost past the burning point to tone down the sweetness and up the flavor complexity,” Mårtensson says. “People always love instructions, and with [the salted caramels], I tell them to ‘pop it.'”
Similarly, to properly enjoy the goat cheese bonbon, tasters must flip it upside down, let the salted top rest on their tongue for two seconds, and then bite down. Once they do, they’re introduced to Gjetost, a Norwegian goat cheese. The expected farmy, funky notes of goat cheese are subtle and pleasant. In addition, 72-percent dark chocolate makes this mouthful one of the richest and most decadent in the Hudson Valley. It features a bit of salt, mild bitterness, and low acidity.
Finally, the last thing one can glean from one of Mårtensson’s chocolates is the flavor. He plays with all sorts of profiles in small-batch releases, and his travels around the world inspire unique combinations. Tamarind citrus brightens earthy cardamom spice, while the bite of Japanese whiskey balances perfectly with floral Sakura cherry blossom. Everything is trial and error, and Mårtensson tastes each flavorful creation before it reaches customers. He also experiments with vegan variants.
Despite producing at least 1,500 decorative pieces of chocolate in a week, he still finds time to bake a variety of fresh pastries, buns, and breads. Meanwhile, delicious espresso makes for the perfect palette cleanser, and antibiotic tonics can help settle the stomach. Plus, there’s always the HÅKAN Chocolatier line of chocolate bars.
“Above all, I believe in moderation. You’re probably not going to eat 10 pieces of chocolate every day. But, when you do, feel good about it. Enjoy it while you’re here, and savor it,” Mårtensson says.
In the future, Mårtensson plans to host classes, workshops, and other community events at his shop. He’s working on getting the backyard into tip-top shape for private events like bridal showers. For now, visit him Thursday through Monday at the shop for guided tastings. Follow HÅKAN Chocolatier on Facebook and Instagram (@hakanchocolatier) for updates on the latest offerings.
462 Main St, Beacon