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Confectioner creates magic out of chocolate

With a baker’s cap flopping off his head and his hands clutching a chocolate-filled decorating bag, Peter Aigner certainly looks the part of candy maker as he makes Christmas truffles in the back room of Krause’s Candy Kitchen in Forest Hills.

All he is missing is the classic baker’s gut.

“I’m living proof that chocolate doesn’t make you fat,” he said, while squeezing a thick liquid chocolate into a tray of metal truffle cups.

Aigner’s white cooking outfit hangs over him like a cloth bag, masking the slim figure he managed to maintain despite a lifetime in the chocolate industry — dating back to the midnight raids of his parents’ candy shop he enjoyed as a child.

Although his palette has changed and his intake has grown more moderate since his youth, the 51-year-old confectioner swears he could never grow tired of the brown stuff.

“Once a chocaholic, always a chocaholic,” he said.

Chocolate courses through the veins of the entire Aigner family.

Aigner’s father, a master confectioner from Austria, had been making chocolates at Krause’s for many years when he purchased the store from its owner in 1960. Little Peter was by his father’s side from an early age, learning the basics before studying the finer points of the confectioner’s craft in Germany at age 16.

Aigner had his own chance to enter the candy business in his early ‘20s, purchasing longtime competitor Martha’s Candy Kitchen in Ridgewood when the proprietor died. He soon proposed to his girlfriend Pia, whom he had met a few years earlier in Copenhagen, and they became partners in a business venture that expanded in the 1990s to a second store in Manhasset, by which time he had renamed it Aigner’s Chocolates.

Following his parents’ retirement this past year, he closed the shop in Ridgewood and moved his operations to Krause’s at 103-02 Metropolitan Ave. in Forest Hills, where he creates the candies sold there and in the Long Island Aigner store.

Aigner’s three children have practically grown up by his side in the candy kitchen, learning the trade much the way his father passed it along to him a generation earlier.

Although he is encouraging them to pursue the careers of their choice, their candy-making savvy came in handy when Aigner broke his legs in a car accident three years ago shortly before the Easter rush.

“They made all the chocolates,” he said of his two sons, who were then in their mid-teens. “All I did was sit in the chair and advised here and there.”

At his home on Long Island, two drawers in the dining room cupboard are devoted to sweet treats from his store — one filled with chocolates, the other with gummy and hard candies.

“That chocolate drawer turns over three times as fast as the junk food drawer,” he says. “I have to fill up that drawer several times a week.”

Chocolate is also good for you, he proudly asserted, but don’t press him for the details. Although he keeps around a photocopy of a news article touting the health benefits of chocolate, he needs to glimpse the fine print in order to remember what exactly he’s bragging about.

“Flavinoids act as antioxidants,” he read proudly, not fully understanding but liking the sound of it nonetheless.

What he does understand is the science of chocolate-making.

“Chocolate molecules look like ‘L’s,” he said. “When you temper the chocolate, you’re aligning those molecules,” he continued, transforming a sea of L’s he has drawn on a page into an interlocking formation.

Although on this particular day he allowed an outsider’s watchful eye to intrude in the final stage of truffle production, he was hardly forthcoming with every aspect of the craft.

His praline truffles, for instance, are made of chocolate, hazelnut, “and a few other things which I won’t reveal.”

Although at $18 a pound the chocolates might make an expensive binge session, Aigner is confident the product is worth every cent.

“It’s labor intensive,” Aigner said. “The price is a bargain.”

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

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