HERNANDO BEACH — Gina Holden is a people pleaser.
For nearly four years, she has been pleasing sweet and chocoholic palates with Gina's Edibles, luscious bites of indulgence painstakingly created one by one in her gadget-laden kitchen and served up in gift boxes, on party trays, in gift baskets and as special-occasion favors.
"I love to cook. I love when someone eats my food and enjoys it, when people enjoy what I enjoy giving them," Holden said.
After years of giving away her party foods to friends, and hearing them say she should turn it into a business, the former information technology specialist succumbed, turning her love affair into a commercial enterprise.
While Holden, 49, likes preparing savory foods off all types, she must stay within the restrictions of her cottage food license, which allows for sweets and baked goods. It's much to the delight of sweet-toothed customers who have followed introduction of her goodies at the weekly Hernando County Farmers Market. Holden now makes and sells her confections to order from home.
Holden currently offers 15 to 20 items: s'mores, Florentines, macaroons, non-pereils, caramel crunch squares, almost anything chocolate.
"I'm always adding things," she said. "Most like the sample (variety) boxes."
S'mores are a favorite, a labor intensive four-layer construction of molded graham cracker crumbs, chocolate, marshmallow and more chocolate.
"People have different tastes," Holden said. "Some will taste a red velvet ball and go, 'Oh, my god.' One customer wants peanut butter cups all the time."
Candy making is "temperamental," Holden admitted. Consistency in dipping chocolate is critical and challenging.
She relies on Menken Orlando chocolate, a cut above melting chocolate found in supermarkets and craft stores. She buys in bulk, but not too bulky. Freshness affects its melting ability, Holden said.
She finds recipes online and tweaks them. "Some I just make up," she said.
Holden tweaks even the intended use of gadgets, such as using a cake decorator's rose palette to press buttered crumbs into a shaped candy base.
To maintain availability of a variety of confections, Holden vacuum seals and freezes some of the output.
"Obviously, I can't make everything in one day," she said.
Still, she will fill an order for any item within 24 to 48 hours of a request.
Turning out a quality product is only the base of a business, Holden pointed out. Marketing and packaging are part of the mix.
Her logo, an elegant crown in gold over a royal purple cloche, suggests excellence. Glossy white boxes tied in shimmery purple cord enhance her this-is-special aura.
In what is still a part-time business, Holden spends about 20 hours a week on the job, as much as six to seven hours at a time on her feet in the kitchen.
Each finished edible must be seated in its paper cup, confections tastefully arranged in boxes costing from $5 to $24, as party trays starting at $25 or in custom gift baskets ranging from $30 to $75.
She provides free delivery up to 10 miles from Hernando Beach, small fees for longer distances.
Holden currently is gearing up for Valentine's Day orders, already adding red and chocolate layered heart morsels, plus ruby sugar-dusted velvet cake, to her menu.
Should Holden extend her line to savory appetizers — her next goal — the company name will continue to suffice.
Contact Beth Gray at [email protected]