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Norwell’s James Library holds Valentine’s dessert tasting

The James Library is also a community arts center in Norwell.
The James Library is also a community arts center in Norwell.Credit: Courtesy of James Library

Kevin Shain swears by his ingredients. “Simple recipes made with high-quality ingredients make all the difference,” he said.

Shain and his wife, Michelle, run Ob La Da bakery out of their Marshfield home, and use ingredients from across New England (such as slow-churned butter that makes all the difference in frosting) to create seasonal treats, depending on “what’s local.”

Though they’re known for their cupcakes, they’ll be featuring their chocolate tarts with a shortbread crust — a new recipe that was well received at farmers markets last summer — at the James Library and Center for the Arts in Norwell on Feb. 8.

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Ob La Da is one of eight vendors that will help the James usher in February with sweets and aperitifs at a Valentine’s dessert tasting. The benefit features confections from boutique establishments across the South Shore, while raising funds to restore the 1874 Italianate Victorian structure.

“It’s a fun way — a delicious way — to support a great cause,” said library director Caroline Chapin.

Guests are invited to mingle on all three floors of the “very charming” building, which Chapin compared to a layer cake. With an art gallery on the bottom floor, a library on the middle floor, and a concert hall on the top floor, “the idea is for people to be able to wander the floors,” among fine books, original art, and festive décor, partaking in the “generous sampling of desserts,” paired with Italian wines from Marsh’s Wine and Spirits.

Chapin said this will be the first big event for the newly restored concert hall, where bassist Chris Rathbun and pianist John Kramer, two faculty members at the South Shore Conservatory, will perform.

Old-fashioned library cards (the kind you print your name on and keep in the slot in the book) will lead guests around the building’s many nooks, where they can check off items that they have found throughout the evening. Once the cards are filled out, they’ll be collected for a drawing for the door prize, a magnum of prosecco.

“One of the reasons we do these events is to introduce people to the James,” she said. “We’re called the James Library, but we’re more than a library — we’re a community arts center.”

And on that evening, the James will also be a gingerbread house, thanks to a replica produced by Ginger Betty’s Bakery of Quincy.

Other vendors include Jennifer Warshaw, who brought back her mother’s treats at Baked in Scituate. She said her store was probably selected because of Maggie’s Famous Chocolate cupcake. “My mom owned a bakery in the community for 30 years, so we’re well entrenched around here.”

Baked will bring an assortment of mini cupcakes dressed up for Valentine’s Day: signature chocolate, vanilla bean, and red velvet cupcakes topped with a variety of cream cheese frostings (except for the Boston cream pie, which is dipped in chocolate ganache).

There’s also the Rasputin — the top finisher in South Shore Living’s Cupcake Battle — a chocolate cupcake filled with homemade bittersweet chocolate pudding and raspberry jam, topped with pink variegated frosting, Belgian chocolate pearls, and a fresh raspberry filled with ganache. “We never bake more than a dozen at a time, and all in our itty-bitty kitchen,” said manager Ann-Marie Robicheau.

And what’s Valentine’s Day without chocolate?

Taza Chocolate, a bean-to-bar chocolate factory in Somerville, roasts and stone-grinds whole cacao beans in a traditional Mexican style for a “rustic texture and intense flavor,” said marketing associate Kate Hollis. Taza will feature chocolate discs in flavors from Guajilo chili to vanilla to salt and pepper (chosen because they’re best with wine), as well as 80 and 87 percent stone-ground dark chocolate bars.

“There aren’t many other chocolate factories like this,” Hollis said.

Besides sweets and treats, “local” seems another theme for the evening.

Kate Driscoll, chef and owner at Kate’s Table, a catering and event company, said she does all the “fresh picking” herself at local produce distributors and farm stands. She will feature a trio of mini donut holes, including customer favorites such as apple cider rolled in cinnamon sugar and raspberry filled with lemon curd and topped with lemon icing, as well as showcasing for the first time a light glazed donut hole filled with Nutella. “These will all be going out warm,” she said.

Tara Hollander, owner of Doorknock Dinner, a dinner-service company in Norwell, will deliver that night. Mini cream puffs, red velvet whoopie pies with cream cheese frosting, and coconut macaroons (all using from-scratch family recipes with no preservatives) are on the menu.

And Terri Martini, owner of Scituate’s Front Street Gourmet, will be baking her “now-infamous” chocolate chip bread pudding, “drizzled in a multitude of different types of chocolate and caramel.”

“When people think of bread pudding they think of their grandmother,” Martini said. “It definitely reads ‘made from scratch.’ ”

Also on the menu are homemade pistachio bacon chocolate bark, sea salt caramels, and chocolate-dipped strawberries (weather permitting).

Another attraction will be specially decorated large cookies in the shape of a book that will say “LOVE” on sale to support the library. In one of these cookie bags will be a gift certificate for a deluxe one-night stay at the Colonnade Hotel in Boston. In another bag will be a gift certificate to Hilliards, a South Shore confections favorite.

Local artists have created works on the themes of love and sweets. These small and “reasonably priced” paintings will be available for purchase.

Chapin emphasized that the evening is not for couples only.

“Bring your book club, bring your mom, bring your next-door neighbor — as long as you like dessert,” she said.

“Bring your sweet tooth.”

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