Sunday, December 19, 2010

Beth's Christmas Candy on Martha Stewart Living Radio

Listen tomorrow morning at 9:30 EST as I discuss Christmas Candy with Betsy Karetnick and Kim Fernandez on Martha Stewart Living Radio, Sirius 112/XM 157.

I will discuss Nougat, Ribbon Candy, Candy Canes, and Sugar Plums.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Beth Kimmerle’s Honey Nougat

Although Nougat has a few aliases, it has many admirers. Also known as Nogha, Nougatti, Torrone, or Turron, Nougat is the nutty cousin of marshmallow. Like marshmallow, it can also take the form of a confectionery spread or filling known as, Gianduja.

Most countries or regions produce a specialized version. Some nougat recipes use small pieces of dried fruits along with the nuts. Middle Eastern versions tend to be cooked longer thereby creating a crunchier candy, while others contain chocolate or cocoa powder. In the United States, nougat is highly whipped and added to candy bars to give them heft and height.

Honey nougat is especially satisfying to eat as the candy takes on the distinct notes of the bee's habitat. A wildflower honey nougat made with fresh roasted nuts has incredible flavor. The last time I made a batch of nougat I used a lavender honey; the crowds went crazy.

Nougat is much loved in Southern Europe where most agree it originated. It is also a perennial holiday favorite. The small treats are miniature gifts of snow landscapes; they are perfect for Christmas.

Makes about 75 pieces of Nougat


½ cup Confectioners Sugar, for dusting

4 cups Almonds, chopped

1 cup Shelled Pistachios, chopped

9 oz. Honey

1 ½ cups Granulated Sugar

¼ cup Water

2 large Egg Whites, room temperature

Pinch of Salt


12x9” Baking Pan

Parchment Paper

Sharp Kitchen Knife or Food Processor

Medium Saucepan

Wooden Spoon or Heatproof Rubber Spatula

Stand Mixer

Candy Thermometer

Cutting Board

Paper Candy Cups or Wax for wrapping

  1. Line baking pan with parchment paper and sprinkle generously with ¼ cup confectioners sugar.
  2. Chop nuts with a sharp kitchen knife or with food processor.
  3. Combine honey, sugar and water in saucepan and using a wooden spoon or heatproof rubber spatula, stir on medium heat until sugar completely dissolves.
  4. Increase heat to high and boil without stirring. Attach candy thermometer and boil syrup to 238˚F or soft-ball stage.
  5. Meanwhile, using the stand mixer, beat egg whites, with a pinch of salt, until soft peaks form.
  6. Continue to cook sugar mixture to 284˚F or soft-crack stage. Remove from heat with mixer running. Gradually pour hot syrup into egg whites, beating constantly.
  7. Continue beating on high speed until mix is very stiff and lukewarm, about 4-5 minutes.
  8. Remove bowl from stand and, working quickly, stir in nuts with wooden spoon or rubber spatula.
  9. Quickly spread nougat evenly onto prepared pan.
  10. Sprinkle remaining confectioners sugar on top. Let set until cool and firm or for several hours.
  11. Move parchment along with Nougat onto cutting board and cut into 2” squares with sharp knife. Place Nougat pieces in paper candy cups or wrap with wax paper. Store in airtight container up to 3 weeks.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Classic Sugar Plums

Sugar Plum candies are an old-fashioned, holiday favorite. These are traditional Christmas candies that lend their name to the Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker. They are, of course, also prominently featured in The Night Before Christmas, "...visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads".

Back in the day, plum was the common term used for dried fruit of any variety. Sugar Plums can be made with dried apricots, cherries, and or dates. The fruit is combined with honey and a mix of nuts, traditionally either walnuts or almonds. Spices like cinnamon and nutmeg are added before they are rolled into balls and coated in confectionery sugar.

Feel free to experiment and substitute nuts, seeds and spices with those of your choice. A wonderful garnish for these holiday delights is mukwas, the aromatic, colorful, candied spice (mainly fennel, anise) and seed mixes found at Indian and Pakistani food stores and restaurants.

Makes about 24 Sugar Plums


1 cup Dates, pitted & chopped

½ cup Dried Apricots, chopped

¼ cup Candied Orange Peel, chopped (can be made ahead or substitute with 2 tablespoons orange zest)

¼ cup Golden Raisins, chopped

¼ cup Dried Tart Cherries, chopped

1 cup Walnuts, shelled & chopped

½ cup Marcona Almonds, chopped

2 Tablespoons Black Sesame Seeds

½ Tablespoon Ground Cinnamon

½ Tablespoon Ground Nutmeg

½ Tablespoon All Spice

½ Tablespoon Coriander, chopped

¼ cup Honey

½ teaspoon Sea Salt

1 cup Confectioners Sugar

*optional Mukhwas


Large Airtight Container

Wax Paper

Sharp Chef Knife or Food Processor

Medium Mixing Bowl

Small Bowl

Paper Candy Cups

  1. Line airtight container with wax paper and cut several extra sheets for additional layers. Set aside.
  2. Mince all dried fruit with either a sharp kitchen knife or by using a food processor. Transfer fruit to medium mixing bowl.
  3. Finely chop nuts with a sharp kitchen knife or with food processor. Add nuts to minced fruit in mixing bowl.
  4. Add sesame seeds, spices, honey and salt to nuts and fruit in bowl. Using clean, dry hands, blend together well until a chunky, moist and moldable paste forms.
  5. Once mixture is well blended, roll into 1½ ” balls. Place finished Sugar Plum balls in airtight container using wax paper between layers. For best results let balls sit overnight before coating.
  6. Place confectioners sugar in small bowl and gently rock Sugar Plums until they are evenly coated with the white sugar. *Option: Garnish top of Sugar Plums with Mukhwas.
  7. Place coated Sugar Plums in paper candy cups and store in same airtight container, replacing wax if needed. Dust lightly with confectioners sugar when ready to serve.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Canal Street Candy

More Candy in Chicago

Members from the Chicago Section of the AACT sat intently and "geeked out" while I discussed Chicago Confections on Tuesday night. At the end of the lecture they gave me a BIG 10 pound treat: an Alpine Dark chocolate bar made by Blommer Chocolate. I signed copies of my book, Blommer: An American Chocolate Legacy and now the University bookstore is officially sold out. If you are looking for a copy, please visit or call the Blommer Outlet Store in Chicago. Thank you Chicago AACT!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Cooking Channel's Foodography: Candy

The Cooking Channel candy episode features yours truly making my Brown Butter Toffee. If you would like to see me do this stunt in person please visit me at the upcoming NY Chocolate Show this Friday. More details to come!

Post Script: The chocolate show was fantastic, as always! Sirisha Muppidi was kind enough to help me prepare my candy and took the above picture of me in the demo kitchen. The 200 seats were full and everything turned out SUPER SWEET...despite the fact that I was operating with broken candy thermometer. Following my demo I signed books with Carl Warner. His Food Landscapes book is ab-fabulous.

The Mel and Janet Mickevic Collection at Kendall College

I am delighted to announce that a new exhibit related to antique confectionery equipment has officially opened. Below is an excerpt rom the pages of the virtual exhibit, based on the Culinary Curiosity exhibition at Chicago’s Kendall College which has been artfully curated by Vicki Matranga.

"Candy and chocolate delights blend artistry and science. Confectionary workers are skilled artisans who understand the behavior of sugars and must control temperature and texture while they operate specialized equipment.

The tools displayed here suggest the wide range of equipment needed in the labor-intensive confectionary trade. Always seeking newness, the confectionary business relies on product appearance and merchandising to differentiate offerings for holidays, gifts, and novelties. Since the mid-1800s, the industry has been sensitive to the price and availability of sugar, corn sweeteners, and cacao. Today it responds to consumer demand for healthful snack foods and global pressures in labor and production costs."

For more information please visit the online exhibit!

University Of Chicago Lecture

Thank you so much to all who packed the house for my University of Chicago lecture. I talked all about Chicago confectionery history and following I signed copies of my newest book, Blommer: An American Chocolate Legacy while people enjoyed the exhibit cases.

If you are a card carrying member of AACT in Chicago, please come out for my repeat performance next week!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

University of Chicago- Sweet Home Chicago

I am thrilled to announce that I am curating a confectionery exhibit that will be on display at the University of Chicago. It will be on view from Oct. 11- June 11, 2011.

The exhibit will be broken up into several sections. I cover the history of Chicago confections as well as the technology of candy and chocolate. The pieces in this exciting exhibit come from the U of Chicago, John Crerar Library collection.

If you have an interest in the science and industry of candy & chocolate, food culture and Chicago history, you will be delighted to discover this fantastic and visually beautiful collection.

As programming to support the exhibit, I am delivering a lecture on Friday, Oct. 29th. Please email if you are interested and I will send you a personal invitation.

I Love Lucy -The chocolate factory episode

I was recently asked by a reporter to comment on the 1950s I Love Lucy episode where Lucy and Ethel work in a chocolate factory. It's called "Job Switching".

As I remember it, Ricky wants Lucy to try working for a week so she can learn the value of the almighty dollar as she's just come home with another expensive dress. Lucy and Ethel get jobs at a candy factory. They try their hands at "dipping" chocolate centers and lacking grace or experience they soon have chocolate all over themselves and the factory. Lucy ends up with a chocolate covered face. They are then moved to a chocolate packing room. At first it's delightful and exciting, delicious and perfect chocolates are dancing down a production line on a conveyor belt. Their job is to wrap the chocolate in candy cups. Quickly, their sweet excitement turns sour as they can't keep up with a speeding conveyor belt. They begin stuffing chocolates in their mouths, blouses, and hats.

The episode was filmed a the See's Candy plant in Los Angeles and first aired in 1952. It's delightful to watch!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The History Behind Our Sweetest and Spookiest Holiday

I am delivering a lecture for AACT in the Philadelphia area next month. The American Association of Candy Technologists is a

professional group made up of mostly food science and operations people from the confectionery industry.

My lecture is titled, Halloween Candy: The History Behind Our Sweetest and Spookiest Holiday is on Tuesday, October 19, 2010 at The Historic General Warren Inn, Malvern PA.

For more information about the lecture, please email me below.

Trick-Or-Treat? Top 5 All Time Halloween Treats

1) Apples: Forget that old (sub?) urban legend about the razor blade in a red “delicious” apple. Think about a big, sweet Honeycrisp and remember that apples go great with bobbing, candying and caramel.

2) Popcorn Balls: While rice krispie treats may have over taken the classic corn ball spot, when these are made with love and care, they are a Fall delight. Fresh popped popcorn is a must.

3) Candy Corn: This confectionery must have was originally developed by Wonderlee Candy Company and called “Chicken Feed”. Today over 35 million pounds of candy corn is produced each year, or 9 Billion pieces of the tri-colored, cone-shaped treat.

4) Caramel: Another Fall candy classic that is versatile. This category has grown and

gone “gourmet” recently. Goat Butter and Honey Caramels anyone?

5) FunSize: The truth is that moderation, when it comes to certain candies, rules. Funsize allows one to enjoy a smorgasbord of candies thereby enabling a faster trip down memory lane.

Mini candies are a great way to sample the season’s finest confectionery favorites.

Chicago Food Film Fest

The Chicago Food Film Festival is slated to open next weekend. I would recommend purchasing a ticket for opening night, Savory & Sweet, featuring mini films and mighty foods.

While there, you just might catch a glimpse of a specially produced trailer for an upcoming TV show all about sweets. The doors open at 7 and the night will be filled with very special treats.

Thanks to concentrated TV and Mark Cwiakala.

See you there!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Sweet Times at the Vancouver PNE

Yesterday I gave a chocolate lecture at the
Pacific National Exhibition (PNE) in the Pacific Coliseum. At the end of the show, each attendee got to taste chocolate from Rogers' Chocolates.

The first Rogers' chocolates were made in 1885 by Charles "Candy" Rogers in the back of his grocery shop in Victoria, B.C. Surprisingly little has changed in their Victorian-inspired stores that are teeming with handcrafted chocolates made from "Candy's" original recipes. Rogers' hand-wrapped chocolates, such as their famous Victoria Creams, remain simply irresistible.

The "it's A Candy Nation" exhibit, on display at the coliseum, is a great PNE attraction. If you are in Vancouver, be sure to check it out!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Polly Noonan Contributes Aero Machine to the Candy Museum

New to the confectionery collection is this penny slot, pinball (palachinka?), chocolate vending machine. A specially placed ball would win you a Aero Bar. Now owned by Nestle, the Aero was launched in October 1935, as 'the new chocolate' by a chocolate company called Rowntree. It cost few shillings, pennies or as advertised on the wrapper, 2d. The symbol for the £ penny was "d", from the French denier.

Initially, the candy bar was tested in the North of England but distribution expanded throughout the UK the following year. A huge hit, the 'new chocolate' bar, with it's aerated or bubble center, was soon introduced to U.S. markets.

By 1936, the Aero was sold internationally and it took New York by sweet surprise. It was filled with air -- not puffed rice-- as it went head-to-head with the popular, Nestle Crunch bar. With it's beautiful graphics, this wooden vending machine is likely from the early Aero launch era.

The machine came to us at a great moment. We are gathering some collection pieces as the It's A CANDY NATION exhibit heads to Canada. I just bought this 1960 Rowntree's Aero ad!

Today the Aero is harder to find in New York but available at Britty places like Tea & Sympathy. Nestle's Aero is now primarily sold in the UK and Canada. Thanks, Polly!

June 16th Postscript: Thanks for your inquiries (and enquiries) but the vintage machine is not for sale!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Lauren's Candy Show Reviews

Choward’s Guava

Choward’s, known for their Violet candy and also sells Lemon, Spearmint and Peppermint flavored tablets, has come out with a new product – Guava Tropical Candy. Choward’s Guava does taste tropical, but the flavor is not distinctly guava. It’s nice and tangy, and tastes like a combination of tropical fruits with a pleasant texture that isn’t overly chalky. A fresh, fruity aftertaste lingers in your mouth after you’ve had one. If this new flavor is not for you, a Choward's package can always double as a drawer freshener.

Coconut M&M's

Coconut has become very popular in the last few years; we use coconut oil, cream and milk when cooking, and drink coconut water. Infusing the flavor in an American icon such as the M&M is a great idea. Coconut M&M’s are slightly larger than traditional M&Ms. They don’t have any actual coconut pieces within, but the flavor is right on. When you bit into one, you'll recognize the texture and the way it melts in your mouth - it’s identical to the original milk chocolate version. If you like coconut, but you’re not a fan of chewing on coconut fragments like you’d find in a Mounds or Almond Joy, these are for you. They are limited edition, so pick some up before they run out!

Honey Lovers

Honey Lovers come in16 flavors including pomegranate honey, black cherry honey, and honey dipped strawberry. Each one has a distinct yet subtle honey flavor. These heart shaped honey Lovers are a great twist on the traditional jelly bean. Gimbal's donates 5% of the proceeds from delicious Honey Lovers to the University of California Davis honey bee research.

Milka Toffee Crunch

Milka Toffee crunch is creamy milk chocolate with very small toffee inclusions. If you’re in the market for a Heath Bar, this is probably not your pick as it is really lacking in the toffee department. Milka does comes in a convenient re-sealable package which I think is handy.

Surf Sweets

I love gummy bears, and these Surf Sweets are great as they are made with organic fruit juice and sweeteners. They do not contain corn syrup or gluten. They taste just as good, if not better than the gummy bears I grew up eating that do contain corn syrup. They have a nice fruity flavor and the soft-springy consistency one would expect from a gummy candy. Surf Sweets also makes gummy worms, gummy swirls, sour gummy candy and jelly beans.

Sweetriot Cocoa Nibs

If you are a fan of dark chocolate, you’ll love these satisfying and delicate little nibs. They are 100% cocoa nibs, which come from the center of the cocoa bean, covered in 65% dark chocolate. The nibs come packaged in a small tin and are dairy, and gluten free. Sweetriot also sells raw cacao beans and chocolate bars.

Toblerone (Limited Edition)

We’re all familiar with the distinct shape and packaging of a Toblerone. Now there is a limited edition snow capped version of candy made to resemble the mountains from the Swiss Alps. Being a dark chocolate lover, this Toblerone is too sweet for me, but if you LOVE white chocolate, with which it is capped, you may really enjoy it.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Indians on food advertising plus maple candy & sugar

Depictions of Native Americans otherwise known as "Indians" have been used to sell food products for many years. I grew up with the beautiful Land 'O Lakes Butter's squatting squaw and the Calumet Baking Powder chief in our pantry. A native woman was also used in early corn product advertisements for Mazola Corn Oil.

And, of course, images of Indians have been used on candy and chocolate. Cracker Jack gave away plastic and metal cowboy and Indian collectable prizes throughout the years. And Lowney's Chocolate issued a 1910-era set of Indian postcards. I have some great cocoa containers from a chocolate company called IONA. And above you'll see a chief in head dress selling baking chocolate manufactured by Manhattan Cocoa
& Chocolate Mills.

When researching candy history I have come across many maple syrup stories and recipes. It is American Indians who discovered that gently cooking maple sap produces a sweet syrup and cooking a little longer makes portable candy treats and a storable sugar. Indians traded their maple sugar with early settlers and eventually taught them the secrets of the maple sugaring process.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

What a Sweet & Snack Expo!

I am at the Sweet & Snack Expo at McCormick Place in Chicago. Yesterday, I made my Spooky Eyeballs and Gingerwreaths at the Wrigley Booth #1745 to crowds of interested candy crafters. Then I talked to Joni Stern from Stern Ingredients about what is happening in the world of wacky confectionery ingredients. I stopped into American Licorice Company to talk to Michael Kelly about the history of American Licorice and was pleased to get some provenance on this great box from my collection. It's 100 years old!

In the evening the Candy Industry Kettle Awards were held at the Union League Club of Chicago. What great fun it is to learn about who is nominated along with their confectionery achievements.The award went to John Brooks Sr. from Adams and Brooks. His California company was founded by his father and a business partner Paul Adams in 1932.

Today Bill Kelley from Jelly Belly (Booth #831) will school me about Goelitz in chicago. Then I will talk to Mark Puch Primrose Candy (booth #2115) about well, perhaps candy.

And in the meantime I have walked the show and fallen in love with two folks; an beautiful Indian
and a woman who makes fantastic gelatin art. She's coming to New York to teach her craft and I plan to sign up for her class.

Later today, meet me at Candyality for some sweet fun with Terese!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Taking Candy On the Road

Last week I was in Chicago to give several lectures. My first took place Monday night at Gibson's Steakhouse for the Candy Production Club, an organization with ingredient and manufacturing members. Over 100 people came from companies like: Ferrara Pan, Blommer Chocolate, Long Grove Confections, Bell Flavors and Primrose. Despite the fact that the Chicago Blackhawks had a playoff game, everyone was very engaged. I had some great conversations about candy history and seemed to really intrigue the group with some snipits from my upcoming book about the history of confections in Chicago.

While there, I discussed the aforementioned upcoming book with a big-10 University press editor at a cute little bakery called Fraîche in Evanston, Illinois. The pint size bakery has a small sit-down area and had a line out the door. People were waiting for delicious coffee and/or a double decker french toast, quiches, cupcakes, & pastries.

On my last day I gave a lecture for Sidley Austin LLP. They have an amazing new green certified building in the Loop at 1 S. Dearborn and offer employees something they call "brown bag lunchtime". They bring in speakers to spice up (or in this case sweeten) lunch with various topics. One listener was so engaged that she seemed to forget all about lunch as she ooohhed and awwed every time I turned a slide. It is always so nice to have 40 candy devotees in one room.

Now, back in New York we finish developing recipes for my candymaking with alternative sweeteners book. The Chocolate Butter Toffee has been getting RAVE reviews.

Next up, back to Chicago in a few weeks for the Sweet & Snack Expo! Sweet home Chicago!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Ari Weinzweig from Zingerman's likes candy!

Kimmerle’s Ten Classic Rules of the Candy World

Written by Ari Weinzweig,

reprinted from the January-February 2010 Zingerman’s Newsletter

Beth Kimmerle is the author of the classic book Candy: A Sweet History. The woman knows her sugar. She’s probably written and taught more about candy in the last ten years than anyone else in America (that’s my feeling, at least–I have no real data to back it up, but she does have three books out on the subject, and she seems to know about every candy ever concocted). Anyway, from reading her books and talking to her a few times, and then putting all that together with what I’ve been learning of late about candy and with what I’ve long known about business in general, I’ve come up with what I’m thinking I’ll call “Kimmerle’s Classic Rules of Candy Land.” They may not help you play the board game, but in the real business world of candy–which we’re now in–I’m pretty convinced that these are the rules by which the candy game is played.

1. Everyone Loves Candy

Charlie Frank–the candymaker behind Zingerman’s Candy Manufactory–now gets to be a managing partner in a business he envisioned years ago. For us as an organization, that’s a great thing. I mean, here’s a guy who grew up in Romeo (that’s the town in Michigan with the “o” on the end, not the capital of Italy), who has been completely fascinated by candy and sugar and stuff like that for his entire life, and now, thirty years later, he gets to make candy for a living. Inc. magazine might have called us “The Coolest Small Company in America” a few years ago, but I think we’re a lot cooler now for having Charlie here living his dreams.

It was my mistake for not seeing the obvious strategic problem that was almost inevitably going to play out. See, if pretty much everyone loves candy, the thing that you could have easily predicted was that everyone was going to want us to make the kind of candy that they remembered loving as a kid! And sure enough, almost every day now, someone–a staff member, a customer, my cousin, my camp counselor, the cashier at the grocery store, you name it–tells us what kind of candy they’re totally sure we should make!

I suppose it’s probably going to be far harder for Charlie Frank, the man who makes the candy. He’s the one who’s going to have to ultimately field all these sweet requests. But of course, since Paul and I are the founding partners, majority owners and big title holders with our initials on the bios, everyone thinks they can just tell me what they want and I’m going to give Santa his marching orders and out will come their candy of choice by next Christmas at the latest. (If only it were that easy–that’s not a cut on Santa… I mean Charlie… it’s just that life doesn’t really work like that in any organization and definitely not around here. But in the moment, it’s not all that easy to explain–I mean… what do I say? Who wants to be the one to tell a kid that Santa doesn’t really exist? NOT ME BABY!)

2. Candy is about Memories

You can tell that people’s attachment to candy isn’t just a passing fad. It’s totally anchored in their childhood. Honestly, it’s amazing just how strong people’s reactions are to candy. Mind you, I expect this sort of enthusiasm about sweets from kids. And I expect it from Charlie too–he is the candy man, after all. But geez… everybody else–as in adults–acts just as excited. And everybody seems to have at least some candy fascination: Dots, Snickers, Mounds, Nut Clusters, Squirrel Nut Zippers, Whips, Necco Wafers, Nut Goodies, Turkish Delight, rock candy, maple sugar, malted milk balls.

While we sell loads of other items, I realize now that most people in the American Midwest just aren’t going to be anywhere near as emotionally attached to stuff like olive oil, goat cheese, crusty loaves of French country farm bread or really good coffee.

Just about everybody loves candy, and almost all of them have some seriously significant attachment to a particular candy, usually the one they grew up eating.

Charlie, not surprisingly, has more than his fair share of emotional attachments. “I’ve always loved candy,” he says unembarrassedly. “When I was a kid, I used to have to take piano lessons. They cost $3.50, but my mom would always give me $4.00. I had to walk from the house to the library for the lessons, and on the way back I’d always spend my fifty cents on candy. It was a great candy store, Fetig’s, in Romeo, which is where I grew up. They had all this penny candy. It was exactly what you think of as a great candy store. I guess I was learning finance as a kid. It wasn’t ‘til later that I realized that my mom never asked me for the extra money back.”

Unlike most people who love candy but don’t give any thought to doing anything with it for a living, Charlie seems to have hardly thought of anything else. “In my first job interview with Amy [Emberling, one of the managing partners at the Bakehouse], I talked about doing my own candy business. Candy bars were what got everyone excited, and that’s where we started to head.”

It’s no shock that people are connecting with candy here; they want us, Charlie in particular, to know who they are. I mean, it’s almost like Charlie is Santa, and like years after they let go of their childhood belief in the big guy in the red suit, they have this chance to believe again as adults, to take back that warm feeling that if you believe… . well, it may not work in the stock market just yet. . . but hey, all of the sudden a really customer-focused local company is making candy and… if you believe… maybe this angelic-looking Charlie/Santa guy might come through and make you the candy of your dreams…

3. Really Good Candy Starts with Really Good Ingredients

While the passion level that surrounds candy is seemingly as high powered as the rings of Saturn, candy is no different from any other food: if you start with so-so stuff, you’ll end up with so-so stuff. You can stick it in a fancy package and make up a sweet slogan, but it’s still not going to taste all that great. The natural laws of the food universe very clearly say that really good candy has to start with really good raw materials.

Fortunately and not surprisingly, the Candy Manufactory’s list of ingredients backs up that notion. Start with the 65% dark chocolate from Ecuador. It’s made from old Nacional (aka Arriba) varietal beans, still hand-harvested in the rain forest–ecologically sound and more interesting from a flavor standpoint. Then there’s real vanilla. Organic muscovado brown sugar from Mauritius. Michigan honey. Virginia runner peanuts. Cashews from southern Honduras. Local butter. The Manufactory makes the fudge nougat and cashew brittle on site. Granted, we don’t make the actual boxes, but the labels were done by our design crew, who sit about five hundred yards up the road–close enough to be making their own candy memories.

4. People Totally Love Really Good Candy Even More When It’s Made by Really Good People!

Seriously, when I think about it… Charlie’s whole story is like a sweet fairy tale of success. It’s sort of the American dream come true. Kid loves candy. Slowly makes his way toward his dream. Does a lot of learning, a lot of hard work. Pays his dues by baking over a gazillion Magic Brownies, Sour Cream Coffeecakes, Ginger Jump-Ups, Big Os and all that other good stuff as manager of the Bakehouse pastry department for eight years. Throughout, he slowly but surely emerges from his shell of shyness and starts making his candy bars in really small quantities at the Bakehouse. Gradually, he gets a great local response, sticks with his long-standing plan to make candy for a living and becomes managing partner of Zingerman’s Candy Manufactory. If life were Candy Land, this guy would be one of the all-time winners!

And not only are the bars and the story good, but people also really like Charlie. And for darned good reasons. The man is incredibly sweet, but without being cloying or syrupy. He’s sincere about his candy making (and candy eating) without being solemn; the guy takes his candy seriously, but he ain’t a killjoy. When you get to know him, he’s really about as all-American as you can get. And he’s not just sweet. He’s actually a very interesting, thoughtful guy–complex but accessible, pleasant to be around, with a really high focus on the little things. A little nutty, it’s true, but I say that in the most affectionate sort of way. He’s pretty high-end, but not at all full of himself or in the least high-falutin’. Slightly salty–he likes to make a good joke now and then–but very nicely balanced.

Hmm… the more I describe the man, the more he’s starting to sound like a description of the candy bars he makes. I guess it’s reasonable that if people resemble their dogs and organizations start to look like their leaders, an artisan candy bar would kind of be like the man who crafted it. Heck, if I wasn’t so worried about this Candy Claus thing getting out of control, I’d say that when he smiles Charlie’s actually… well, it’s true, really, he’s sort of cherubic looking. At the least I can say with total confidence that after you’ve gotten a chance to experience both Charlie and a Zzang bar, you’re likely to go back for more. They’re both that good!

5. The Best Candy Is Made by People for Whom Candy-Making Is a Calling

Beth didn’t exactly deliver this rule to me on a silver candy platter, so to speak. But when I reread her book and blended its insights with all my own years of business knowledge, one of the things that struck me was that pretty much every great candy–even the brands that are now super big, like Snickers and Mars bars and whatever–was created by people who loved candy and loved making it. Some of them tried making candy as a way to earn a bit of money on the side; some gambled their family’s future to go after their dreams. I’m sure I’m missing something, but it seems like every great candy started with a caring, passionate person for whom candy was a calling, not just a quick way to make some money. Charlie, in all smiling seriousness, is no exception. You don’t need to do a case study or run any computer personality profile to test this. You can see it if you spend more than about six minutes with the guy.

The truth is that most people’s love for candy is about consuming it, not about all the work that goes into making it. And mind you, this definitely is work, and it’s not very glamorous.

Being a candy maker mostly repetitive, challenging, not really all that exciting work.

So what’s different about Charlie? I’m telling you–when you see Charlie in action, he’s got that feeling all the way down to his soul!

6. Candy Has Positive Connotations

There’s no question about the good memories and all that… makes perfect sense. But here’s a direct quote from Beth’s book: “Candy has positive connotations.” She’s right (as she always seems to be about this sweet stuff): back in the day, candy was regularly marketed as being nutritious. Yep, forget what you might think about lecturing kids to stay away from the stuff. To the contrary, candy was good, and candy was particularly good for healthy grown-ups!

This “candy is good for you” business was seriously… serious. No joke, candy was sold to people who were short of funds during the Depression as a low-cost way to eat well. I quote directly from the Divine Ms. Kimmerle: “Candy products helped feed the masses during the Depression. Candy was often peddled as a satisfying and healthy meal substitute and bars called Chicken Dinner, Tummy Full, and Denver Sandwich lined shelves and had a square meal ring to them.” Not only that, but candy bars became a big part of the American soldier’s healthy diet during the two world wars, until it actually came to be considered downright all-American to eat the stuff. And after World War II–in the spirit of supporting our troops (I’m serious here)–candy’s popularity really boomed.

7. No Special Event, Occasion or Celebration Is Complete without Candy

When I think of occasions, I envision cakes, Champagne, foie gras, truffles… but there it is, right in Beth’s book. Every occasion you can imagine seems to somehow be spelled C-A-N-D-Y! Even if I doubted Ms. Kimmerle (and there’s clearly no reason I should), Charlie has pointed out the same thing, telling me the other day that he loves how people will cut up a Zzang bar and put it out on a plate for an after-dinner treat. In hindsight, I feel bad–Frank, Paul, Amy and I (the four senior and non-managing partners in the Candy Manufactory) took Charlie out to dinner to celebrate the inception of his partnership, and it never dawned on me that I was doing him (and us) a dishonor by not bringing candy! It’s a good thing the guy doesn’t seem to hold grudges!

I like this thing about candy as the ultimate end to a big evening. It’s less of a big dessert that way… more of what I like to call the “dessert after the dessert” course (which a lot more people should be serving and enjoying). Funny thing is, flipping through Beth’s book, I found ads from decades ago that show plates of candy bars all cut up and looking as cute as a Zzang does today when you cut it into five or six or eight slices and slide the plate onto the table among your coffee- (or tea-) drinking friends. Formal or informal, full-out party or just a few friends, close family or visitors just arrived from far away… the fact that everyone loves candy and that this is our local offering makes for a really high likelihood that you or I as a host can score serious points with our guests here.

8. Candy Is Best Factory Fresh

I got so carried away with all this other stuff, I almost forgot this one. And THAT would have been a really BIG mistake, because I’ve come to realize that freshness is almost as important in deciding what kind of candy you want to eat as ingredients are. Sure enough, though, this rule is right there in Beth’s book. And not surprisingly, Charlie says the same blasted thing (seems to be a pattern here): “The candy bars are particularly great when they’re really super fresh,” he told me while I was watching him and Sara at work. To prove his point, he cut me a piece of one that had barely been on the cooling rack for more than a few minutes. And sure enough, he was right on. The bars are always good, but damn if they’re not just a notch and a half better when they’re really fresh.

“What happens when they’re not so fresh?” I asked him. “Well,” he said seriously, “we’ve tested them a lot, and we put a 60-day recommended shelf life on them. They’re still really good then too.” He’s right about that. But the truth is that they really are exceptionally good when you get them the same day they’re made. That’s sort of a secret, or it was until I just blew it here. How can you know when they were just made? Well… the easiest way is to call the Bakeshop (734-761-2095). Maybe we’ll get Charlie to Twitter about it?

9. Everybody Really Likes Really Good Candy

The better the candy is, the more people want it, and the more they want to entrust you with making the candy they’re most emotionally connected to. To be clear, I love having this problem–if the Zzang bars weren’t so darned good, we wouldn’t be worrying about this at all.

Again, I should have just listened to Beth from the beginning. She basically told me as much when we were emailing a while back:

It seems like more people, while craving comfort foods, are not going to spend anything on, well, just any crappy old candy. They want a full-on experience with ingredients and products from a “local” market and they want to blog about it. People want products that tell a story and that have a (real) story behind them. And better yet, a (real) person (in this case–Charlie) for true authenticity. NECCO Wafers claiming “all natural” just won’t cut it anymore. Coffee was fine as Eight O’Clock and Folgers until Starbucks got going. And candy was all OK as Snickers and Payday until the Zzang!

Mind you, Ms. Kimmerle is not the kind of woman who would just say something like this to be nice. I mean, she’s not mean-spirited, so she’d certainly stay on the mellow side of things, no matter what. But when she says something is really good, the woman means it. Which is why I take her words as a serious compliment. What she likes ultimately–and I’m in full agreement–is the flavor. Charlie’s great, his story is excellent, etc., but the key is how the candy bar tastes. Which is very good. One of the things I love about these bars is that they have the kind of complexity I’m so drawn to–layers of flavors that unfold in your mouth as you eat: chocolate, butter, brown sugar, sea salt, nuts. They all show up as individual entities, but then they also come together to make for a holistic flavor that’s far greater than the sum of the individual ingredients. And they’ve got a really nice, long-lasting finish. All of which means that you can eat a lot less of one of these bars and still feel satiated; one or two bites goes a really long way! A fact that’s probably not great for short-term sales, but is a really compelling reason to feel as positive as I do about our future in Candy Land.

10. When You Follow the First Nine Rules, You Get a Really Good (Sugar) Buzz!

No doubt, there’s a big and positive buzz around all this candy stuff. Sure, it’s funny how many people are asking me to have Charlie make their dream candy for them. But even with the impending reality of disappointing most of them (even if we did one new bar a year for the next twenty years, that’d leave about eight hundred people hanging!), there really is a ton of good energy in all this. It feels good to be in close proximity to the candy making. I was going to make some pun about energy bars and about how great Charlie’s energy is while he’s making the candy, but I couldn’t quite figure out how, so… my point is really just that, man, this guy is lit up! And as long as he keeps making it, his candy is going to light up a whole lot of happy people in the process!