Sweet Mistakes

Blast Furnace

50 lb. batch of hard candy being cooked over an open flame

Ok, mistakes happen and as much as we do not like to admit it, we can’t avoid this occasional outcome.  Candy Makers are no different, however, for the group of the individuals that that I trained with it seemed very difficult to  own up to mistakes unless of course it was a “sweet mistake”.   So why is this type of mistake so different?

Early in my apprenticeship, I would tend to occasionally caramelize a fifty pound batch of hard candy.   The caramelized cooked syrup was unacceptable for the candy canes and lollipops that the batch was usually intended for.   And while other kitchens would have discarded the mistake and cooked off another I was always asked how I could salvage the batch without throwing it away.   This was inevitably followed by a lecture on the Depression and the economic reasoning why very little was ever thrown away.   The simple solution to reclaiming the batch was to add butter, salt and perhaps some molasses resulting in what we know as butterscotch.  Even though this had probably been passed down for generations, for someone just learning how to make candy this was somewhat of a revelation.  With some ingenuity, a simple understanding of sugars and comprehension of candy making, this is a stellar example what can be created from a simple mistake.

Fast forward 15 years, the senior Candy Makers had all passed away and I would still caramelize a batch of hard candy on occasion.  But the wisdom of this lesson remained with me then and even today.   One of my “sweet mistakes”  was inspired in the development of a product for the Disney theme parks.   They were looking for an edible product that resembled sandstone.  The product was basically a montage of earthy colors, randomly broken and finished in a sanding sugar.  Months after, I inevitably had a dark batch of hard candy and experienced my real first Master Candy Maker moment in the creation of an edible Candy Coal.  Similar to how my predecessors created butterscotch we added just the right amount of color and infused the batch with a heavy cinnamon flavor, cooled and broke the mass into pieces of coal.   In fact, I believe we were one of the first companies in the country to develop a hard candy product that fully resembled a lump of coal.  All in all this was my “sweet mistake” and ended up being a recognized as a favorite stocking stuffer supporting the tradition of delivering a lump of coal to bad boys and girls for the Holiday season.


Sugar Plums with Fresh Damson Plums

You know what I love? I love creating, developing or even retooling classic chocolates and confections. The new trendy products that seem to be popping up everywhere are very interesting and creative.  However,  I am not sure they resonate with the consumer and wonder if they can even be classified as everyday confections or “pantry confections” as the Master Candy Makers used to call them.  The inclusions of bacon, onion, ramen, pickles, wasabi in chocolate is totally unique and fun to experience, but is not really something I would personally reach for to satisfy a craving.   On the other hand, chocolate dipped sea salt caramels have been the unexpected exception and an example of that little “tweak” that could make a classic piece of candy into something extraordinary.

plums croped final for post

Sugar Plums – Williams-Sonoma 2001

I have had such great fortune in working with some  the most trendy companies in the country.   Institutions like Williams-Sonoma and Harry & David have allowed me the opportunity to help  them develop and create some of their most recognized confectionery pieces in their perspective markets.  A notable piece that comes to mind is the Sugar Plums that I created with Williams-Sonoma in 2001.  The concept came out of their talented food team and they allowed me the creative license to develop something new and unusual for their catalog.   They were looking for a variation of a Pate de Fruit and using the handmade process of starch molding that I had been using, we decided on a fresh Damson Plum Pectin.  Everything was created from scratch, I even hand carved the plum mold out of plaster for the impression in the starch.  The pectin was tenderly cooked on an open fire and hand funneled in each sugar plum cavity.   After 24 hours in the starch, each piece was removed and allowed to dry then steamed and sanded for a finished product.  Truly a labor of Love.

Next Post Topic:   So what is a “sweet” mistake.

Marshmallow – an Easter Tradition

Marshmallow has almost become as much a part of Easter as chocolate has.  Just Born is credited with this in the creation of their Peeps line.   And even though these machine extruded yellow chicks have become a bit of a cultural phenomenon they really can’t compare to the taste and texture of handcrafted marshmallow.

Our small little team here at Nostalgic Confections encourages everyone to seek traditional marshmallow.  Whether it would be chocolate enrobed vanilla, banana or caramel marshmallow eggs or possibly Rocky Road on the half shell using cubed marshmallow, sun drenched pecans and rich milk chocolates – you won’t be disappointed.

It is important to note that there is really more to the holidays then what is on the shelves at the big box retailer or our local grocery store.  Find and support your neighborhood confectionary and take time to create an Easter tradition.

Discover handmade marshmallow and experience the difference!

Hand Cut Marshmallow


Chocolate Bunnies on Parade

The symbolism of the Easter Bunny has continually played an important emotional part of the Spring time holiday known as Easter. Influenced by German traditions dating back to the 1500’s, the Easter bunny was believed to be a magical rabbit called Oschter Haws who would celebrate good children by giving them a nest of colored eggs. While these same ideals exist today we have adopted some of our own traditions to the celebration of Easter. Things like delicious chocolate bunnies and creamy caramel marshmallow eggs. A holiday like Easter is one of the best times to acknowledge our tastebuds and provide gratitude for the one’s we love by giving them nostalgia and delight through the means of candy.

Celebration Bark

Celebration Bark

A Celebration of Hearth and Home. This chocolate bark represents the spirit of all things warm and bright in our Holiday kitchens. Three blends of chocolate, pure peppermint oil, chopped chocolate and sugar cookies, red and white striped peppermint candy canes garnished with just the right amount of sea salt and decorated with  snow flakes.

September’s Confectionary “Points of Interest”

There has been some interesting information in chocolate and confections over the last couple of weeks – if you haven’t had a chance to browse through the recent publications, I have attached the links for your convenience.  There are also links below to an interesting group on linkedin.com and an informative product blog.

Chocolate – Social Responsibility for the Hershey Company

Mapping the Chocolate Genome

Google Chocolate Blog

European Food Science Network
For the confectioner technologists there is a group on www.linkedin.com that often times has good information regarding food science and ingredients.

Dark Chocolate – additional research

Amazingly, there continues to be wonderful benefits in the consumption dark chocolate.  Recent research demonstrates evidence of cocoa reducing the damage to DNA cells, yet another reason that cocoa trees be considered a global treasure.  It is important to continue efforts to promote fair trade, encourage sustaining legacy cocoa plantations and prevent deforestation replacing the cocoa trees with rubber trees. And yes, attentions do need to shift on the issues surrounding planetary climate change.

For additional information on the research, Food Product Design has a link to the study.