Archive for the ‘candy’Category

Chocolate and bourbon make best of friends

Erika Chavez-Graziano offers bourbon balls at Mesa in New Albany

We were glad to see Andy Embry behind the counter at the cookware store and demonstration kitchen Mesa (216 Pearl Street, 812-725-7691, in New Albany. Mesa offers an ambitious schedule of cooking demonstrations led by local chefs. We had signed up for the bourbon and chocolate tasting program that is usually offered once a month, according to Mesa owner Bobby Bass.

Embry had been remarkably engaging and knowledgeable when he guided us through the Evan Williams center in Louisville (see this post). And he had offered some good pointers on tasting bourbon. So we were curious to see how he approached pairing bourbon with chocolate. His partner in the demonstration was Erika Chavez-Graziano, founder of Cellar Door Chocolates (, which has three shops in Louisville.

“Chocolate brings out the sweetness of bourbon,” Embry told our group as the tasting began. We each had three small glasses of bourbon and three of Chavez-Graziano’s confections in front of us. “Take a bite of chocolate and let it melt in your mouth,” Embry advised. “Then take a sip of bourbon and let the flavors blend in your mouth.”

Whiskey tastes with chocolate

Bernheim Wheat and milk chocolate

We began with Bernheim Wheat Whiskey. At 90 proof, it was the lightest and the softest of the Heaven Hill whiskies. Embry and Chavez-Graziano had paired it with a 38 percent milk chocolate truffle. Embry prefers milk chocolate with bourbon. “It pairs better because it is smoother,” he said. “It brings out the best in bourbon.” The milk chocolate was light enough that it didn’t step all over the toffee and spice of the wheated whiskey

Elijah Craig and salt caramel

Next was Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon. This is one of our favorite bourbons. The nose has sweet fruit, fresh mint, and vanilla notes. The taste is woody with a hint of nutmeg and smoke. It’s one of those bourbons with a pronounced “Kentucky hug” in the finish—warming all the way down. Pairing it with a bourbon-barrel-smoked sea salt caramel gives the caramel a slight toasted note, while the caramel accentuates the wood and spice in the whiskey.

Henry McKenna and cinnamon truffle

Finally, we tasted Henry McKenna Single Barrel with a cinnamon truffle. The McKenna is bottled in bond with the barrel number on each bottle. The nose shows caramel and vanilla, while the taste is a swirl of oak, toasted spices, and honey. The cinnamon in the truffle plays especially well with the sharp spices in the whiskey.

Make your own bourbon balls

Chavez-Graziano is a self-taught chocolatier who is so serious about her craft that she imports and roasts her own cacao beans. She participated in the tasting with great enthusiasm, but also managed to make a batch of bourbon balls to share with the group while Embry was talking.

Erika Chavez-Graziano makes bourbon balls at Mesa in New AlbanyShe began by melting chocolate and cream in a double boiler behind the counter. For best results, she said, use couverture chocolate rather than compound chocolate. Couverture contains cocoa better, while compound chocolate substitutes another oil.

For every pound of chocolate, Chavez-Graziano adds one-half cup of whipping cream. She also stirred in a little sea salt and a generous splash of bourbon. Then she removed the pot from the heat and set the mixture aside until it was cool enough to roll into small balls. For the final touch, she rolled each one in dark cocoa powder. Do not use Dutch-processed cocoa, she told us, because the processing alters the flavor by removing the natural acids.

Chavez-Graziano passed the tray of truffles to all the guests. “The most selfless way to express love to people,” she said, “is to feed them.”

We were only sorry that we had finished our bourbon.


11 2017

Schimpff’s Confectionery proves enduring sweet story

Warren and Jill Schimpff

Jill and Warren Schimpff (above) could have been a comedy duo. Instead the husband and wife—married for 50 years—are the George Burns and Gracie Allen of candymaking.

They are also the current proprietors of Schimpff’s Confectionery (347 Spring Street, Jeffersonville, IN, 812-283-8367, Warren’s great-grandfather opened the shop in 1891. Several additions later, it remains a fixture on Jeffersonville’s main drag. It is also the self-proclaimed “oldest, continuously operated, family-owned candy business in the United States.”

Building a business around the American sweet tooth is always a good bet. In the Schimpff’s case, the confection that has sustained them through thick and thin is the simple cinnamon red hot. “We’ve been making them for 126 years,” Jill tells us when we arrive for a candymaking demonstration. “They’re the ones that have carried through the longest.”

It’s best to call ahead to check on tour availability, but the Schimpffs clearly love what they do—and love an audience. In fact, the couple annexed the building next door so that they could add a demonstration Candy Kitchen. They still make red hots the old-fashioned way. In a practiced routine, Jill dons a headset microphone to keep up a running banter with observers. Warren slips on heavy gloves and, completely deadpan, does the work.

Warren Schimpff mixes the blob

Time-honored techniques

He begins by heating sugar, corn syrup, water, and red coloring in turn-of-the-century copper kettles over an 85-year-old cast iron stove. When the mixture reaches 320°F, Warren lifts the kettle and spreads the hot liquid on a water-cooled table that is as old as the shop itself. He stirs in cinnamon oil and lifts and folds the mixture as it cools and thickens into a big, red blob.

With big scissors, Warren cuts off manageable portions and feeds them into a traditional drop roll machine that flattens the blob into a sheet of red hots. Candymakers once had to crank the machine by hand. But the Schimpffs made a concession to the 20th century by adding a small motor. (It’s still running in the 21st.) The final step in the process is the most dramatic. Warren lifts a cooled sheet and then drops it back onto the work surface. As the sheet breaks apart into 100 glistening hard candies, he can’t help but break into a grin.

Jill and Warren Schimpff turn blob into cinnamon candies

Schimpff’s offers other flavors of hard candies, including sour lemon drops, anise drops, and local favorite fish-shaped drops in assorted flavors. They also make an assortment of chocolates, peanut and cashew brittles, and Modjeskas, another local specialty. The caramel-covered marshmallows are named for a famous touring actress who performed in Louisville in the late 19th century.

But cinnamon red hots remain the shop’s mainstay. The Schimpffs even blow some of the cinnamon exhaust from the candymaking process out onto the sidewalk to entice passersby inside for a true taste of tradition.


11 2017

Co Couture embodies the artistry of chocolate

Deirdre McCanny at Co Couture in Belfast
Deirdre McCanny had never made a chocolate in her life when she decided to leave her job in international sales and marketing to start a chocolate shop in Belfast. From modest beginnings in her apartment, she moved into her cozy shop with a big workroom in back in December 2009. It’s just a few steps down from the sidewalk on the corner of Donegall Square East, literally around the corner from Belfast City Hall. It has become, as Deirdre calls it, “a chocolate oasis in the city center.” The first time we visited, a regular customer had just stopped in for a cup of hot chocolate and a cherry-sencha truffle as a treat at the end of the work day. (The tart cherry and herbaceous green tea are a perfect match.)

Deirdre calls her shop Co Couture in homage to Coco Chanel. “Whenever you think of chocolate, think Coco Chanel,” she explains. “Less is more in chocolate as well as in fashion. The fewer the ingredients, the better.”

broken chocolate at Co Couture in Belfast If you are going to limit your ingredients, they had better be really good, she reasoned. “A lot of chocolatiers were playing in the middle ground,” Deirdre says. “I decided to go right to the top.” She sources her deeply flavorful organic chocolate from Madagascar, where the cacao trees are grown in the shade of a rain forest and the beans are transformed into chocolate. “It’s a sustainable economic model,” she says, “fairer than fair trade.” For other ingredients, she works with local producers.

But good product is not enough. Deirdre trained as a chef before taking another career path and is flexing those culinary muscles again. “I have quite a classic palate,” she says. “I try to keep things classic.” She learned the basics of candymaking by training in Barcelona with renowned chocolatier Ramon Morató.

Exquisite tastes

Cup of hot chocolate at Co Couture in BelfastThe proof, of course, is in the pudding—or in this case, the cup. Nothing seemed more appealing to us than settling in at one of the shop’s tiny tables for cups of hot chocolate—accompanied by small truffles. The hot chocolate (also available as a mix to take home) was so rich and thick that we actually found ourselves thinning it a bit with milk from a small pitcher.

“Hot chocolate,” says Deirdre, “is like a hug for the soul.”

She is most proud of the ganache fillings that she has perfected for her truffles. She was one of the first in the United Kingdom to work with water-based ganaches. Not only are they dairy-free, they lack any of the additives like butter, cream, or lecithin that would coat the palate and mask the pure chocolate flavor. Her ganaches are not technically vegan, as she sweetens with honey rather than refined sugars.

Deirdre uses locally distilled Bushmills Black Bush whiskey for her Irish Whiskey and Irish Coffee truffles. The pure chocolate notes melt away to reveal the high sweet whiskey flavor harmonized with the caramel treacle of the oloroso sherry casks where the spirit was aged. The Irish coffee variant adds the round richness of dark roasted coffee beans for an additional complexity. At the other end of the taste spectrum, her Fresh Mint and Honey Truffle has an airy delicacy, like walking through a patch of blooming summer mint surrounded by the buzz of honeybees. No wonder it won a gold medal from the British Academy of Chocolate.

“I am a chocolate addict,” says Deirdre. “If one must work, working with chocolate is one of the heavens on earth.”

Co Couture, 7 Chichester Street, Belfast, 078 8889 9647,


12 2016

What to buy in a Dublin grocery store

Dublin grocery store 1
Whenever we visit Dublin, we make sure to enjoy lots of incredible butter and cream since we can’t bring any home. (U.S. Customs frowns on such dairy products.) Fortunately there are lots of other good Irish foodstuffs that we can pack in the suitcase. For cheeses, we make our purchases at Sheridans Cheesemongers (see earlier post), but here are some of the things that caught our eye in a neighborhood Dunnes grocery store:

Irish soda farls

Pat’s mother still remembers her own mother, who hailed from Northern Ireland, making soda bread farls in a round pan on the top of the stove. First she would shape the dough into a circle and then cut it crosswise into four pieces, the so-called farls. This style of soda bread is flatter and more moist than the more common cake-style. Most grocery stores sell the farls already packaged in plastic bags. They remain fresh if we put them into the freezer as soon as we get home.

Odlums mixes

Odlums began milling and selling flour in 1845 and the company remained in the family until 1991. Its flour has been a staple in Irish kitchens for generations and the Odlums web site ( is full of recipes. But we generally just pick up a couple of mixes for brown bread or for brown, white, or fruit scones.

Flahavan’s Porridge Oats

The Flahavan family has been milling oats for more than 200 years, uses only local oats, and has perfected a technique to produce a fine flake that cooks up more quickly. Even if the oats weren’t so good, we would probably buy them anyway because we can’t resist the old-style packaging.

more food from a Dublin grocery store

Erin Meal Mixes

This Dublin-based company’s seasoning mixes for meats and vegetables include a number with a French accent, but for an easy to prepare flavor of the Emerald Isle, we opt for Shepherd’s Pie or Country Stew.

Lakeshore Duck Fat

We almost hate to admit how good French fries taste when they are cooked in duck fat. We don’t do any frying at home, but we agree with the Irish that a bit of duck fat gives roast potatoes or roast vegetables a richness that belies their humble origins. The manufacturer advises adding one tablespoon of duck fat per pound of vegetables, which means that a 200g jar will last for a couple of weeks in the winter. Better get two.

Marrowfat peas

mushy peas with fish and chipsThese green peas left on the vine until they have dried are the primary ingredient in mushy peas – the classic accompaniment to fish and chips (see photo at right). They’re available canned, but it’s easier to throw a bag of the dried peas into the suitcase.

Lemon’s sweets

You can find just about every type of Cadbury chocolate bar in Dublin, but for a treat with local roots, we look for Lemon’s. The company started out as a confectionery shop on what is now Lower O’Connell Street in 1842 and even made its way into James Joyce’s Ulysses. It has changed hands several times and experimented with a number of products. Our favorites are the Mint Iced Caramels, with a smooth center and a crisp coating. The company claims that it takes two days to make them from a secret recipe dating back to 1926.

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02 2015

Making fudge with an Irish accent

Tomás Póil sells fudge on streets of Dublin
With his engaging banter, Tomás Póil could surely peddle ice to Eskimos, but he doesn’t have to work nearly as hard to persuade the folks of Dublin to indulge in blocks cut from his big slabs of fudge. We ran into Póil at his Man of Aran Fudge booth at the street food market on Bernardo Square on New Year’s Day. (To find out where he’ll be on any given weekend, see A surprising number of people seemed to be finding Póil’s sweets to be the perfect antidote to a night of overindulgent revelry.

Originally from the Aran Isles, Póil began making fudge in 1999 and hasn’t yet grown tired of coming up with new flavor combinations. In one, he tops a slab of brown sugar fudge infused with coffee and Irish whiskey with a thin layer of creamy vanilla to emulate a cup of Irish coffee. We found ourselves more taken, however, with the mix of Bailey’s Irish Cream and coffee stirred into vanilla fudge.

Man of Aran's Bailey's Irish Cream fudge Póil shared rough approximations of the ratio of ingredients to make a 3 kilogram slab. We scaled them down to a smaller batch that fits into an 8-inch by 8-inch brownie pan (a bit over 1 1/2 pounds). Less is a good thing, since this fudge is so good that it’s hard to resist.


This recipe is perhaps the easiest way to make a non-chocolate fudge, but it does require a thermometer to monitor the temperature of the mix. A candy thermometer is a natural, but we use an instant read high-temperature probe on a ThermoWorks ChefAlarm.

Makes 36 pieces


2 tablespoons butter, divided
1/8 teaspoon instant coffee
2 tablespoons Bailey’s Irish Cream
3 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon salt


Line an 8-inch square pan with aluminum foil and grease with 1 tablespoon butter. Set aside.

Place remaining butter, instant coffee, and Bailey’s Irish Cream in a quart-size heatproof bowl (stainless steel is best). Set bowl on a wire rack.

In a large pot with a heavy, heat-distributing base, place sugar, cream, corn syrup and salt. Heat at medium low, stirring until all the sugar has melted (about 15 minutes). Raise heat to medium high and bring to a gentle simmer. Insert temperature probe or thermometer.

Continue to heat without stirring, using a silicon rubber spatula to push down the edges of the bubbling mixture. Continue cooking until the mixture reaches 238°F, the soft ball stage.

Immediately transfer the mixture to the heatproof bowl. Do not scrape the sides or the bottom of pot, and most important of all, do not stir while mixture rests and temperature drops back to 110°F (about 90 minutes, depending on room temperature). The butter, coffee, and Irish Cream will float to the top. Don’t worry about it.

When the mixture reaches 110°F, begin stirring with a wooden spoon and keep at it until the mixture thickens and loses its gloss. Immediately pour into prepared pan and smooth the top with a spatula. Let fudge rest on the counter for 1 hour and refrigerate until fully set.


02 2015

Mobile DAR House Museum has sweet bite of history

Apricot Almond Delight
I had a real taste of Southern hospitality when I visited the Richards DAR House Museum in Mobile, Alabama (256 North Joachim St., Richards DAR House MuseumThe 1860 Italianate-style townhouse was built for a steamboat captain and his wife. Now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it features an intricate iron lacework facade and a beautiful cantilevered staircase. The home is furnished to reflect the comfortable, upper-class lifestyle of the late 19th century. Visitors are welcome to sit in the chairs and encouraged to play the piano. They are also served tea and a few small sweets in the dining room. This simple Apricot-Almond Delight Candy is always a hit. The recipe is published in the museum’s cookbook Tastefully Yours.


Barbara Bodie,who supplied this recipe for the cookbook, recommends a mix of whole, sliced, and slivered almonds for a nice blend of textures.

1/2 cup apricots, diced quite small
1 cup toasted almonds
6-8 ounces white chocolate, melted

Stir the ingredients together and drop by teaspoons onto waxed paper. Set aside at least two hours before serving.

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05 2014