Seattle’s Best Candy Makers
Artisanal confectioners are giving candy back to grown-ups with an explosion of handcrafted treats.
By Jess Thomson & Cody Bay February 18, 2013
Somewhere along the road from childhood to adulthood, our conception of candy shifts from direct arrow to the brain’s pleasure center to guilt-tinged indulgence (and bribery tool used on our own kids). But today’s artisanal confectioners are giving candy back to grown-ups with an explosion of handcrafted caramels, high-quality toffee and even cotton candy, in savory-sweet flavors taken straight from the A list—basil! absinthe! chipotle!—of culinary stars. With refreshing ingredients boasting organic and local pride, the road back to that sweet oblivion has become a joyously easy one to travel.
Hedy Anderson, owner of Vashon Island-based King Caramel says she realized at age 9 that if she wanted good food, she would have to cook it herself. Her delightful line of smooth and buttery candies combine a passion for superior-quality, farmhouse-style butter with a talent for making alternative sweeteners really shine. We love the flavor of her agave caramels, and the sea salt and ginger varieties hold their own. But it’s the nutty texture of the brown rice syrup with roasted pecans that command our undying allegiance. $8.50–$10 for 5.3-ounce box. Available at DeLaurenti Specialty Food & Wine, Pike Place Market, 1435 First Ave.; Cupcake Royale (multiple locations, cupcakeroyale.com); kingcaramel.com
Simply printing a flavor name such as “absinthe and black salt” or “molasses ginger” on the beautifully minimalist packaging of Jonboy Caramels is enough to make sweet-seekers want to peel back the ribbon and dive in. Ballard-based duo Jon Sue and Jason Alm don’t cut corners on their ingredients, using organic cane sugar and locally sourced ingredients such as organic cream from Washington dairies and absinthe from Woodinville’s Pacific Distillery in their divine absinthe and black salt caramel. The parchment-wrapped delicacies, found at Whole Foods, Eat Local and PCC, among others, are minimalist in size as well, proving that less is truly more. $9 for a 4-ounce box. jonboycaramels.com
Seattle Sweets & Co.
The moment we met Marisa Lown’s caramels, it was love at first bite. We savored the way they melted across our tongues (without sticking to our teeth!), and oohed and aahed at her seasonal flavors: chocolate and basil, grapefruit and black pepper, honey and lemon, and, of course, fleur de sel and vanilla bean. Then we found out that Lown, former owner of The Radical Cupcake (which catered to those with food allergies) was making gluten-, soy- and corn-syrup-free caramels (many vegan), organically and sustainably. And we loved them even more. $8–$20 for 4- or 10-ounce boxes or $1 each at Sweet Mickey’s (Ballard, 2230 NW 57th St.; sweetmickeys.wordpress.com); seattlesweetsandco.com
Forté Artisan Chocolates’ Chipotle Honey Caramels
It’s a risky business adding rich and fiery flavors to candy, but Karen Neugebauer of Mount Vernon chocolate shop Forté has a secret power. As a “supertaster,” who has vastly more sensitive taste buds than mere mortals, she knows all too well when something isn’t working quite right. “It’s a blessing and a curse,” she says. “It makes me really picky.” Using fireweed honey from the Cascade Mountains and imported chipotle, it took her months to perfect the recipe. It’s true that with great tasting power comes great responsibility, and Neugebauer is definitely using her powers for good. $12 for 8-ounce bags (in store only), $62.50 for 5-pound box (about 250 pieces). Mount Vernon, 1400 Riverside Drive; 360.982.2159; fortechocolates.com
Pete’s Perfect Toffee
The name chosen by Mountlake Terrace–based candy maker Pete Brogi for the family toffee recipe is, well, clearly perfect. The caramelized sugar center has that perfectly nutty crunch that melts into its chocolate coating in the dreamiest of ways. The only thing up for debate is which flavor is most perfect—the dark chocolate, milk chocolate and coconut versions are all delicious, but it’s the rich depth of his espresso toffee with dark chocolate that we think should be renamed to Pete’s Beyond Perfect Toffee. Sold at the Ballard Farmers Market on Sundays, Bellevue’s market on Thursdays and Edmonds Farmers Market in the summer. Quarter- and half-pound boxes for $6 and $11. 206.300.8736; firstname.lastname@example.org; petesperfecttoffee.com (phone or e-mail orders only)
Confectionately Yours Toffee
When we tasted Sue Burns’ Northwest Gourmet toffee (and then tasted it again, just to be sure), we knew we had discovered something special. Burns assumed the torch of the Bothell-based wholesale toffee business that her husband’s great-aunt ran for more than 40 years after the aunt retired at age 81. Thanks to Burns, this gourmet toffee—with its big almond chunks and dark chocolate layered on both sides of the hard, buttery sweetness inside—is still alive and well at Metropolitan and Town & Country markets. $11.50–$14 per half-pound. 425.489.0795; confectionatelyyoursenglishtoffee.webstarts.com
This Charming Candy
A lollipop may ultimately be little more than sugar on a stick, but Roosevelt’s Susan Dziadosz, who turned her passion for brightly colored sugar into a business in 2009, knows how to make it charm your socks off. She curbs the childlike sweetness of her lollies with grown-up flavor elements: watermelon-basil, black pepper-melon, pistachio-marshmallow, salted anise and others. Using a cheery color spectrum, Dziadosz engages your senses before the sugar even touches your tongue. “Candy isn’t something you have at every meal,” she says, “so when you do treat yourself, it should be pleasing in every regard.” $2.50 each, eight for $20 at Venue (Ballard, 5408 22nd Ave. NW; 206.789.3335; venueballard.com); $16.50 for six, $210 for eight dozen via Etsy at etsy.com/shop/ThisCharmingCandy
Kirkland-based Mary White-Cornell knew she had something good on her hands when, instead of having a cake at her wedding, she decided to make marshmallows. The recent Colorado transplant and former restaurant owner and consultant says that she might have gotten a couple of compliments on her wedding dress, but her guests mostly wanted to know where to get more of those marshmallows. A sizable 2-by-2-inch square, one of White-Cornell’s confections—whether it’s a chocolate-dipped peanut butter marshmallow or a dreamy-indeed Orange Dreamsicle—is nearly a two-handed affair. $12 or $18 for packs of four or six. Some flavors available online at marshmerries.com
Chocolopolis’ Chocolate-covered Marshmallows
If your idea of a marshmallow is a dryish white blob that has no place in your life outside of a campfire, this is the mallow that will change your world. Owner and chocolatier Lauren Adler flavors her marshmallows with high-quality vanilla beans, making them in small batches so they’re always fresh, and cuts them by hand. They’re then hand-dipped in a paper-thin coat of Guittard 55 percent dark chocolate—it’s sweeter than most of her couverture, but is a particularly good match for a mallow. Sinking your teeth through the crunch of the chocolate shell into its soft, moist center, the thought of skewering such perfection with a dirty old stick and torching it will be the last thing on your mind. $3.50 each, $2 undipped. 1527 Queen Anne Ave. N; 206.282.0776; chocolopolis.com (not available online)
Mallow Artisan Marshmallows
What began as a surprise gift from a crafty man to his marshmallow-loving wife on her birthday gave rise to the adorable booth of marshmallow glory you can find at the Fremont Market every Sunday. Brian and Kyra Freeman have taken the humble marshmallow in all sorts of gourmet directions: chai, bananas Foster, peanut butter cup, and Seattle magazine staff favorites French toast and Black Forest cake (it’s a wee bit boozy). We also love the super-nifty S’mallows flavor, a bite-size mallow embedded with bits of chocolate and graham cracker (best when roasted). Hint: Mallows are delicate enough that you can roast them over a candle. $5–$17 in packs of four, eight or 16. Available at Fremont Sunday Market and some Whole Foods locations (wholefoods.com); shopmallow.com
Spun Cotton Candy Co.
The last time we checked, cotton candy only came in one flavor: sweet. But Queen Anne–based Cristie Schrader is shaking up the carnival classic with her all-natural and organic homemade cotton candy recipes: lavender, made with real lavender florets, and lemon blossom, a cheery homage to hard lemon-drop candies in sugar-cloud form. The doll-faced confectioner and apparel designer by trade spins her magic in signature Breton stripes at private events around town. $90 for 30 premade cones (minimum); $215 to be on-site for two hours, 30 cones, one flavor. Watch for Schrader’s pop-up events around town, where you can score a single cone for $4–$5. spuncottoncandy.com
Sweet Retreats: Our Favorite Classic Candy Shops in Seattle
The bespectacled woman smiling down on her namesake Ballard candy shop was once described in a newspaper article as “something special in this mass-produced age…the way women were back when there was a gingerbread man in the oven and hours to make it.” That was written many years ago, and Mickey Brinker, a caterer and candy maker in St. Louis, is now long gone. But her grandson and Ballard resident Randy Brinker keeps that “something special” alive in his tiny retail tribute to her (opened in 2012) and all things good and sweet, from nostalgic candies such as wax lips and Laffy Taffy to an array of Dutch licorice, to locally made artisan caramels, chocolates and Bluebird ice cream. (Brinker also started making fudge in-house in late November.) $10 per pound of bulk candy. Ballard, 2230 NW 57th St.; 206.402.6272; sweetmickeys.com (not available online)
The fact that The Confectionery has been a stalwart University Village business for more than 40 years is a testament to the power of sugar: Trends may come and go, but people never stop craving candy. With old-fashioned glass candy jars lined up in a wall-to-wall array, the red, white and bubblegum pink shop boasts no less than 100 varieties of gummies and sours, 50 individual flavors of Jelly Belly Beans, nearly 300 different truffles and chocolates—and always with a close eye on quality. If there’s one place in Seattle where you feel like you’ve stepped into sweet shops of yore, it’s here. Bulk candy: $8.95–$26.95 per pound. University Village, 4608 26th Ave. NE; 206.523.1443; theconfectionery.com (no website orders, but available online via AmazonFresh)
(Honorary Candy Store)
The Husky Deli
This West Seattle icon may be best known for the monster sandwiches and handcrafted ice cream it has been serving since 1932, but keep walking toward the back of the deli and you’ll find yourself facing another old-timey icon: a wall of old-fashioned bulk candy sold by the pound ($6). If they make it in gummi form, you can probably find it here, from bears and frogs to peaches and worms, plus an impressive selection of licorice, whether you prefer the sweeter, fruity variety or have the rare acquired taste for the black, double-salted granddaddy of candy. West Seattle, 4721 California Ave. SW; 206.937.2810; huskydeli.com (not available online)