When Nathan Panum set his mind to starting a small food business, he decided to play to his sweet tooth. "As a kid, sitting down with a five pound bag of Tootsie Rolls from Costco on a summer day when my parents weren't around wasn't uncommon," he says, adding, "The dental bills will prove it. No joke." He realized that no one was making hard candy from scratch locally and approached a friend, Daniel Mowles, with the idea for Brooklyn Hard Candy.
Panum and Mowles had met in London in 2004 when they were both in culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu and eventually both ended up in New York. While Mowles had experience as a pastry chef, neither of them had ever made hard candy before and Panum says that the long, steep learning curve involved "a lot of reading," long nights, and "more trial and error experiences than either of us would like to remember." All the work paid off, though, as they've "developed a pretty fine-tuned process and an intuitive feel for the sugar." Overall, he says, "the candy making process is 75% science and 25% art."
Actually making the candy is fairly straightforward (cook the sugar, add color and flavor, then shape the hot candy), but they set their product apart from others on the market by avoiding incorporating air into the candy. Other candymakers go this route, Panum says, because it "creates a certain sheen in the look of the candy, which is nice, but it also creates a rough and, in our opinion, unpleasant mouth feel." So they developed a system of rolling (rather than pulling, which traps air in the product) the warm, flexible candy into long strands, then cutting them into bite-size pieces that harden as they cool. Until last month, they were using candy shears to cut all of the candy by hand, but after designing and commissioning the manufacture of a cutting machine they've been able to boost production tenfold and save a lot of wear and tear on their tendons.
The biggest challenge at this point, Panum says, is "finding to time to actually make, bottle and distribute the candy" since he and Mowles both have more-than-full-time jobs in addition to the business and regularly pull all-nighters to get the candy to their customers. Aside from keeping up with current orders, they are developing a line of lollipops, working on new flavors in addition to their current six—Panum's mom is lobbying for cinnamon and his 6-year-old nephew wants watermelon—and they just got their online store up and running.
Order directly or find a list of retailers at BrooklynHardCandy.com.
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