By Bernard Pacyniak
Candy Industry

getting fresh: Steel nerves at Iron Confectioner competition

When Randy Hofberger of R&D Candy Consultants called me about two weeks ago, asking whether I would like to be a judge for the American Association of Candy Technologists’ (AACT) Iron Confectioner Competition, I was both surprised and secretly pleased. Unsure as to whether I was a fill-in for a no-show or simply asked because I was a local, there was no doubt in my mind but to accept.
Knowing Hofberger to be a straight-up fellow with many years of experience in the industry, I felt honored to be considered. Of course, now I had to find out what the Iron Confectioner competition entailed.
For those of us who don’t have either cable or satellite - just call me a cheap Luddite - references to popular shows not on regular television sometimes do catch me off guard. In this instance, I had read enough references about the Iron Chef competition to figure out what was involved.
As I determined later from conversations with Hofberger, the Iron Confectioner Competition began several years ago as a means of enticing people to stay for the AACT’s final conference dinner. Moreover, it was actually Hofberger, who came up with the idea and put it into action with the likes of Jim McGovern of Jelly Belly Candy Co. and Bob Huzinec from The Hershey Co. helping out.
Thus, the first competition, which kicked off in 2008, involved employees from Knechtel Inc. pitted against Cargill. As I understand it, it was essentially Tim Hinkemeyer from Knechtel dueling against Joe Sofia from Cargill.
As most of you know, the original Iron Chef concept originated in Japan. The idea was to pit a home team versus a visiting celebrity chef. Each would have a limited time to come up with several food items involved the use of secret ingredients.
It’s a similar scenario with the Iron Confectioner Competition, although it’s slightly tailored to meet candymaking realities. In that first battle between Hinkemeyer and Sofia, the secret ingredient was cranberry. According to the rules, each team has 60 minutes to make three different candies, a minimum of 10 pieces each, using the mystery ingredient.
In 2009, the Cargill team (winners of the original competition) battled Barry Callebaut, but came up short in being able to retain their title. Their secret ingredient? Pomegranate.
This year, Barry Callebaut wasn’t able to defend its title, all its competition chefs summoned to Las Vegas to do battle in the International Baking Industry Exposition’s Louis Lesaffre Cup. Thus, Cargill was asked whether they would like to roll up their sleeves again and face off against ADM and its team of confectioners. Naturally, Sofia was up to the task.
And that leads me to my involvement. Although I had asked about the secret ingredient prior to the competition, I wasn’t told about it until shortly before the “sweet off” began. Even then, it was guarded: The secret ingredient could be one of two items, sesame seeds or peanuts. I was hoping for sesame seeds, since I thought that would provide a better challenge for the teams, peanuts being a long-standing confectionery ingredient.
But when Hinkemeyer, who turned in a fine performance as the Iron Confectioner’s emcee, lifted the veil off (it actually was a linen tablecloth) the table of ingredients, peanuts - in a variety of forms, ranging from raw and roasted to flour and oil - proved to be the choice.
Both teams knew two days in advance that the ingredients could be one or the other, so they had a chance to compile recipe ideas as well as additional ingredients. According to Hinkemeyer, the teams could bring their own additional ingredients for use in recipes, but in doing so, needed to bring enough for both teams.
Team Cargill, which was led by Joe Sofia, Stacey Reed and Hofberger, whipped up the following wonderful confections: a peanut butter toffee with jalapeno, a moulded milk chocolate truffle with a peanut butter and Bananas Foster center, and a peanut butter meltaway center with roasted sesame seeds, placed atop a biscuit and then enrobed in milk chocolate and sprinkled with sesame seeds.
Team ADM, comprising of Adam Lechter, Mark Floerke and Tammy Tam, came up with three elaborate creations as well: an architectural truffle featuring orange-infused white chocolate and peanut butter ganache, with cardamon and crystallized ginger, wrapped in mochi and coated with milk and white chocolate on an almond brittle base; a mole-inspired truffle flavored with Mexican chiles and spices with peanuts rolled in cocoa and chili powder; and a dairy-free caramel made from palm sugar, honey and coconut cream with peanuts, black sesame seeds and brown rice puffs, finished with dark chocolate, Thai basil and pink salt.
The judges, which included Pam Gesford, senior consultant for Knechtel, Dwayne Hallan, director of operations at Long Grove Confectionery Co., and Michele Wagner, pastry supervisor at the Marriott Lincolnshire Resort, the place where the AACT technical seminar and competition were being held, and yours truly, did our due diligence, examining, tasting and scoring.
Our scorecards allowed 10 points for flavor (with emphasis on how well the confections highlighted the mystery ingredient), and five points each for presentation/appearance and originality. Both teams scored high in all three segments, but ADM nudged out Cargill on the strength - and this is my opinion - of using broader base of ingredients, everything from dark chocolate to palm sugar.
Well, I thoroughly enjoyed my experience and developed a greater appreciation of how stressful it is to have to work under time constraints and in a strange operating environment. You do really need steel nerves to compete in an Iron Confectioner event.
Congrats to both teams, again, as well as to Hofberger for coming up with a great concept. So whether you’re an AACT member or not, check out this event next year if you’re in the Chicagoland area. I think you’ll find it both inspiring and informational.
I don’t know if they’ll ask me to be a judge again – rumor has it that the only reason I was approached was to ensure coverage (it worked) - but I’m going to make a point of being there regardless.
Oh, one last comment about the event: I’m going to lobby for a more exotic secret ingredient next year, say curry or onion. What do you say?

Phillips Candy House celebrates 85th anniversary with reintroduction of vintage chocolates

Boston’s oldest chocolatier, family-owned Phillips Candy House, is celebrating its 85th anniversary with the reintroduction of vintage chocolates from 1925. Personally selected right out of the family’s original recipe book by 97-year-old Anna Sammartino, daughter of company founders Phillip and Concettina Strazzula, the Sweet Memories Assortment features 14 handmade best-selling chocolates that have withstood the test of time.
“These particular chocolate combinations were popular before chocolate turtles and white chocolate were even invented,” explains Anna’s daughter Mary Ann Nagle, who oversees chocolate production and sales today. “While tastes change and chocolate varieties come in and out of favor, this assortment is comprised of tried and true favorites.”
According to Nagle, the Sweet Memories Assortment includes chocolate vanilla drop and molasses coconut Ttffy, two vintage flavors that have been reintroduced. Nagle says that young and old always seem to enjoy peanuts in candy and vanilla caramel enjoys the status of Phillips best selling item of all time.
The Sweet Memories 8-oz. Assortment comes in a silver box covered in historic newspaper wrapping paper and includes the following: two crisp, light Jordan crackers drenched in chocolate; milk or dark chocolate orange cream; coffee cream made with real coffee; vanilla caramel – the most popular single piece for 85 years; marshmallow vanilla caramel; penuche fudge – a New England staple, originally called maple fudge; peanut cluster with fresh roasted nuts in milk or dark chocolate; almond buttercrunch with buttery toffee and freshly roasted almonds; bittersweet coconut squares; almond logs; honey almond nougatine; tête-à-tête peanut chew; coconut taffy with toasted coconut and molasses, and a vanilla drop dipped in bittersweet chocolate.
In its fourth generation, Phillips Candy House has delighted generations with a broad selection of hand dipped milk and dark chocolates, sugar free chocolates, old fashioned fudge, chocolate turtles and hand-roasted premium nuts. The chocolates and other confections at Phillips Candy House are made by hand in small batches, using only the finest and freshest ingredients, ensuring purity and flavors at their natural best.
For more information, visit

Theo Chocolate nominated for Green Business of the Year

Seattle-based Theo Chocolate is one of 10 companies nominated for Green America’s 2010 People’s Choice Award as a Green Business of the Year .
Founded in 1982, Green America is a non-profit group whose mission is to harness economic power “…of consumers, investors, businesses, and the marketplace - to create a socially just and environmentally sustainable society.” The organization screens businesses to see if they are eligible to be “green,” essentially companies that benefit people, communities and the planet.
Founded by Joe Whinney in 2006, Theo Chocolate is the first organic and Fair Trade chocolate manufacturer operating in the United States. The company carefully screens all of its ingredients to ensure that they meet standards for social and environmental responsibility.
Green America’s People’s Choice Award for the Green Business of the Year is open to all for voting.
For more information, visit and

All Things Baking event to debut Oct. 2-4, 2011

The Retail Bakers of America (RBA), American Bakers Association (ABA) and Bakery Equipment Manufacturers & Allieds (BEMA) announced the launch of their newest industry event, All Things Baking, during the International Baking Industry Exposition (IBIE) in Las Vegas earlier this week. The new, national trade show will serve as the industry’s annual marketplace, meeting place and educational forum during the 2-year gap in the IBIE rotation.
Launching Oct. 2-4, 2011 at the Renaissance Schaumburg Hotel and Convention Center just outside of Chicago, Illinois, All Things Baking will be an exciting, high-energy event with educational and exhibit offerings focused on keeping baking and food service professionals on the leading edge of consumer trends.
All Things Baking will be held in lieu of RBA’s standalone annual event, the American Retail Bakery Exposition, and is being designed for a much wider audience than has frequented traditional “retail baking” events in the past, the organizers said.
Professional bakers, caterers, restaurateurs, pastry chefs, cake decorators, chocolatiers, bakery directors and other culinary professionals will be encouraged to attend to get ahead of consumer trends, explore the ever-changing art of pastries, desserts and breads, hone their skills and get the information, answers and strategies they need to make their businesses more productive and profitable.
“Smaller, regionally-based baking and food service operations are being confronted with a huge opportunity created by ethical consumerism, which is driving a demand for clean-label products, organic and locally sourced ingredients, eco-friendly packaging and a general desire to support community-based businesses,” explains Joe Turano, IBIE Committee Member and director of operations at Turano Baking Co. “Plus, the increased use of electronic media is leveling the playing field for bakeries and restaurants that don’t have large advertising budgets to drive traffic to their stores. This is an exciting time to launch a show aimed at forward-thinkers who want to take their baking or food business to the next level.”
The Chicago metropolitan area was chosen based on the heavy concentration of retail and wholesale bakeries in the vicinity, as well as the number of equipment and ingredient suppliers headquartered in the Midwest. Additionally, Chicago is known for its proven ability to attract trade show participants from a wide geographic region and for the dining and entertainment options available to business travelers wanting to be inspired by the sights, sensations and culture of the Windy City.
Event details, including competitions, demonstrations, educational sessions, participating exhibitors and more will be revealed over the next 12 months on the event’s website, through social media channels, the industry press and a robust direct marketing campaign.
For more information, visit

WONKA goes retail with Toys "R" Us Times Square

Nestle Confections and Snacks debuted its first WONKA retail shop last week inside the Toys“R”Us Times Square store in New York City. Located on level one of the Toys“R”Us international flagship store, the WONKA candy store offers sweet lovers a one-of-a-kind opportunity to experience a piece of the WONKA world.
Filled to the brim with fruity flavored and chocolaty confections galore, the retail shop provides a sensory adventure in sight, smell and sound. Visitors, upon entering the store, are greeted by a four-foot tall WONKA hat displaying sweets. Swirled candy pieces seem to spring from a massive purple vortex, and WONKA Exceptionals Fruit Jellies surround a gigantic, scrumptious infinity wall, filled to the brim with every type of WONKA candy.
A quick, tour of the confectionery site reveals larger-than-life candy mushrooms filled with mixed treats, a replica of the famous WONKA edible garden. A 21-foot tree of PIXY STIX and KAZOOZLE complete with LAFFY TAFFY and FUN DIP flowers, anchors the space, while swirled sweets sprout from the not-quite-edible grass.
SPREE and SWEETARTS seemingly fly through the air, while purple and gold twirling conveyors entice customers to grab a Scrumdiddlyumptious Chocolate Bar, Waterfall Chocolate Bar or a Domed Dark Chocolate Bar.
“The WONKA candy shop at Toys“R”Us Times Square is a glimpse into the fantastical, unexpected and delicious world of WONKA,” says Janet T. Planet, chief innovator for WONKA. “The sweet smells, dazzling optical illusions and vividly colorful candy foliage will feed the imaginations of candy lovers and WONKA fans alike!”
The store also offers in-demand WONKA merchandise, such as T-shirts, tasty lip-balms and whimsical stationary.
“This is more than a retail space – it is an experience. Many people dream about setting foot in the WONKA world, and now they can,” says Patricia Bowles, spokesperson for Nestlé Confections & Snacks. “With its interactive experiences and amazing retail presentations, Toys“R”Us Times Square is the perfect destination to host the first WONKA candy shop in the world.”
For more information, visit

sweet of the week: I Love You Chocolates

For Valentine’s Day 2011, Chocolaterie Guylian, Englewood Cliffs, N.J., is offering I Love You Chocolates in three sizes: a four‑piece box (1.76 oz.), a giftable 22‑piece box (8.8 oz.) and an elegant heart-shaped gift box (7.6 oz.). Each box contains the company’s hazelnut praliné‑filled Belgian chocolates, individually foil‑wrapped in gold. The suggested retail prices are $2.99, $12.99 and $11.99, respectively.
For more information, call 1‑800‑803‑4123 or visit