Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Candy Texture and Corn Syrup

When you get your first collection of lollipops from us, you're going to see these two words on the ingredients list: Corn Syrup.

Candy wouldn't be candy without corn syrup. Sugar provides the sweetness but corn syrup controls sugar crystallization (the fructose gets in the way of all the sucrose molecules joining up to form really big crystals that are cloudy and rough). What that means: lollipops made without corn syrup are grainy, irregular, and not pretty. The corn syrup allows the sugar crystals to form evenly and makes for a smoother, more lovely lollipop. (You can get a fuller candy science explanation on the Candy Dish Blog - we love Candy Science Tuesdays!)

Photo by Kevin Keeker

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Awesomeness Manifesto

Susan and I put together a risk management spreadsheet a couple of months back; one of the big risks we had on it was "We're not having fun." We're both coming out of corporate America and some stressful projects and circumstances; we both left because we weren't enjoying ourselves anymore. I personally was no longer proud of the group I was a part of.

We want to do something we love and we want to have fun and, most importantly, we want you to have fun. That's one of the reasons Small and Special was so inspiring for us and why Small Giants is one of our guideposts. HBR wrote about it a couple of weeks ago in a blog post titled The Awesomeness Manifesto. A couple of the things that make a company awesome are: love and insanely great stuff.

We're working toward those same values: making super-yummy lollipops and loving making those lollipops. Our lollipops have full, original flavors, beautiful colors, and we keep the shape a simple round that fits easily in your mouth. Lollipops are also easy to share - and we love that look that people get on their face when you give them a lollipop. (We're getting really impatient to get our Etsy store up and running so you can taste them too!)

We hope you can tell that we love what we do. The day we stop having fun, I imagine it'll be pretty obvious. I hope that day never comes.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Fallen Soldiers

These poor lollipops sacrificed themselves so that yours would survive:


I recently passed a lovely morning dropping lollipops out of my window. The purpose was to test different packing and shipping materials in order to find a combination that would minimize or eliminate the possibility of damage to the lollipops while they’re in transit to a customer.

Of course we can’t say we’ve eliminated the possibility of damage, because one the package is out of our hands, it’s literally out of our hands. But thanks to the fallen soldiers above, we feel very confident that your lollipops will arrive intact. Even if they still look pretty when they’re shattered.

Photo by Kevin Keeker

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

First Sound Bank

Susan and I tend to be very methodical about making decisions. Excel gets used a lot. A LOT. For analyzing everything from what bags the lollipops would be packed in to which food websites will get samples to which blogging software met our needs. So when it was time to pick out a bank, of course we created a spreadsheet. We plotted and compared the major banks, talked about what our needs were and prepared to make a decision.

Then Susan went to a conference called Small and Special; we were both completely inspired by it (and we'll be posting more about that eventually). One of its sponsors was a local Seattle bank called First Sound. I added them to the spreadsheet and took a quick look at their terms and the decision took almost no time at all: their rates were competitive and we wanted to support another small business.

It turned out to be one of the best decisions we've made. We've both had nothing but good experiences with them. The employees of First Sound are warm, sincere, and encouraging in a way that I've never been treated by a banker before - nice but distant is about the best I've gotten in the past. I had to call to ask them a question, and the receptionist who answered the phone was able to quickly answer it; they were patient with us when we were moving slowly because this is our first business and we've never done this before. When I used the wrong account number on a deposit, they gave us a call just to make sure we knew what the right one was.

I'll stop gushing now, but I'd recommend First Sound to anyone.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Coming soon: This Charming Candy on

For a while now, when people have asked us if we’re selling lollipops yet, we’ve had to say, “not yet, we just found out 8 more things we need to do first”.

We are ridiculously excited that we’re finally getting pretty close to opening a shop on within a few weeks. Every day I’m amazed at how many beautiful, cool and unusual things are being made and sold through Etsy! It’s a huge network of independent sellers of handmade goods and it’s a easy-to-use storefront for us to get started selling our candy.

When we launch our store, there will be 9 flavors available, and they’ll also be grouped into three different themed collections featuring three flavors in each collection. In the next couple of weeks we’ll post more details about what will be for sale specifically. Stay tuned :-)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Home Cake: Where It All Began

“Okay,” I said to myself. “I’m going to make lollipops. Where do I get stuff like sucker sticks?”

Home CakeThe answer turned out to be a small business about a mile from my house. Home Cake is a mildly chaotic and slightly cramped treasure trove where you can get just about anything you’d need for making cookies, cakes, cupcakes, candies… anything sweet that begins with a “c” I suppose.

The store’s been a Seattle fixture for several decades and it was recently written up in NWSource. I was actually in the shop the day writer was taking pictures and talking to Greil for the article. She took some good photos of the inside of the store.

Now that This Charming Candy is making lollipops on a larger, non-hobby scale, we don’t get too many of our supplies at retail anymore. But all my recreational lollipop making supplies still come from Home Cake.

photo taken by me, using my iPhone

Friday, September 18, 2009

This Charming Candy – Behind the Scenes

For a while now, Kate and I have been meaning to post about what we’ve learned and what it takes to get This Charming Candy up and running.

Starting a small business is hard. Starting a small food business is even harder! One of the biggest challenges we faced was figuring out the web of oversight that’s shared among federal, state, and local government agencies here in the U.S.

On the local level, I’ve taken the King County Food Handler class and passed their test, so I’m licensed to handle food in King County. This means I could be employed in a restaurant kitchen or nursing home cafeteria, for example.

At the state level, I’ve read all the regulations and codes relevant to the food industry and have applied for the WSDA Food Processor’s license. One of the exciting milestones we’ll reach next week is finally getting this license! An inspector from the WSDA will come to inspect the commercial kitchen where I’ll be making the candy. He’ll also inspect all my ingredients and materials, and evaluate the workflow I use to turn those ingredients into delicious lollipops.

And at the federal level, there are no specific licenses. But we’ve needed to read and understand all the FDA’s requirements about product labeling so that customers know what they’re buying and who manufactured it.

When you make food for human consumption, it’s really important to do it well. Your customers place enormous trust in you and in the safety of your processes. So even though it’s been a long task to get ourselves set up and approved to be open for business, I’m personally glad we have a government that cares so much about the health and welfare of its citizens.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Cross-State Collaboration: PB Wiki

As we’ve said before, This Charming Candy consists of two people: me and Kate. And we live in different states. So how do we stay organized and productive when we only see each other a few times a year at most?

There are a few obvious collaboration methods – we send a LOT of email, use instant messaging, and have a phone call every Monday morning to check in and set a rough agenda for the week.

But we knew early on that we were going to generate a lot of content, much more than those channels could gracefully handle. So we created a wiki at PBWorks and it’s been a great way for us to store thoughts and ideas, documents, all kinds of stuff.

Every time we generate a new topic, whether it’s research on competitors, a list of suppliers, notes from a tax workshop, or ideas for upcoming blog posts, we create a wiki page with that information in it. It’s so easy. We use the main page of our wiki as a combined To-do list and an index that links to all of the content we store in the wiki.

Of course, like any collaboration method, the most important factor is probably that we are both committed to using the wiki to store and organize our work :-)

Saturday, September 12, 2009


If you know Susan and me, you know that we like hockey. I live near San Jose, which makes the Sharks my home team. Susan grew up in Philadelphia, so the Flyers are near and dear to her heart.

This afternoon, the Sharks announced that they've traded two players (who have been good, but didn't thrive under the new coach) for Dany Heatley. Heatley played for the University of Wisconsin, where I went to college, and for Atlanta, where I lived before moving to Silicon Valley (and where we had season tickets). So I'm happy to see a familiar face on the team again, but at the same time, Heatley can be kind of a drama queen. The Sharks are not known for putting up with that.

My take on it: this could be good. Heatley could give the team a new spark, but he could also not fit in well. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that this is what the Sharks need to finally get to the Stanley Cup finals!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Other Unusually Flavored Candies

Mental Floss had a Quick 10: Unusual Flavors of 10 Familiar Candies list yesterday, which only seems apropos given the last post about our own unusual flavors. I'm seriously intrigued by Red Bean Kit Kats and Blood Orange Dots. I wonder if anyone sells them around here. Hmmm...

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Why Such Offbeat Flavors?

We mentioned in an earlier post that we both love to cook. I love cooking both for the chemistry and because you get to answer the question: what flavors taste good together?

There are five different basic tastes: sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and umami (a meaty, protein-y flavor, like soy sauce). Different amounts of different tastes is what makes complex dishes interesting.

Lollipops are obviously sweet -- the main process to make them is to dissolve sugar in water. But what flavors do you add? Sour, or acidic, flavors are long popular in sweet treats - apples to a degree, lemon, and lime are all sour. In fact, all our fruit flavors have citric acid added to them; they didn't taste as good without it. During our tasting party, we also offered up other flavors: coffee (bitter), tangerine-clove (sour and bitter), salted caramel, vanilla-cardamom (bitter again).

Using the tasting party data, we've settled on what we'll be offering for sale for now. That said, we love experimenting. We want to find out how different flavors taste together and whether or not they work as a lollipop. I personally want to someday try salted lime, jalapeno, cinnamon, and lemon-plum. Once the business is up and running, we'll continue to experiment.

What flavors would you like to see?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

All That Glitters

One of the coolest products for decorating cakes, cookies and candies is disco dust. It's similar to edible glitter and lustre dust, but has the consistency and appearance of the craft glitter you probably used for elementary school art projects. I love how it looks on the surface of a finished lollipop - giving it sparkle and a little texture too.

Disco dust comes in lots of fun colors and I have to try really hard not to buy them all! You'll find disco dust on the following flavors:

  • Gold on Tangerine Clove (in the Spice Rack)
  • White on Pistachio-Marshmallow (in the Adventurer's Pack)
  • Red on Maple (in the Breakfast Tray)
  • Silver on Bubble Gum (in Celebration Time)

Here's a closer look at the gold glitter on a Tangerine-Clove lollipop:DSC_0245

photo by Kevin Keeker

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Boiling Point

After I'd been making lollipops for a while, I leafed to the Confectionery chapter in my copy of Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking and read something that I no doubt learned in high school chemistry class years ago: adding dissolved molecules of something to pure water will raise its boiling point.

As McGee says, "The more foreign molecules, the higher the boiling point." Syrup, of course, consists of dissolved sugar molecules in water. As more of the water boils off, the syrup becomes ever more concentrated, and its boiling point becomes even higher. Nearly all of the water must be boiled off for the syrup to reach the temperature needed for making hard candy (~302 degrees F).

In practical terms, I realized that if I started with less water in the pan in the first place, it could take less time to make a batch of lollipops because there'd be less water that needed to boil away during the process. Neat, huh!