14 Nov Candy Safari, Baltimore

Saturday, Jill and I went candy hunting with Scott, our candy-crazy friend. Scott used to be a pastry chef and has a highly-developed palate for candy — which he seeks out in his wide travels across the U.S. He’s the one who introduced me to Zitner’s Butter Krak eggs — dark chocolate-covered coconut in butter creme, which you can get only around Easter. OMG!

Scott took us to Rheb’s Candy Company. It’s in a cute carriage house in a nondescript neighborhood near the freeway. I’d never have found it. We didn’t even know it exists. But Scott informed us that it’s the best candy in Baltimore. He was right. We were looking for toffee — the best toffee in the world– and it had to be individually wrapped. I can’t tell you how hard it is to find really high-quality toffee that’s individually wrapped. Well, actually, I can tell you because I’ve been looking for it for over a week, scouring the internet for hours and hours. I’m talking toffee, not taffy.

Americans are NOT big on toffee and most aren’t even sure what it is. The Brits are fanatics about it, probably because it’s heavy on butter and cream. Americans are more familiar with taffy, because taffy is cheap (just sugar and syrup) and easy to make. Making toffee is an art. A lot of toffee you find in American candy stores is either imported from Britain or a cheap imitation that tastes something like caramel. Like most Americans, I’ve never been a fan of toffee.

So why was I looking for toffee? I need it to promote my new book, Kiss Me, Stranger , which takes place in an unnamed, fictional country built on landfill. This country’s president is eccentric and has nationalized a number of enterprises, including the candy industry. So, I’ve created a fictional artifact — a box of “Presidential Toffee” — to give readers a taste (literally) of the world I’ve created in the book.

I’ve never made a candy box but I’ve always wanted to. I’m talking about the kind of box you’d find in the rack next to the checkout counter at the supermarket. I’m thoroughly fascinated by packaging of all kinds. When I was a kid, I sometimes bought toys more for their packaging than for the toys themselves. I was loathe to throw out colorful, well designed packaging. The Japanese make especially good packages.  For them, boxing, arranging, and wrapping items — especially gifts — has spiritual value. Theirs are some of the best packages of consumer goods — especially candy — that I’ve ever seen. Here’s a site on Japanese packages to check out: Off the Shelf.

The Kiss Me, Stranger toffee box was a lot of fun to make. And now I’ve got some outrageously good toffee to put in it. Rheb’s toffee has a a nice chew — toffee should not be tooth-cracking hard — complemented by an even layer of nuts embedded in a fine coating of chocolate. The toffee itself has a mouth-filling, malty-milky flavor. If you’re not a fan of toffee or have never had good toffee, this is the treat for you. I’m going to sell my toffee box at cost because, as I said, it’s a promotional item. If you want to learn more about it, check out my website: the kiss me stranger fictional artifact. Rheb’s, by the way, has been in business since 1917 — in the hands of only one family. It’s the kind of place that’s disappearing in the shadow of franchises and chain stores. But, considering how busy the store was when we visited, it appears that Rheb’s will be around a long time.