A Sweet Tradition

"I went on my first date here," one customer confided to a friend.

"I have to get a hot fudge sundae. I get one every time I come," another patron announced while standing in the crowded line next to me, waiting for a table.

"Ooohhh! The candy! Look at all the candy," a little girl to my left declared through clenched teeth, the glass cases before her smeared with her fingerprints.

Confessions, announcements and declarations are what make up the backbone of Crown Candy Kitchen, and traditions are what lace the backbone together. Their commitment to those traditions has prompted three generations of Karandzieffs to pass along the art of candymaking since the restaurant's inception in 1913.

"Change is a bad thing," said Andy Karandzieff. Like his father and his grandfather before him, Karandzieff has learned all of the inner workings of the restaurant. Karandzieff began making Crown Candy Kitchen's ice creams at age 13. He then mastered malts, sundaes, syrups and brittles, and has since perfected the art of making candy. "My father used to work six days a week, 13 to 14 hours a day. ThatÕs what our father taught us; thatÕs what we do. We've been doing this our whole lives," Karandzieff explained.

"Making chocolate isn't difficult," Karandzieff continued. "After a while, it becomes routine." For the layperson interested in making candy at home, Karandzieff advised, a double boiler is the most important piece of equipment to have. Chocolate, by itself, should never be heated in a pan directly on the stove. The double boiler, instead, should be used to keep the chocolate from burning.

A candy thermometer is also essential. The candy thermometer gauges the temperature of the chocolate, letting the candy maker know when the chocolate has tempered. (Tempering is the method of heating and cooling chocolate that combines sugar, cocoa butter and cocoa solids. If it's done correctly, the chocolate will have a glossy sheen.) A marble slab and a spatula are also used for the tempering process.

After the chocolate has been heated to no more than 100 degrees, about half of the chocolate is placed onto the marble slab and spread thinly across the surface in repeated spatula motions until the chocolate sets. Depending upon the type of chocolate used, the general temperature of the chocolate on the slab should be around 85 degrees. The chocolate on the slab is then stirred into the warmer chocolate until the final temperature registers at 90 degrees.

Acquiring a good chocolate for candy making, Karandzieff stressed, is another necessary ingredient. "Nestles or Ghiradhelli both work fine. They can be found in any regular grocery store."

If your head is swimming, fear not. All of the steps for tempering chocolate can easily be avoided if you take the time to browse the Internet or look through a specialty kitchen supply store that carries tempered chocolate.

One of the best places to watch chocolate being made is behind the 24-foot counter at Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate Company on Chippewa. Dan Abel, who has been in the candy making business for more than 21 years, has something for almost every candy lover.

Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate carries chocolates, mints and truffles, provides a wide selection of "no sugar added" candies, offers more than 1,000 molded chocolate shapes and makes chocolate-covered strawberries every day of the year.

Customers can choose between the stores on Chippewa, Kirkwood, Lemay Ferry and 1 Bell Center downtown. If you can't find the time to wander into one of these stores and get deliciously lost, go online at www.chocolatechocolate.com.

For those of us who prefer the eating of chocolate to the making of chocolate, I offer the perfect solution. This Valentine's Day begin a new tradition. Take family, friends or a significant other to Crown Candy Kitchen for a BLT or a Reuben. Share chocolate malts and banana splits. Then take home a box of chocolates, a milk-chocolate cupid and some chocolate-covered strawberries. Prices range from $11 to $15 a pound.

Crown Candy Kitchen 1401 Saint Louis Ave., St. Louis / 314.621.9650 Hours: Mon. to Thu. - 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Fri. and Sat. - 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sun. - noon to 9 p.m.

As a home cook, the candy you make will most likely fall into one of two categories: crystalline or noncrystalline. What crystalline means, in plain English, is that the candy will have crystals so small they can't be seen with the naked eye ®¢ but can be felt on the tongue. Examples are fudge, fondant and divinity. Noncrystalline candy is chewy, like caramels, butterscotch, marshmallows and gumdrops.

Thanks to Genevieve Farrell, home advisor for the Cumberland County Extension Service, Sauce Magazine offers you several old-fashioned recipes for each genre of candy. The first, Sue's Fudge, is named after Farrell's mother.