Conversation Starter: Sweethearts
You probably remember those candy conversation hearts you got when you were a kid, and maybe, like us, you're nostalgic for the glow of young love (ah, young love). Or maybe you just like biting into sugary hearts that say "TXT ME."
Despite their modern messages, the candies have actually been around since 1866, and each year, more than 8 billion of the hearts are cut out at Necco's Boston headquarters. When they first launched, the hearts came in different shapes with longer sayings. These days, the Sweethearts get an annual update to their flavors and much-shortened messages. This year saw "PUGS & KITTENS" and "BFF" added to the lineup, and, capitalizing on the emoji craze, moustaches and happy faces.
But this year, you don't have to pound the candies straight. I reached out to bartenders and bakers around the country and asked them for more unique ways to incorporate the hearts into your Valentine's Day.
At Trick Dog in San Francisco, creative director Morgan Schick shakes up a tangy-sweet cocktail (pictured above) that incoporates 1½ ounces Encanto Pisco, ¾ ounce Pineau des Charentes, ½ ounce pineapple syrup, ¼ ounce Framboise, ¾ ounce lime juice and ¾ ounce egg white. Shake without ice, then add ice and shake again. Strain into a coupe glass and float ¾ ounce sparkling wine on top. Don't be daunted by this last part: Cut a clever candy heart-appropriate phrase (i.e., "Be Mine") into a sheet of reasonably sturdy plastic. Fill a spray bottle with Angostura bitters. Hold the stencil close to the top of the egg white foam and spray. Smile before the first sip.
At Spirited in Brooklyn, owner Kimberly Wetherell is a double threat: a baker and a bartender. To make a version of her Drambuie-laced candy heart truffles at home, sort the candies by color, then pulverize them to powder in a blender. Combine the butter in your favorite chocolate truffle recipe with the heart "dust" and Drambuie, which helps cut some of the sweetness. Roll into spheres and then dip into tempered bittersweet chocolate for the perfect finish.
In Atlanta, Craft Izakaya bartender Arianne Fielder makes an ingenious aperitif with candy heart-infused vodka. Here's how: Fill a mason jar with 4 cups vodka; add an entire bag of candy. Allow the hearts to dissolve, periodically shaking the jar. Strain the mixture through a coffee filter or cheesecloth, and store in the refrigerator until ready to use. Add ¾ ounce Cocchi Rosa and 4 dashes grapefruit bitters to 1½ ounces of the infused vodka. Add ice and stir. Strain into a Champagne flute or coupe, and top with 3 ounces dry sparkling wine.
And back in Brooklyn, Penny Stankiewicz at Sugar Couture zips up basic sugar cookies with ½ teaspoon of chili powder and a dose of cocoa powder (to make a chocolate dough, simply replace a fourth of the flour called for with cocoa powder). Cover the cooled cookies with royal icing and pop a handful of carefully selected conversation hearts on while the icing is still wet. Sure beats the chalky stuff straight.
Written for and published at Tasting Table.