Candy sweetens spring holidays


 David Gunther pours chocolate out of one of the many molds used at Old Monmouth Candies in Freehold on March 24. The shop owners say the chocolate bunnies represent the start of spring.  STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER ERIC SUCAR David Gunther pours chocolate out of one of the many molds used at Old Monmouth Candies in Freehold on March 24. The shop owners say the chocolate bunnies represent the start of spring. STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER ERIC SUCAR New Jersey candy factories have discovered new ways to satisfy a customer’s sweet tooth and show that life can be a little sweeter with just the right amount of chocolate.

As shoppers try to find the perfect items to make their Easter baskets special, and others prepare for Passover, John Cunnell — owner of Birnn Chocolates in Highland Park — said that giving chocolate is a tradition. “Just like at Valentine’s Day, when it has become tradition to give out heart-shaped things, with Easter the symbolism is different and it is one of fertility, which is why we have eggs and bunnies,” Cunnell said.

Sue Gunther, owner of Old Monmouth Candies, Freehold, said that the tradition of chocolate for Easter celebrates the beginning of spring.

 Old Monmouth Candies in Freehold offers chocolates in a variety of forms and designs. Above, Natalie Wiedeman stacks chocolate-covered Devil Dogs on a tray.  STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER ERIC SUCAR Old Monmouth Candies in Freehold offers chocolates in a variety of forms and designs. Above, Natalie Wiedeman stacks chocolate-covered Devil Dogs on a tray. STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER ERIC SUCAR “The bunnies are a harbinger of spring and it says spring is coming, but I believe it also celebrates new life and growth, and it is a happy time of the year,” Gunther said.

Christine O’Brian, owner of David Bradley Chocolatier, said nothing compares to the joy a child gets when opening up a chocolate bunny.

“I think it is that wonder in a kid’s eye that makes getting candy on Easter so special. It is exciting for a younger child because they look at everything, and they believe,” O’Brian said.

In business for more than 30 years, the David Bradley company was founded by O’Brien’s grandmother, Alma Hicks. The business, which is based in the Windsor section of Robbinsville, was later passed on to O’Brian and her brothers.

Elyissia Chinchilla, owner of 2 Chicks with Chocolate in Metuchen, East Brunswick and Middletown, said the popularity of Easter chocolate is due to the sense of anticipation.

“This dates back to before our time, and there is a history of Easter chocolate that we have capitalized on. I think it is an element of surprise that makes it popular,” Chinchilla said.

As shoppers pick up the perfect chocolate bunny to place in their basket, many are unaware of the process involved in manufacturing that item. For the owners of such businesses, it is no easy task.

To ensure that the chocolate is ready to be placed into a plastic mold, a tempering process is begun to bring the chocolate to the right temperature, according to Gunther.

“Tempering the chocolate puts the ingredients in the right pattern so when you mold the chocolate, it has a nice texture that is smooth and an appearance that is shiny,” Gunther said.

At Old Monmouth Candies, all chocolate poured into molds is aircooled.

“Putting it in the fridge is not the best thing to do with chocolate, because it is too moist of an environment. So, we depend mostly on Mother Nature,” Gunther said.

Decorating the chocolate after the tempering process is complete can be a bit complicated, according to Cunnell.

“Decorating can be tricky because, at Birnn, we take other kinds of chocolate like white chocolate and decorate with some color, and whoever is doing the decorating has to think backwards because we put on those decorations first. They have to be artistic enough to get it just right,” Cunnell said.

At 2 Chicks with Chocolate, established five years ago, there is not much machinery involved, Chinchilla said. She recalled her mom making chocolate in a small Crock-Pot for her to sell.

“We do use an Italian machinery called a Selmi that does automatic tempering, but other than that a lot of what we do is by hand. In chocolate making, there is no cheating,” Chinchilla said.

A unique aspect of Chinchilla’s business is cooking the chocolate products using induction instead of an open flame.

“Induction is magnetic cooking, so we are able to control the heat in a very specific manner. We also use a small airbrush to make any necessary decorative designs with our products,” Chinchilla said.

The handcrafted chocolates, such as the artisan bonbons that are popular at 2 Chicks with Chocolate, were inspired by the candy that Chinchilla’s mother made after a car accident in the 1980s left her unable to work.

Another machine that helps produce the chocolates sold at Old Monmouth Candies is their infamous enrober, or as Gunther likes to call it, “The Lucy and Ethel Machine.”

“Very much like the chocolate machine in that famous episode of ‘I Love Lucy,’ our enrober allows us to mass-produce items and our stringer makes the artistic chocolate swirls you will see on our items,” Gunther said.

Besides chocolate bunnies and marshmallow Peeps, candy factories sell other innovative items that set them apart from other retailers.

“Our biggest item around Easter is the Boo Boo Bacon Bunny, which sounds like any other chocolate bunny but is stuffed with strips of bacon. At first, I was in tears over this idea and thought no one would ever buy it, but last year, we sold 3,000 bunnies,” O’Brian said.

David Bradley also has unique products like hand-dipped fruits ranging from strawberries to grapes, as well as marshmallow chocolate lollipops, and chocolatecovered matzoh and lollipops for those celebrating Passover.

Making things a bit unusual, 2 Chicks with Chocolate has incorporated spice in their chocolate, bringing sweet and hot together with their new line of Sriracha hot sauce caramels.

“I think what is popular about unusual and spicy chocolate is what is unpredicted when you take that bite,” Chinchilla said.

Besides the artisan bonbons, a variety of items are available, including chocolate bunny ears and gummy worms, as well as 2 Chicks’ own line of hot chocolate, Chinchilla said.

Keeping with tradition, Old Monmouth Candies is famously known in New Jersey for its peanut brittle. Though it is not shaped into an Easter bunny or egg, it has been popular during the season since it started with the opening of the factory in 1948.

“Our peanut brittle is made the same way my dad made it, using only five ingredients. We even package our brittle and send it to troops overseas so they have a little treat,” Gunther said.

Old Monmouth Candies also keeps up with modern trends in society through its chocolate snowflakes for the Disney movie “Frozen.” The factory, which revamped its butterscotch line this year, also has chocolate dog bones that have been veterinarian-approved so a favorite canine can also have a holiday treat.

In business for 83 years, Birnn Chocolates also stays close to what customers like the most, such as the chocolate turtles that sell by the masses.

“Our turtles have remained untouched recipe-wise for all these years, and they are filled with peanuts, cashews and smooth chocolate,” Cunnell said.

Birnn Chocolates has an extensive sugar-free line, with a variety of flavored chocolate bars.

Also ensuring that they have dietary-restricted goodies, 2 Chicks with Chocolate has unveiled a new vegan selection and nut-free candies.

“It is important for me to have these products so people with certain allergies or needs can still enjoy the holiday season,” Chinchilla said.

As the candy business is seasonal and constantly evolving, there is a need to keep chocolate in the spotlight for other times of the year. Chinchilla said she tries to make chocolate more fun by hosting informative classes about the product.

“This month, we are doing tea and chocolate pairing classes just in time for Mother’s Day, and in May, we are teaming up with George Street Ale House in New Brunswick to offer craft beer and chocolate classes so we can get more of a male population coming out, too,” Chinchilla said.

Cunnell said the candy business may not always be the most profitable, but in his experience, it is the most fun.

“I really enjoy what I do, and I love chocolate,” Cunnell said.