File it under the category of “who would’ve thought”, but the best selling Valentine’s confection isn’t chocolate covered cherries, truffles, butter creams covered in chocolate or turtles. Instead, it’s those pastel colored heart shaped candies printed with little sweet sayings such as “Be Mine.”
According to the National Confectioner’s Association, a trade organization for the candy industry, more than 8 billion conversational hearts will be produced this year; that’s enough candy to stretch from Rome, Italy to Valentine, Ariz. and back again 20 times. NECCO, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts in business since 1847 which is when they introduced NECCO wafers, first began making the little hearts in 1902.
Indeed, the demand for Conversation Hearts is so huge, NECCO, which also makes such vintage candies as Clark Bars, Mary Janes, Squirrel Nut Zippers, those long strips of button candies and Haviland Thin Mints, starts producing next year’s batch shortly after Valentine’s Day. The entire production of some 100,000 hearts a day ends in mid-January and sells out in just three weeks.
Made from the same recipe first used over a century ago – a mixture of sugar, corn syrup, gelatin, gums, coloring and flavoring, the dough is rolled out, imprinted with sayings and then stamped into heart shapes.
Originally these little morsels came in other shapes besides hearts — though it’s hard to see how baseballs, watches and horseshoes were considered romantic. And thought the traditional sayings such as Kiss Me and Be True date back to 1902, new conversations, added at the turn of this century, reflect a somewhat snappier dialogue — Amore, Girl Power and Got Love. That same year in what must have been a burst of going modern, chocolate was added to the list of flavors that include wintergreen (white), banana (yellow), lemon (green), cherry (pink), grape (purple) and orange (orange).
It also turns out that in terms of Valentine’s candy, NECCO Sweethearts Conversational Hearts are somewhat healthy — though obviously no substitute for broccoli — being both fat and sodium free and having only 3 calories each. Eating a chocolate conversational hearts adds an additional calorie.
I was going to include a recipe for making conversational hearts at home but the recipes I found were long and very involved and said that the finished candy would taste exactly like the ones you buy. The only plus to all that work was you could personalize them. Well, though it’s too late this year, in 2014 you can order personalized Sweethearts or NECCO wafers at MyNecco.com
Now that’s settled, I’m including some recipes from NECCO Website using some of their other candies.
Chocolate Mighty Malts Malted Cheesecake
For the Crust:
41 Mighty Malts® Chocolate Malted Milk Balls, approximately 5 ounces by weight
10 chocolate wafer cookies
2 ounces toasted almonds
2 ounces butter
½ teaspoon almond extract
In a food processor or blender, process the Mighty Malts Chocolate Malted Milk Balls, chocolate wafers and almonds to a fine powder. Melt the butter in a small saucepan, combine with the almond extract and mix thoroughly with the malted milk ball mixture. Pour the mixture into a 9-inch spring-form pan, bringing the mixture evenly up the sides of the pan. Chill for at least 30 minutes.
For the Filling:
2 ½ ounce semi-sweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
16 ounce package of softened cream cheese
Pinch of salt
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
3 whole large eggs
½ teaspoon almond extract
Place the chocolate in a double boiler over medium low heat until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Set aside to cool until ready to use. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add the salt and sugar and beat until well combined. Then, on a moderate speed, add the eggs one by one, beating only until incorporated after each addition. Add the melted chocolate and almond extract, and blend well. Turn off the machine and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Pour the mixture into the prepared crust. Bake in a preheated 350° oven 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool 20 minutes. In the meantime, prepare the topping.
For the Topping:
¼ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon vanilla
8 ounces sour cream
1 can cherry pie filling or strawberries glazed, optional
In a bowl, combine ¼ cup sugar, 1 tsp. vanilla and 8 oz. container sour cream and mix well. Spread the sour cream topping on the cooled cheesecake. Return cheesecake to the oven and bake an additional 15 minutes. Cool, refrigerate, and if desired, top with a fruit of your choice (e.g. cherry pie filling or glazed strawberries). Decorate rim with malted milk balls.
Chef Roberta’s Mary Jane Treats
2-3 Delicious Apples (depending on size) washed and dried
15 Mary Jane® Candies (melted over a double boiler), yield ¼ cup
¾ cup of unsalted peanuts, coarsely chopped
2-3 wooden sticks
Insert wooden stick into the bottom of each apple. Dip apples into Mary Jane® mixture. Sprinkle with nuts if desired or roll in the ground chocolate malt ball mixture. Place on greased cookie sheet/wax paper. Store in refrigerator. Let stand 15 minutes at room temperature before serving.