Apple caramels, rosé lollipops and chocolate magic dust — these are just a few of the otherworldly treats that Portland candymaker Jami Curl has crafted since opening QUIN Candy in 2013.
“It wasn’t until I made my first fruity lollipop (with Oregon strawberries) that I fell under the spell of hard candy,” she said in her new book “Candy is Magic.” “To see that beautiful, transparent pink candy on a stick, to hold it up to the light and see it full of tiny strawberry seeds, and to know that I made it with my own hands? It’s as close to wizardry as I’ll ever get in my life.”
The wizard herself oversees a supersized kitchen tucked between construction firms and software developers in industrial Southeast Portland. We had the opportunity to visit her kitchen to witness her magical creative process.
You walk in, and are enveloped in a cloud smelling like warm lemon and spicy chai and chocolate and fresh berries and raw, unadulterated sugar. A mostly female staff in white aprons and hairnets is stirring and cutting and packaging about 20 different kinds of Curl’s latest smash, QUIN Candy.
There are shiny steel tables, hot plates, long slabs of gray marble with molten candy cooling on top, and rafts of candy molds. The walls are lined with crates of little, bright yellow boxes bearing the simple, black and yellow emblem of the brand. And that tag line, in cheerful script: “Candy is Magic.”
If you want to get Jami Curl going, all you have to do is ask if, after years of confection-making, she’s still into sweet things.
“Oh yeah!” she said. “Yes! Absolutely! Especially new things I haven’t had before that remind me of something I had when I was a kid. Sometimes the anticipation of the sweet is almost more powerful than the experience of it itself. What you’re doing, in anticipating, is craving or wanting the experience you had previously.”
Curl is very, very good at dreaming up things that deliver that satisfaction and build new cravings. QUIN Candy makes small batches of lollipops, hard candies, caramels and something called Chocolate Magic Dust that can be put to nefarious uses like topping ice cream and boosting cake recipes.
With an array of whimsical toppings like magic dust and rainbow sprinkles, it just makes sense that Curl chose the name QUIN — a flat, round, confetti-shaped sprinkle.
“Because of my life as a baker,” she said, “previously, I wanted to find a word that was one syllable, the letters were beautiful, that could tie my previous life as a baker to my future life as a candymaker. It wasn’t a situation where I had five business names I was going to choose from. The word ‘quin’ just bubbled to the top.”
Before the success of QUIN, Curl was running an incredibly popular bakery, Saint Cupcake, which got rolling just as it seemed the entire country had gone crazy for the bite-size treats. The store itself was a design wonder — meticulously curated pastel decor that was both whimsical and craving-inducing. The logo is bright turquoise, with multi-colored sprinkles framed by curly brackets.
Curl said this branding was very deliberate.
“I think of every step of a project while thinking it through,” she said. “When I had my lineup of recipes I was going to use when I opened a bakery, I knew by tasting things what everything needed to look like. My roommate from Ohio University is a designer. She magically followed me out to Portland. She understands and has been with me so long, and has eaten the treats I’ve made, we’ve travelled together and tried things in other places. She knows me, design-wise, better than I know myself.
“So when I went to her and said, ‘I’m going to open this bakery and I need it to look like these things taste,’ she of course knew what to do and what to say and how to present it.”
Although Curl sold Saint Cupcake in 2014, the brand is still alive with four locations throughout Portland. And of course, at every Saint Cupcake in the city you can buy QUIN’s bright yellow boxes that preserves the same sparkling aesthetic.
Jami Curl’s approach to candy is Willy Wonka-esque in her pursuit of beauty and wonder for the craft. Unlike Wonka though, she is sharing her recipes with the world. Here is an exclusive selection from her new book, “Candy is Magic.”
Chocolate Magic Dust
This dust is the foundation of countless recipes, comes together in a flash, and stores beautifully in your pantry. Because the dust is over-the-top usable, I like to make large batches of it. I promise you, if you have the dust at the ready, you will be more likely to use it. Think of it as a pantry staple, and when you want to make a cup of hot chocolate, a glass of chocolate milk, a batch of chocolate ice cream, or any other chocolaty treat, the main component of the recipe is there in the pantry all ready to go.
Ingredients (recipe makes about 600 grams):
- 460 grams granulated sugar
- 116 grams cocoa powder (see below)
- 2 grams kosher salt
- 3 grams vanilla bean powder
- 2 grams ground cinnamon
Pour the sugar into a large bowl. Sift together the cocoa powder, salt, vanilla bean powder, and cinnamon into a small bowl to break up any clumps. Add the sifted mixture to the sugar, grab a whisk, and whisk, whisk, whisk everything together until it looks like a big bowl of sparkly chocolate powder (again, magic). The magic dust is now ready to use. Store in an airtight container or ziplock bags. As long as the container is airtight and moisture-free, the dust will last for up to 12 months.
Reprinted with permission from “Candy is Magic,” copyright 2017 by Jami Curl. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.
“Candy is Magic” is out now. Jami Curl will be reading from her candy cookbook at Powell’s City Of Books in downtown Portland on Sunday, April 30.