As they say, necessity is the mother of invention. When Mary’s Candies sadly closed up shop in Lewiston a few years ago, Ella Magee lost her source for chocolate-covered cherries. She found herself researching recipes and making her own batch to send to her aunt — a woman who, after 20 years, had begun to expect her annual delivery of cherries.
In the few years since, Magee began her home-based business as Ella’s Candies, and is now quite passionate about her confections. “It turns out, this is my artsy side,” she said. Recently renamed Ella’s Chocolates, she has perfected her recipes and streamlined her product line to now include nine standard items, with custom products made on request.
Thinking ahead to Valentine’s Day, Magee shared two recipes with Sun Journal readers, both of which are quick and easy to make as gifts. One of her most popular candies, Ella Magee’s Coconut Creams, can be made at home without too many special ingredients. She said this is one recipe she continues to use real butter in, as opposed to margarine, which is used in most of her other recipes. “It’s as close to a needham as I could get, without being a needham. I wanted a consistency that’s solid but still creamy.”Although she prefers to use a semi-dark chocolate on these lovely and slightly large (OK — huge!) balls of coconut confection, they can be made (or ordered) with milk chocolate or even white chocolate.
For some even simpler chocolate fun — and perhaps for the younger cooks among us — Magee shared a recipe and instructions on how to make nonpareils, which she prefers to call nonpar”ellas.” Although she usually uses traditional round, white sprinkles, feel free to use different types or seasonal colors of your choice. Magee has made thousands of these little “snowcap” candies as wedding favors, many of which are purchased by the pound, packaged up and decorated by the brides themselves.
Other items on Ella’s Chocolates’ menu include macadamia nut bars ($5 for four ounces), creamy peanut butter balls dipped in chocolate (four for $8), cashew turtles (four for $10) that can also be made with pecans, if you prefer, and chocolate-dipped caramels (four for $8). One of her main rules of thumb: “I don’t make anything until it’s ordered.”
Magee only puts into production those recipes that she comes up with on her own, and told us how she came by her latest candy invention — an espresso caramel, made with her soft, chewy homemade caramel, surrounded by a layer of dark chocolate ($6 for 1/4-pound). “I wanted to create a new chocolate and was thinking maybe espresso beans.” Since she is not a coffee drinker, she brought a few to a group of coffee drinkers “and they did not pass muster,” she said. “Too strong!” She then took some finely ground espresso, mixed it with the caramel mixture, found some cute shapes . . . and voila! “They were a big hit!” she said.
Magee’s products — often found at many local events and craft shows — are now available directly off her website, or can be special ordered with one quick phone call. She provides free door-to-door delivery within 30 miles of Lewiston, and schedules Portland-area deliveries once a week. Online orders come with a flat-rate shipping charge of $8.
“If you don’t see something you want,” she said, “just call me.” She shared a recent story about a large candy bar she made for a local businessman — complete with a loving Christmas sentiment — for his 93-year-old mother. She also offers a variety of client and corporate gifts, such as the 600 small chocolate cars — in three different models, no less — a local credit union recently ordered to use in an upcoming auto loan promotion. Noting that packaging the items sometimes takes longer than creating them, she will often enlist the services of her older grandchildren.
Magee added that “working” with chocolate is a pretty easy sell for children!
As she produces her chocolate confections, Magee said she will continue to try to grow her business. She has redesigned her logo and is looking to update her labels, packaging and website. “I’m looking at growth, but in a more specialized way,” she said.
Ella’s Coconut Cream Candies
1 cup confectioners sugar
14-ounce bag flaked coconut
14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup butter, softened slightly
1 tablespoon vanilla
Using a double-boiler, melt a 12-ounce bag of semi-sweet morsels with 4 unsweetened squares of chocolate.
In a large bowl, mix together the powdered sugar, coconut, sweetened condensed milk, butter and the vanilla. If time allows, refrigerate for 30 minutes; if not, it will still be fine. Shape into balls and dip in chocolate and let set until chocolate hardens. Magee thinks coconut is best paired with dark chocolate.
Fill a pan with the sprinkles of your choice. (Magee uses white ones, which show off nicely against the dark chocolate she uses.) Fill a squeeze bottle with any melted chocolate of your choice. Squeeze out small amounts on top of the sprinkles, forming “dots” — large or small, your preference. You can make shapes if you’d like (such as a heart), by first outlining your shape in chocolate and then filling in the middle with additional chocolate.
70 Tampa St.
576-0478 or 784-2436
Talk to the confectioner
Ella Magee will host an event for Valentine’s Day from 4 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 8, at the Androscoggin County Chamber of Commerce community room. The gathering is open to the public, and will also feature Revelation Massage and Island Sea Glass Jewelry.