Under the Boardwalk: Taffy and Fudge

Hi Dessert Oasis,

Why is it that every lake/beach/ocean vacation destination has some shop that sells fudge and taffy? Like not just in major destinations, but also in some tiny little town in the middle of nowhere Minnesota?

Trying to keep my beach body, but how?

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Dearest Beach Body,

It is so true! Try to get away on a summer trip and everywhere you look there are Taffy and Fudge, Fudge and Taffy (saltwater taffy to be exact) beckoning you like evil twins trying to push your bikini physique closer to sweater weather. Every summer resort-y town seems to have some kind of oldtimey shoppe with handmade confections. But why are they centered in these towns and not so much in metropolitan cities?

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It might be that hanging out in salty ocean air all day gives people a craving for something sweet? Maybe it’s the fact that taffy and fudge don’t dry out quickly in humid/beach conditions so they make good souvenirs?

Maybe, maybe, but basic bottom line: tiny beachy towns are riding the confectionary coattails of major players like Atlantic City and Mackinac Island, and Atlantic City saltwater taffy and Mackinac Island fudge play on tourist nostalgia for simpler times and vacation indulgences.

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Taffy and fudge have pretty minimal ingredients, recipes that haven’t changed much in over 100 years, and there really aren’t any corporate companies selling these treats, so small candy shops can make the taffy/fudge right there in the shop and not worry about mass-produced competition. The entertainment value of watching taffy pulls or stirring a big copper pot along with the sweet smells is an easy win win as window shoppers are drawn in to the store. And then…. might as well buy something! Oh, you only sell fudge by the half pound? Whatevs, I’m on vacation, let’s do it! Oh, you gave your kid a bag with instructions to choose a few colorful taffies and they came back with it filled to the brim? Whatevs, they’re on vacation!

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Taffy and fudge will help restore your energy after a long day on the water, and will help ease the post-vacation/back-to-work transition (save some for Monday morning!). Pro tip: zap cold fudge in the microwave for about 8 seconds/let it sit on your car dashboard for about 1 minute. *times vary based on microwave/dashboard settings*

And remember, every body is a beach body, just go the beach.
– Dessert Oasis

 

Have a dessert question?  Email me at courtneysconza@gmail.com – from funnel cakes to fondue fountains, if it has sugar, I’ve probably eaten it.

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Portillo’s Chocolate Cake


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Chicago: land of hotdogs and beef sandwiches. Who would have thought that a chain restaurant known for these aforementioneds would also be famous for its cake? Cheese fries, sure. Shakes, yeah. But cake?? Oh hello, Portillo’s!

That’s right. This layered wedge of *moist* cake and fudgy frosting is made possible by a hotdog shop. It looks like a cartoon slice of chocolate cake came to life. Like Mickey Mouse might for sure eat this on his birthday. It’s a generous slice with the perfect proportions of cake/frosting. Just the thing to round out a sodium-laden drive-thru lunch (or dinner, or breakfast…no judgement here).

Now, if you pull up to a Portillo’s, chances are it will look like a goddamn carnival from the outside. There could be colored flags like at a used car sales lot, there could be a line of 45 cars waiting to place an order. DO NOT BE DETERRED. They are pros and everything will run smoothly. My local location at Clark/Ontario, for instance, has some kind of system going on with post-it notes applied to your windshield. How they keep this order/payment/delivery/get-out-of-the-driveway arrangement moving is a thing of beauty in itself.

HOT TIPS FOR ALL:

  1. If you live in the Chicagoland area: do yourself a favor and sign up for free cake.
  2. If you do not live in the Chicagoland area: guess what? The secret ingredients for the cake are basically Betty Crocker cake mix and mayonnaise. What? Yes. And now maybe it makes a bit more sense that it’s sold alongside sausage/beef combos??

Portillo's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The Legend of Ye Olde Donut Shoppe

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Long ago (starting maybe 60 years ago), in a land far away (Champaign, IL), there was a little hut (a glorified lemonade stand really), called Ye Olde Donut Shoppe. They made donuts daily: hand-cutting the dough and whipping up their own fudgey or mapley icing. The donuts were so delicious that they often sold out quickly and every afternoon (most afternoons? did this really happen?) the sign on the hut would magically change from ‘Ye Olde Donut Shoppe’ to ‘Ye Olde BBQ Pit.’

I have recounted this tale so often that I began to think that possibly I made it up. Ye Olde What? On which street corner? It’s not there now…. was it ever there?? And then I saw this:

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Ye Olde Donut lives!! Ye Olde Donut is real!!! Ye Olde Donut has become a food truck with only a handful of donuts and some egg sandwiches??! Shame. Knowing this could not possibly be the conclusion of the story, I set out to track down the elusive donut selection of yore. There were rumors that the donuts were being made in the Law Building, but no one working at the Law Building knew anything about it (actual law librarian quote: “I don’t know anything about any donuts.”), and upon searching at 8:30am (8:30AM!!!) one day, all I found was this disapproving glare:

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Donut judge me.

As it turns out, getting a donut from Ye Olde requires some wake-up and some know-how. Secret tip: it is best to place an order ahead of time by #1: calling their phone number or #2: going into the Law Building cafeteria and asking the cashier the cryptic question, “Can I place an order for donuts?”

And then, on your appointed donut pick-up day, you rise with the sun and head to the Law Building through the misty morning fog. It will seem locked, but don’t be deterred – at least one door will be open.

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Make your way past the bronze uptights on the wall and head for the cafeteria. It will probably be deserted, or maybe there will be one lone lady making tuna sandwiches. If you tell her you are there for the donuts, she will know your name. Great customer service or mystical powers? Up for debate (at the Law Building! I just came up with that).

Each donut is $1 (cash) and if you are lucky (and early, like 7:30am early) there may be more donuts to add to your already boxed order/cardboard treasure chest (if you will). Apple fritters to rival Randy’s, chocolate iced cake that tastes exactly like “donut,” the mildest maple bars, specials of blueberry, red velvet, Devil’s food or some seasonal delight (the Halloween orange is even orange-flavored!)……

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So there you have it. A legend to be passed on for generations to come….. And as my epic adventure came to a close and I headed out the door, the oracle cafeteria lady whispered, “Well they did used to make bbq.” (for real, and also I asked)

I KNEW IT!!! And I lived happily ever after.

Sunday Sundae!

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Good ol’ Jarling’s Custard Cup – cooling off central Illinois since 1949! (and their prices are refreshing too!) Open only in the summers, they have vanilla, chocolate, strawberry or lemon frozen custard every day with a special flavor of the week too.

Today’s arrangement: a waffle basket sundae with a ‘dip’ (scoop) of this week’s featured flavor: coconut, topped with their specialty: cold fudge (because it doesn’t melt the custard – genius!), whipped cream, pecans and a cherry. All this for under $5. Oh Illinois, sometimes I can’t complain.

My sundae tasted like an Almond Joy (sans almonds, avec pecans). The cold, sweet, milk chocolaty fudge creamily swirled into the top of the smooth coconut custard (no pieces of coconut). Eaten at an outdoor bench surrounded by sticky children and college kids packing on their freshman 15.

Pro tip: they have a drive-thru and there are also 3 lines at the indoor counter even though it may look like a chaotic swarm. Try for the middle line – people coming in from the side doors don’t always realize it exists!

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Jarlings Custard Cup Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato