Phillips Candy House
South Shore Plaza, Braintree
Monday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 6 p.m.
Candies $24 to $26 a pound; caramel apples $7.50 apiece
For the owners of Phillips Candy House, chocolate is a matter of tradition.
The caramel recipe used in a number of treats, including the legendary chocolate turtles, is a family secret, passed down from the days when founders Phillip and Constantia Strazulla first cooked up the mixture in the basement of their Revere home.
The chocolate recipe is the same one that’s been used since 1925, the family the same owners. Even the headquarters hasn’t changed since the second generation of chocolatiers bought the Dorchester location on Morrissey Boulevard in the 1950s.
But a visit to its store in Braintree showed that the company isn’t stuck in the past.
“We’re always thinking of new [things],” said Mary Ann Nagle, the granddaughter of the Phillips Candy founders, as she stood in the company’s satellite store in the South Shore Plaza. “Chocolate molds, we’re doing large chocolate turkeys for Thanksgiving, for centerpieces, and we do chocolate footballs . . . and the packaging. A lot of our direction is in coming up with new packaging. That’s where we put the emphasis.
“We’ve got the best product in the world, we think. Now we have to package that so it appeals to different people at different times.”
Even the website, whose home page was recently redesigned, offers an assortment of chocolates with the click of a button and is a more current way of doing business, almost becoming a third store, Nagle said.
Yet it’s not just experiments with product presentation, but experiments with taste.
As I followed Nagle around the plaza shop, she pointed out various chocolate bars, some items already favorites, others the shop has been testing out — from Oreo to salted almond to dark orange and guajillo chili.
Then there were ones made from the new recipes with salt, several of which I brought home. Salted caramels in a number of chocolate coatings were a delight, a hint of saltiness mingling with signature chocolate and caramel tastes.
The salted turtles, a new take on the shop’s classic favorite, were swoon-worthy. The salt perfectly complemented the nutty texture of Phillip’s signature treat, regardless of the type of chocolate or nut involved.
Even the hazelnut turtle — an addition to the typical pecans, cashews, and almonds — was a welcome addition to Phillip’s candy arsenal. I don’t think I’ve ever actually eaten a hazelnut; now I know what I’ve been missing.
Nagle admitted that not all experiments have been successes.
“We were thinking about organic chocolate, and did a lot of experimenting this summer — it was terrible. It does not taste good, it really doesn’t,” Nagle said with a laugh. “Everyone in my family [was] tasting this. They would say, ‘Why are we doing this?’ They would run out to get a piece of dark bark.”
Even salted caramels took several tries, as bakers were initially adding salt to the chocolate mix instead of putting it on top. The result was salty chocolate that didn’t do much to impress taste testers.
But regardless of where Boston’s oldest chocolatier goes with its products, Nagale recognized that the success of the business depends on some basic ingredients.
“I think it’s a consistency, using the best chocolates, the freshest nuts, in small batches, and we’re not mass-producing anything, the things we buy we’re selling promptly,” Nagle said.
In other words, customers expect the product to be quality, like the crunchy yet decadent peanut brittle, figaros that practically melted in your mouth, and dark chocolate mixed with a strawberry cream that was gooey and delightful all at once.
Even bites I didn’t fancy — chocolate-covered maraschino cherries that were too sugary for my taste, and pumpkin fudge that was grainier than I would have preferred — could appeal to some palates.
The product, and the fact that it is a luxury that can be purchased for relatively little money, has helped Phillips stay recession-proof, Nagle said.
“People, when they don’t have much, they need to have something, some kind of satisfaction. They can afford to buy a chocolate bar, or a bit of chocolate. They need to do something for themselves,” she said.
Then there is the sense of history, the caramel apples, sweet and tangy and fresh, that are always around come fall. Dipped in caramel at headquarters, and then coated in chocolate in the company’s two stores, the dessert is a treat worth waiting all year for.
“Our premise is the traditional. We have raspberry creams, and orange creams, and vanilla caramels, and those are all traditional, and that’s what we work with,” Nagle said. “It’s nice to be able to introduce something like the sea salt caramels, which is a little different, but doesn’t take away from the fact that we’re traditional.”
It’s that sense of tradition, mixed with a few new treats, that will probably make Phillips a success for decades to come.
-- Jessica Bartlett