“I see it. I see it all,” says Jami Curl, the self-taught sweets-maker behind Portland’s Quin Candy. “When I think up a candy, I know what it should taste like, what it should look like.”
Excitable yet resolute, it’s the pitch-perfect sentiment from a maker who has gathered fans (and media accolades) across the country for high-end candy that looks as good as it tastes. Inspired equally by nostalgia and art and obsessive when it comes to real food and flavors, Quin has etched out a niche since launching in 2013 for jewel-like candies sheathed in modern, streamlined packaging that vault sticky kid lollipops and concession stand gumdrops to chic party gifts. Bursting with Oregon-born ingredients and clever flavor pairings—blackberry lollipops studded with seeds; bittersweet caramels imbued with coffee, orange, and smoked salt; Oregon cherry sparkling candy—they’re all beautiful to look at and nearly impossible not to devour.
Now Curl, who first garnered fans locally as the creator/original owner of the city’s powerhouse bakeshop Saint Cupcake, is sharing her brainstorms with home sugar addicts. Her ambitious cookbook Candy Is Magic: Real Ingredients, Modern Recipes will hit bookstores in spring 2017. Curl’s pitch for the book, which went far beyond memorializing her hit sweets to serve as a seriously fun handbook for people interested in making candy at home, sparked enough interest among publishers to warrant an auction earlier this year. Ten Speed Press came away with rights to the tome; Curl retained major creative control over the project.
Curl and photographer Maggie Kirkland created the photos for the book in the candy maker’s own Southwest Portland home over the course of four days last spring on a giant 4-foot-by-4-foot lightboard a friend constructed for her—lit from both above and below. “We poured or dumped everything on the table and shot it…which was both terrifying and fun,” she explains.
Eat Beat got an early look at the end result: an eye-dazzling mix of basic cooking/chemistry lessons and a luxury coffee table topper studded with saturated images that recall geological surveys and precious stones. The book includes simple building-blocks recipes (popcorn-infused cream; roasted strawberry lemon puree), each designed to be used for multiple candies, and baroque projects incorporating Quin's signatures sweets, all peppered with whimsically illustrated technical explanations and invitations for experimentation. Candy Is Magic is designed to kickstart creativity on every page; a torrent of recipes and ideas building and building to a crescendo of sugar fever all delivered in Curl’s clear, detailed, relentlessly cheerful tone.
Though its release date is months out, the book is officially available for pre-order on Amazon starting today. So, Eat Beat asked Curl to share an exclusive, early taste of her riotously charming tome, with a handful of her favorite images from the cookbook as well as some highly enthusiastic insights.
Jami Curl: This photo sums me up in one image. You look at it and you can kind of tell it's candy, but it also bends your mind a little bit. As you start picking through it piece by piece it starts to become obvious that it is actually candy even though you never knew candy could look this way. That's me and Quin in a nutshell. Every single piece in the photo can be made—whether you spoon hot candy from a pot or put it in a candy funnel and pour it out—all of it is possible with the recipes and methods in the book. Think of the gingerbread house you could decorate with this pile of magic!
Jami Curl: I love this photo because it captures the crazy things we were able to do with our giant custom light table. It's also a good example of the sort of spirit of the book—[the idea] that you can learn to make core ingredients or candy and then you can do SO MANY OTHER things with it all (in this case, learn to make vanilla bean caramels then make caramel apples).
Jami Curl: This is a behind-the-scenes photo of [photographer] Maggie Kirkland shooting me funneling blackberry gummy candy into a gumdrop mold. As I mentioned, all photos were shot at my house and we shot everything we could on the light table. The next photo shows what this photo actually turned out like [in the book]—it's kind of amazing/crazy. (Editor's note: Kirkland doesn’t even specialize in food photography; she first met the cookbook author while shooting a portrait of Curl’s son, Theo. “But she gets me,” says Curl. “That’s what's important.” The photo styling came courtesy of Curl's friend Stephanie Sheldon-Nevarez, who owns local boutique Noun.)
Jami Curl: I LOVE THIS PHOTO. I love the blackberry gummy candy pouring from the funnel opening, I love the way the mold looks. I love that it perfectly captures just how hands-on candy making is, yet it also shows the beautiful simplicity [of the process]. And the light shining through the candy as it's coming from the funnel?
M A G I C.
Jami Curl: Can you even believe this photo? So many times during our shoot I would just squeal with delight when looking at the monitor to see what the camera was seeing. I just want to eat my way through this stack of fluffy perfection. There are chocolate, strawberry, and coffee marshmallows here—all created with ingredients that the reader learns to make at the beginning of the book. The chocolate marshmallow is made with [my] Chocolate Magic Dust. The strawberry marshmallow is made with Roasted Strawberry purée. The coffee marshmallows are made with Coffee Syrup.
Jami Curl: The closely cropped images of candy reveal so many natural occurrences in handmade candy: the bubbles, the piece of skin overlapping the stick. This is a blueberry lollipop—using the Roasted Blueberries that are covered at the beginning of the book. This picture is a great example of why I feel so fortunate to have the job I have. I GET TO MAKE THINGS THAT LOOK LIKE THIS AND TASTE EVEN BETTER!
Candy Is Magic: Real Ingredients, Modern Recipes debuts April 18, 2017. Available for pre-order on Amazon now. Buy Quin candies at the company's Union Way storefront (1022 W Burnside St), at many many local spots around town, and at Quin's online shop.