Foodie Friday: The Master Fudge Maker

Mmm, we can never say no to fudge.

Even though she doesn’t quite have a sweet tooth, Karla Bayon eats fudge every day. For her job, she has to.

Bayon is the master fudge maker at Calico Cottage, Inc., a family-owned business that’s been churning out rich, creamy chocolate for almost 50 years. From red velvet to chipotle corn, she’s constantly toying with new flavors, decorating fudge, and coming up with novelty ideas, like fudge pizza.

As summer winds down, it’s out with the watermelon sherbet and in with the apple pie. Below, Bayon dishes on her favorite mix-in, weight gain associated with the job, and the weirdest flavor she’s ever seen.

Age: 53
Graduated from: Suffolk Community College, Associate’s degree with emphasis on psychology
In the fudge industry for: Almost 5 years
Previous jobs: Stay-at-home mom; manager and baker at Reinwald’s Bakery in Huntington, NY

In one sentence, what do you do all day? In a nutshell, I develop new recipes and play with food.

What made you decide to pursue a career in baking? I didn’t intend to be in the food industry, but it’s funny where life takes you. After my husband had a tragic accident, I took a temporary job at Reinwald’s, a local bakery, and ended up staying there for 18 years. Then I took a job at Calico Cottage that evolved into the master fudge maker position.

Red velvet fudge is one of the most successful flavors.

Did you have an “aha” moment? My son was graduating college, and he was so excited about starting his life. To see his excitement to start a whole new journey – I felt like I was missing something. I was middle-aged and felt like it was time for me to get back some of that excitement.

Where do you draw inspiration for new fudge flavors? It could be in the spice aisle or vegetable aisle of the grocery store. Lately, I’ve been trying to get into Tex-Mex fudge flavors.

How does Calico Cottage decide which flavors to produce? Recently, a few employees got together to brainstorm, and we came up with over 600 ideas. We take a few flavors at a time and work with those – sometimes they work beautifully, sometimes we put them on hold, and sometimes they tank.

Flavor that worked beautifully: Red velvet.
Flavor that tanked: Oriental, with noodles and wasabi.

How do you judge what qualifies as “good” fudge? It has to be visually appealing. One flavor I thought would be a success was French toast, but it wasn’t working visually, so we put it on hold. Fudge also has to be creamy and delicious – you want to bite into it and taste exactly what it’s supposed to be.

Fudge-covered marshmallow pops for the December holidays.

Do you offer special seasonal flavors? Around the fall, we have apple pie and pumpkin pie flavors, and at Christmas, we have eggnog and cranberry nut. For the summer, we’ll have watermelon and sherbet fudge.

Most popular flavor: Chocolate walnut. You can’t go wrong with chocolate and nuts.

Your favorite flavor: Cappuccino. I love coffee.

Strangest flavor: Sauerkraut fudge. I also once saw garlic fudge at a garlic festival out west.

Something people don’t know about your job: There are no boundaries; what you think can’t work sometimes surprisingly does.

Little-known fudge fact: Fudge tends to get soggy if you put in crispy things, like pretzels. [Click here for more little-known fudge facts.]

What flavors are you working on now? I’ve been combining savory and sweet, so I’m working on a mango coconut with peppercorn, and also a chipotle corn with a nice crunch factor. But my job isn’t just developing flavors – it’s also decorating and coming up with novelty ideas.

These fudge wreaths are the holiday version of the "fudge flats" that Bayon developed.

Like what? I just came up with a “fudge flat,” which is kind of like fudge pizza. The crust is made of yogurt-covered pretzels, and it has a layer of fudge on top with nuts or raisins.

Do you have a sweet tooth? I’m developing one more and more every day. That’s why I like to work with savory flavors, too.

Do you eat fudge every day? Yes, but it’s very rich. If I keep it up, they’re going to have to put a “wide load” sign on me.

Have you gained weight since taking the job at Calico Cottage? At least 10 pounds. Typically, I try to eat light – like yogurt and fruit for breakfast and salad for lunch. That way, I won’t feel so bad when I take a bite of fudge.

Milk or dark chocolate? Milk. But our Mexican dark chocolate, which is dark chocolate with cinnamon, is very good, too.

Candy or plain? Nuts, like almonds or hazelnuts. I love crunch and texture in fudge.

Favorite dessert? Ice cream with hot fudge sauce. I also find a lot of inspiration in ice creams that are pushing the envelope.

Dream job in college: Radio broadcasting. But not long after graduating, I got married and had a kid. Life happens.

Fudge-covered apples for Halloween.

The fudge master serves up some advice for recent grads: Go with your passion and do what you love. I ask my son all the time: are you happy with what you do? That affects every aspect of your life: personal and professional.

Check out more than fudge 150 recipes and learn to decorate fudge yourself! All photos courtesy of Calico Cottage/Lynn Misiak.

PLUS: Got a sweet tooth? Check out other dessert-themed Foodie Fridays, like the Cold Stone Creamery taste master and fortune cookie writer.

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