BraveTart

Food and Wine Best Pastry Chef winner Stella Parks recreates and re-imagines childhood favorites into sophisticated modern desserts.

BraveTart: Make Your Own Conversation Hearts

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[Photographs: Sarah Jane Sanders]

People who rag on Conversation Hearts as tasteless, chalky pills totally miss the point. You don't eat Conversations Hearts, you experience them. I can remember everything about them without having had a box in years.

It starts with the sound. The sugary clatter of countless hearts tumbling end over end, then a long, scraping woosh as they slide from the box, piling in my palm with jubilant clickety clicks. In a world painted with Skittles primary, neon Nerds, and psychedelic Sour Patch Kids, Conversation Hearts came as a pastel reprieve. Soothing watercolor candies.

They had a sweetly floral aroma, individual notes of fruit and mint melding into a unique fragrance unrivaled by the finest perfumer.

I remember their flavor inducing a dreamy synesthesiac state in my six year old self. The white ones sang of a teal-tinged wintergreen snowfall; yellow the rhythms of swaying banana trees; pink held the glory of all red candies dancing as one; green carried the scent of key lime blossoms on the wind; orange tasted like the memory of a clementine; purple spoke of some dark mystery.

And just when you thought they had no further joy to offer, the sweet, sweet poetry began:

SUP BABE

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So they don't exactly seek out Bill Shakespeares to pen the slogans. People complain you can't write anything meaningful in a tweet and that has about 133 more characters of literary freedom.

Even so, I feel the tone of the overall conversation among these hearts has gotten a little scattershot. The heartfelt mottos of yesteryear (SOUL MATE and BE TRUE) mingle with the inane (REACH 4IT and GAME ON) like drunk texts from an ex on Valentine's Day, lurching between sophomoric come-ons and bursts of lucid sincerity.

HEY CUTIE. CALL ME. PLAY NOW? SO FINE. U MOVE ME. TRUE LOVE. URS 4EVR. WINK WINK. SEE YA.

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And I thought FAX ME was crass.

As if that indignity didn't hurt enough, they've replaced their iconic box with the heart shaped plastic window with a more gaudily colored box with an illustration of a heart shaped window. Finally, the harsh reality of reformulated recipes stripped Conversations Hearts of all remaining charm. I sat down with Mr. BraveTart to sample our way through a box. Or, as he called the experience, "a roller-coaster of trauma."

The white ones had a harsh one-note menthol and yellow boasted all the banana flavor of car wash air freshener. Pink came out ahead, tasting stunningly like amoxicillin, that childhood elixir of yum. Green had a chemical sour and orange an even fainter citrus twang. Purple managed to taste like grape in a way not unlike a wad of Big League Chew scraped off a table at Showbiz Pizza.

And so I give you a recipe to right those wrongs. A formula for the flavors (and texture!) you remember so you can escape the charade on the market today. Rather than try to cram tiny messages onto the hearts with food pens, I say stick with letters instead and play a sweet, sweet game of scrabble this Valentine's Day.

Get the Recipe

Homemade Conversation Hearts »

About the Author: Stella Parks suffers from an unhealthy obsession with recreating the mass produced snacks of her childhood, but ironically is employed by a Frenchman to make the high brow desserts of his childhood. She blogs that dichotomy at bravetart.com and can be followed on Twitter at @thebravetart.

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