With pounds of sugar, water and glucose, plus a little coloring, salt and flavoring oil, Don Duncan uses his father’s proven recipe to make one of the most sought-after candies at the Flandreau Bakery.
His anise candy starts appearing on the shelf in November and sells throughout the winter season. He sells hundreds of pounds of it and other candy, including peanut brittle that he hand-stretches and coconut brittle.
“People will start asking for this just when it starts getting cold out,” he said of the biggest seller, the anise candy.
The Flandreau Bakery is known in the region for its fresh made doughnuts, long johns, pastries, breads and cookies all year long. But during the holidays, it’s a place to get made-from-scratch candies, including anise, peanut brittle and coconut brittle.
Starting with more than 10 pounds of sugar and three pounds of water, Duncan combines the ingredients for his candy, except the anise oil, in a copper pot that is at least 80 years old. He lets the hot red liquid boil over a gas flame, taking about 30 minutes for it to reach the ideal temperature of 290 degrees, the point at which it will harden perfectly when cooled.
“As it climbs up in temperature, you want it cooking that water out of there,” he said.
At the exact temperature, Duncan pours in a measured amount of anise oil which causes steam to rise in the pot and escape out the vent in the back of the bakery. If he didn’t vent the candy, the scent would be too strong in the bakery, he said. When Duncan is making a batch, customers can smell it all the way out on the street.
He pours the hot liquid into a hand-made metal frame on a marble countertop covered with parchment paper. The frame prevents the candy from running off of the counter, and the marble top absorbs heat, helping the candy to cool.
Duncan waits while the candy sets up so that it is firm enough to score it into pieces without it oozing back together. Once it has cooled enough, he removes the metal frame and works quickly using a roller to mark lines horizontally and vertically in the bright red slab.
After the less than one-inch pieces are scored, he waits a few more minutes until the slab is hard enough to break into sections and then individual pieces. He taps the candy with a utensil over a tray where it cracks into bite-sized nuggets.
Each batch makes just over 16 pounds of candy. The tray of anise pieces goes to the front of the bakery where employees bag it in half-pound packages and sell it for $1.99 each.
During the season, Duncan will eat a few pieces of the anise candy, too. It’s a flavor he likes, and it sticks with him in the candy-making process.
“When I leave here today, I’ll smell like a big piece of anise candy,” he said. “It’s a smell that permeates everything. You either love it or hate it.”
Over the years, he has made countless batches of candy. At times, a customer will buy the entire batch.
“I wouldn’t even be able to guess how many pounds. Sometimes during the week, I could make this every day,” he said.
Candy making fills in some of the free hours at the family-owned bakery that is a legacy business in Flandreau and among a shrinking number of small-town bakeries that bake from scratch.
Don Duncan and his brother, Ed Duncan, start early each morning putting together pounds of flour and other ingredients before Don tends to mixing dough and Ed fries the doughnuts and rolls for each day’s sales. Don also makes the candies and decorates cakes.
Candy making, which he does after the baking is done, started with their father, Mel Duncan, who made anise candy and peanut brittle more than 50 years ago with the same recipes. He opened his bakery business in 1930 for its first full year, although he had started baking in 1924.
“We were one of the first businesses in South Dakota to start paying sales tax,” Don Duncan said.
The older Duncan encouraged his sons to work at the bakery as soon as they were interested. “We grew up here,” said Don Duncan, 69. His brother, Ed, is two years younger.
After high school, Don went to Dunwoody Industrial Institute in Minneapolis where his father had studied to be a baker. Ed went to college and handles the financial side of the business.
When it comes to the bakery’s recipes, they are tried and true and are mixed and baked all on site. “We use the same formula that Dad used. We haven’t changed much,” Don Duncan said.
Customers have their favorites, with frosted long johns and chocolate doughnuts being big sellers. The bakery also fills wholesale orders for other businesses who use their products, too.
The Duncan brothers would like to see their business continue with the same made-on-site products and the same quality. They know that would mean they need to sell it to an experienced commercial baker dedicated to their quality standards. So far, they haven’t found that buyer.
“We would like to do something else in our lives other than be in the bakery,” Don Duncan said. But, they are looking out for the preservation of their business, too. “We want it to be unique. We want it to be a good product at a reasonable price.”