I thought it was just a coincidence that two longtime Santa Fe foodies would announce their retirement at the same time, but in fact local confectioner Chuck Higgins told me he was inspired to get in touch by the story I wrote about Mu Jing Lau closing Santa Fe’s legendary Mu Du Noodles.
Higgins is ready to sell his business, which includes the original CG Higgins shop at 847 Ninita St. (off St. Francis) where he sells chocolate truffles, nut brittles, toffee, fudge, caramels and candy corns. He also has a downtown location at 130 Lincoln Ave. where he sells confections as well as some baked goods, quiche and coffee.
I first met Higgins more than 15 years ago. Back then I was writing for a different paper, Higgins was living in Los Lunas and the bulk of his business was selling candy and caramel apples at the New Mexico State Fair and other fairs around the country. A staffer at our paper worked at his stall during the fair, where everyone wore bright red aprons embroidered with “I [Heart] Chuck’s Nuts.” I thought that was pretty amusing. I still do!
Several years after that, it was love that brought Higgins north. He met a CPA named Donald Stout online and followed him to Santa Fe, where Higgins opened his first stand-alone shop in 2003.
But as every business owner in this town knows, running your own show can be an exhausting gig. Higgins had a small stroke about a year ago and he realized that the work was taking its toll.
That motivated him to try and pass the business on to someone else. “Hopefully I’d like to bring on somebody who has a passion for chocolate and would really enjoy doing what I do,” he says.
What will Higgins do if someone else takes over the candy shops? “I’d like to go to more movies and take advantage of the lectures that the city offers.” He may also have another, lower-key venture up his sleeve, but he’s mum on that for now.
No matter what happens, he’s not leaving Santa Fe.
“When I was living in New Orleans and trying to do candy, I felt like I was blocked at every turn. But when I came to New Mexico I felt like there was opportunity at every corner,” he says. “I was overwhelmed by the reception, the support and the enthusiasm. I really felt like I got a great big New Mexico hug. I was like, ‘I love this place!’”
So he’s staying. And there’s a good chance his sweets will stay, too. In the meantime, here are two recipes you can try at home.
CG Higgins Stovetop Brittle
If you want to give this brittle a New Mexico flavor, add 1 tablespoon ground red New Mexico chile and/or ½ tablespoon dried green chile at the same time the recipe calls for baking soda.
Be very careful when cooking sugar. This candy gets very hot and sugar burns are very painful. Please follow the steps carefully and use a candy thermometer!
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 cup light corn syrup
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup water
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 tablespoon vanilla
- 1 ½ cups nuts (peanuts or pecans)
- 1 tablespoon baking soda
Prepare a large cookie sheet with a lip by lightly sugaring the entire surface of the tray.
In a 2-quart saucepan combine the sugar, corn syrup, salt and water. Cook over medium-high heat until it reaches 292 F in Santa Fe (306 F at sea level).
With the heat still on, stir in the butter, vanilla and nuts until thoroughly incorporated.
Remove the pan from the burner and quickly stir in the baking soda.
Immediately pour the mixture onto sugared cookie sheet.
Let the mixture cool until you’re able to pick up the candy from the edge so it can be hand stretched to a uniform thickness.
When the brittle is completely cool, break it into pieces.
The brittle is great broken over ice cream or even crushed into small pieces and mixed with flour as a breading for chicken.
Makes approximately 50 cookies.
- 6 cups (2 pounds) flour
- 4 teaspoons anise seeds (coarsely ground)
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups (1 pound) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 eggs
- ½ cup orange juice
- 4 teaspoons cinnamon (for sprinkling)
- ½ cup sugar (for sprinkling)
Preheat oven to 350 F
In a large bowl, combine the flour, ground anise seed, baking powder and salt; set aside.
In another bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy. Continue beating while gradually adding the 1 cup sugar. Add the eggs one at a time. Add the flour mixture, alternating with the orange juice.
Once it’s thoroughly combined, roll the dough to ¼-inch thick.
Use a round cookie cutter or Champagne flute to cut the cookies into circles about 2 inches in diameter.
Place the circles on a cookie sheet, leaving a little space between them.
Mix together the 4 teaspoons cinnamon and ½ cup sugar and sprinkle it over each cookie.
Bake for 13 minutes.
Remove from oven and cool.
Store the cooled cookies in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.