A ‘sweet’ heart of a treat at De Brito factory

Freshly made Valentine's caramel apples sit to dry at De Brito Chocolate Factory.

When it comes to chocolate or caramel apple sales, holidays are often a busy time at De Brito Chocolate Factory. Christmas is the height of the season for Alene De Brito and her crew, who make chocolate covered toffee and apricots, caramels and decadent caramel apples that have been featured on Food Network.

De Brito said at Christmas, they receive a lot of orders from businesses or corporations who want to send a thank you to their clients. They see a jump in sales at Easter and Halloween is a close runner-up. And while there is a bump around Valentine’s Day, De Brito sees the lower numbers as a good thing.

“For Valentine’s Day, we see increased sales for a shorter time,” she said. “And after all, people should only have one sweetheart.”

The story continues below this video from De Brito:

The store will soon be stocked with caramel apples decorated with conversation hearts, chocolate hearts, red hots and plenty of treats in pink or red. De Brito said the staff members decorate each caramel apple in a unique design so no two apples are exactly alike. Each year, they use different pieces to decorate for the holidays. Customers, of course, can still get other specialties that are available year-round.

Almost anything that can stick to caramel has been tried as a topping for the apples – from De Brito locally-made toffee to marshmallows to candy bar pieces and even bubblegum – has been tried.

When De Brito travels to home and garden shows, county fairs and other places to showcase her apples, one particular flavor remains a favorite. The apple pie a la mode, a caramel apple dipped in a white yogurt coating with cinnamon sprinkled on it, is the one that visitors scramble to sample.

“When I run out of samples of that one, my sales go down,” De Brito said, of her trips to trade shows.

She travels to shows about 35 weekends out of the year, and some shows require her to be away from Hollister for up to two weeks. The shows are a chance to showcase new flavors and get some feedback. A sea salt caramel apple that uses pink Himalayan salt has been a big hit, while a strawberries and cream concoction left some tasters disappointed because they were expecting a red velvet flavor. De Brito said red velvet is the next new flavor in the works, but she is still trying to find a way to create a cream cheese topping that will work on the apples.

She comes up with her flavor ideas in many ways. Sometimes she wakes up in the middle of the night with an idea or an employee will make a suggestion.

“I’ll be looking at a drink menu at a restaurant and I’ll think, ‘That would be good,’” she said.

Most recently she created a new kind of truffle that is causing quite a stir among those who’ve seen it. Called “poopie doodles,” the box features a half dozen chocolate truffles in the shape of dog poo. She said they have been a big hit with dog walkers, veterinarians and animal lovers in general. The box can be sent with a card that says “I heard you had a crappy day” or “You thought I didn’t give a crap, but I do.”

Not every flavor idea has been a success.

“To get to healthy people I made a granola one and that didn’t sell at all,” she said. “It had healthy trail mix.”

De Brito’s caramel recipe is something she keeps under close wraps. It is the same recipe her mother and grandmother taught her when she was growing up.

“We always had to make our own candy because we couldn’t afford it,” she said.

She said they would use a dinner fork to spear the apple to dip into the homemade caramel.

“I had three younger brothers so I would over cook it,” she said, of making the caramel hard to bite and chew, laughing at how her brothers would struggle with the caramel. “Now I’m nice so I don’t over cook it.”

She first got started making candy for those outside her family when her husband owned a tractor trailer business. She would give chocolate-covered apricots to his clients. It is an item she still sells in the store. The caramel apples became a big hit only after they were featured on a home shopping channel. Since then, they have become a staple for fundraisers throughout the state.

“I have one (fundraiser client) in San Mateo that has to rent a big u-haul trailer” to pick up the apples for the fundraiser, she said. “Now he’s doing two schools.”

On a recent morning, dozens of caramel apples waited on a drying table for the caramel to dry enough to be packaged for pick up, shipping or sales in the local store. Each flavor of caramel apple gets a color-coded ribbon.

“I love all of it,” De Brito said. “I wouldn’t want to do the same thing. I get to do different things.”

 

STRAIGHT FROM THE FACTORY

De Brito’s Chocolate Factory is located at 160 Briggs Road. The local store is open Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Online orders can be placed at www.debritochocolate.com.

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