Originally, candy was simple. Bars of chocolate. Hard lozenges. Chewy caramels. Soft taffy. Until 1912.
That’s the year that modern candy was born, inside a copper kettle in Nashville, Tennessee. The “world’s first combination candy bar”, eventually named the Goo Goo Cluster, was created by the Standard Candy Company. For the first time, a sweet confection contained more than one main ingredient.
A Nashville institution, Goo Goo Clusters are a premium product that can only be purchased in Tennessee, online, and in a few select shops in the U.S. A Goo Goo Cluster is a round mound of crunchy peanuts and soft nougat made of marshmallow, bound together by caramel and enrobed in milk chocolate. The Supreme variation contains pecans, and the Peanut Butter Goo Goo subs the nutty butter for the caramel and marshmallow.
For the past two summers, Nashville’s top chefs have riffed on the iconic Southern treat and concocted over-the-top limited edition Premium Goo Goos. These chef-created Goo Goos have specially-selected ingredients that summon both old memories and the spirit of their popular Nashville restaurants.
Goo Goo fans and foodies celebrate the exclusive candy series at Nashville’s annual Music City Food + Wine Festival. To tempt your palate for next year, here are 2016’s top creations:
1. The Margoo, by Margot McCormack of Margot Café
The 2016 Premium Goo Goo series was launched with a sophisticated twist on a classic Goo Goo Cluster. Known as the “Alice Waters of Nashville”, Chef Margot McCormack created a Goo Goo that cuts the sweetness of the original. Her Goo Goo’s caramel is salted and she uses dark chocolate instead of milk. She replaces the peanuts with candied hazelnuts and the marshmallow with a caramel ganache made with hazelnut butter. The Margoo is completed with chunks of buttery cookie from another Southern institution, now also located in Tennessee: Willa’s Classic Shortbread.
2. Gmom’s Summer Sammie by James Peisker and Chris Carter of Porter Road Butcher
Chefs, caterers and butchers James Peisker and Chris Carter must have fond memories of childhood fishing trips and the sandwiches packed by their grandmothers, for this is what inspired their milk chocolate Goo Goo. Inside their Gmom’s Summer Sammie is traditional peanut butter, strawberry jelly with strawberries, and even banana chips. More texture is added with raisins and toasted walnuts. While their meats are known as some of the best in Nashville, they didn’t include beef or pork in their Premium Goo Goo (though their house-smoked bacon might have been delicious).
3. The Cluckster by John Lasater of Hattie B’s Hot Chicken
Nashville’s Hattie B’s has some of the hottest chicken — called “Shut the Cluck Up!!!” — that this writer’s tastebuds have ever encountered. Luckily, the spiciness of the Cluckster Goo Goo is more moderate. Chef John Lasater’s ganache is infused with chili, and counterbalanced with sweetness from maple syrup caramel and a nougat made from brown sugar and maple syrup. He evokes the South’s chicken and waffles in the Cluckster with the addition of bits of waffle cone by Jeni Britton Bauer of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams. Dark chocolate envelopes the treat.
4. Tandy’s Candy by Tandy Wilson of City House
Tandy’s Candy, by Chef Tandy Wilson, is a milk chocolate Goo Goo. Inside his Goo Goo is creamy caramel and sorghum nougat, raisins, and crunchy fried peanuts. It also includes crisp oatmeal cookies from the popular Cookie Plate at Chef Tandy’s City House restaurant. As fans of The Walking Dead well know, sorghum is a grain easily grown in the southeastern U.S. Tennessee and Kentucky are the top producers of sorghum syrup which is similar to honey, but rich in potassium, calcium and iron. Chef Wilson often features sorghum syrups, nougats and toffees on City House’s southern and Italian-inspired menu.
5. Whole Hog by Pat Martin of Martin’s BAR-B-QUE Joint
At Martin’s BAR-B-QUE Joint, at least one whole hog is slowly smoked every day in the restaurant’s pit. So, of course Chef Pat Martin needed a porcine element to his Premium Goo Goo. His smoked pecans are candied with pig-fat instead of butter, giving a rich depth of flavor. He adds more of the South with a sorghum fig jam and a nougat made from molasses. After coating his concoction in milk chocolate, he sprinkles over a little sea salt. Like everything at Martin’s BAR-B-QUE Joint, his Whole Hog Goo Goo is 100% made from scratch.