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Family Memories, See’s Candies and Chocolate Penuche Cake

My mother in Orange County, California used to send her sister Aunt Jan in Seattle, Washington a huge See’s Candies solid chocolate Easter egg every year. Aunt Jan recalls that she bit off a piece at a time but that the candy didn’t last very long. When I was a girl, I don’t think I ever tasted one of those eggs, because Mom didn’t buy them for us–just for her chocoholic sister. I remember savoring chocolate assortments from See’s during the holidays, but I don’t remember going to the shop and buying them–I think they were gifts to our family.

If you know See’s Candies, it’s likely that you’ve lived in the western United States, or as they say these days, the left coast. You’ll find a See’s Candies shop with its familiar black and white storefront in malls and thriving city centers. There are even See’s kiosks in many western airports–for those last minute impulse gifts, I suppose. When I pass one of those kiosks I have a Pavlovian reaction–my mouth waters in memory. It’s a good thing they only sell packaged chocolate in the airport, because if there was an old-fashioned service counter, I’d have to stop to sample just the one.

Mom died at 90 years of age in the fall of 2003. Her memorial was a celebration of a loving and full life, a celebration of family. The evening before the church service, one of my brothers and his wife hosted a family party–with pizza from down the street, a huge tossed salad, and for dessert–four pounds of See’s Candies. I know I ate more than my share of chocolate (and so did my Aunt); maybe subconsciously it was to assuage the sadness of Mom’s passing, but consciously I enjoyed every bite. Two days later in another brother’s garage, we were sorting through family photos and mementos, and I spied a box of See’s in my older sister’s suitcase, which she was using as a depository for things she would take back to Minnesota. I easily cajoled her into opening the box and sharing her candy. We all sampled our way through that assortment, enjoying the time together as well as every sweet nibble.

My favorite See’s chocolate is a Dark Bordeaux, with chocolate sprinkles on the outside and a creamy brown sugar center. When the pastry chef in me decided to create a cake that tastes like a Bordeaux—I knew it would be a chocolate cake with a center like the candy. First step, I thought, buy some Bordeaux to decipher the filling and replicate it. So I ordered a pound–online. On See’s website Bordeaux sports a little ‘tm’–it’s a trademark name. I learned that I couldn’t call my new cake Bordeaux.

When the package from California arrived, I closed my eyes, bit into a chocolate and tasted another memory–penuche. I remember eating Mom’s homemade penuche from a spoon as a sugary after-school snack. I once deluded my sister away from my spoon, telling her (lying) it was peanut butter. She licked peanut butter and I kept the penuche to myself. Penuche (puh-NOO-chee) is a creamy, fudge-like brown sugar candy, with a texture and taste very similar to my favorite candy’s center. I hid my box of See’s Bordeaux in the office closet and savored them quietly and privately, over the span of a month, one at a time. And when the sugar buzz of the candy wore off, I made Chocolate Penuche Cake.

final touches on wedding cake. Chocolate Penuche Cake

Wedding cake, circa 2003

Filed under: Cakes, Sweets

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  • Shauna

    This cake sounds amazing–I love See’s bordeaux. The story about your mother was lovely 🙂 Reply · 10 February, 2011

  • Dennis Halloran

    Even before See’s There was Awful Fresh McFarlans on the corner of 5th and Main in Santa Ana, CA
    I would stop there on my way home from High School and buy 25 cents worth of chunk Milk Chocolate. It would last the 8 more blocks home and I would just gnaw on it till it was gone.
    They perfected, in the 50’s, the idea of having a fan blow out the front door, the smell of chocolate. Reply · 7 March, 2011

  • I have made this cake and it is wonderful! I would like to know if anyone out there could do basically the same thing except with the See’s dark chocolate raspberry creams! I think you could do the whole cake the same if someone knew how to reproduce the raspberry filling> Reply · 11 October, 2011

  • Wow.. What memories. As a child my dad and I used to go to See’s and giggle while eating the candy with the “mouse turds” on them. Yes, Bordeaux.

    My favorite too. And I cannot wait to try making this cake. Wouldn’t Bordeaux Cake Balls be fun? Thanks for such a trip down memory lane and another new adventure with the recipe! Reply · 8 January, 2014

  • Deede Welsh

    I found your recipe and have assembled all the ingredients. I loved your story of the Bordeaux , same for our family. Even had a Apricot Poodle named Bordeaux. Anyway, its my sisters 70th and that is what we wanted to make her, so here goes. Reply · 12 June, 2015

    • Letty

      Go for it Deede. This cake is super super delish. Let me know how it comes out. Take a photo and post on Facebook or Instagram if you do those. Hashtag #lettycooksveggies Reply · 12 June, 2015

      • Deede Welsh

        The cake turned out prefect! Big hit at the party. Had extra honey chocolate glaze left over, but will not go to waist! I did post on Facebook but need to put # information, thanks, thumbs up! Reply · 14 June, 2015

        • Letty

          so happy to know you are a baking success! Happy Birthday to your sister… Reply · 15 June, 2015

  • Tiffany O’Hara

    Sounds delicious! Bordeaux See’s candy has always reminded me of my Grandma Wanda’s Penuche candy balls. We can’t find the recipe anymore and my aunts and mom aren’t sure of all ingredients or exactly how to make. Do you have a Penuche recipe by chance that’s not the fudge? Reply · 24 December, 2020

    • Thank you Tiffany. This is the only penuche recipe I know. I wonder how your Grandma made her candy balls. Maybe with a recipe like this and she just rolled them into little balls? Let me know if you figure it out! Reply · 24 December, 2020

      • Tiffany

        Thanks for the reply :). That’s what we plan to try and see how it turns out! Reply · 25 December, 2020

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