Tevy Phann-Smith was never much of a baker.
So when she and her husband, Ben Smith, were asked to make something sweet for their niece’s first birthday party, the couple went online and ordered a cotton candy machine for about $300.
By putting a spoonful of sugar into a heated centrifuge, they had a puffy sweet treat in just seconds. And by making it themselves, they could create it without those pink and blue dyes, and infuse the sugar with a variety of off-the-wall flavors.
Their confection was such a hit that they took it with them to markets around town and to a local-vendor market at the Mall of America. Now, Spinning Wylde is based at the new Keg & Case Market in St. Paul (928 W. 7th St., kegandcase.com).
In their new digs inside the historic Schmidt brewery, Tevy and Ben spin dozens of flavors of cotton candy, some of them never before seen in the old carnival treat. Think: wasabi, strawberry-serrano, jasmine, morel mushroom, and maple wrapped around a slice of pastrami bacon. That’s right — it’s cotton candy. Stuffed. With bacon.
“We have people here in tears,” Tevy said. “It’s their childhood. It’s a nostalgic trigger.”
And yet, Spinning Wylde’s offerings are nothing like the age-old spun sugar treat. Instead, they bring the fluffy cloud of candy to new heights by incorporating ingredients from its market-mates.
One special pairs their blood orange flavor with a hunk of sharp Cheddar from cheesemonger Gazta and Enhancements. Another tops a glass of Hobby Farmer Canning Company’s switchel with a sparkle-dusted puff of spicy chili bitters cotton candy. The bacon-wrapped cotton candy made with maple sugar utilizes the meat behind the counter at K’nack, just across from Spinning Wylde’s stand. They call that one the “piggy puff pop.”
Because Spinning Wylde doesn’t use dyes, every flavor comes out looking like a white cloud. So Tevy and Ben top it with Pop Rocks, sprinkles, graham cracker crumbs, even seaweed. Then they jazz it up with a cocktail umbrella or a little paper bow tie.
“I really like being creative with cotton candy,” Tevy said. “We’re hoping it’s not just a trend food, being such an old food.”
The cotton candy machine was invented in the late 19th century, but the confection was spun by hand long before that, all over the world. Also known as dragon’s beard and fairy floss, cotton candy elicits strong responses about its flavor, texture and how to consume it.
“The smashers — that’s a group of people who like to ball it up. Then there are the wispers” who pull on thin strands. Tevy likes to eat it with chopsticks.
Shoppers Jenna Rush of Maple Grove and Catie Lindquist of St. Louis Park sampled a few flavors one recent afternoon. While the strawberry and the milk and cereal (topped with Fruity Pebbles) were hits, they were more divided on the wasabi. The crumbled seaweed sprinkles lent it a certain sushi-ness. Lindquist was a fan.
But Rush was less impressed. “It tastes like the sea,” she said.