Fawn Candy’s ball cream beater making the Opera Cream filling.
In Cincinnati, Easter is the prime time for our beloved Opera Cream. They come in the form of eggs, elongated bon bons, and even crosses. But aside from the common geometrical shapes, most cream-center chocolates don’t use molds or irregular shapes. That’s why you’ve never seen an opera cream bunny or unicorn.
Robert Hiner Putman, a candy maker from Tolesboro, Kentucky, near Maysville, who transplanted himself to Ft. Thomas, and his business to Cincinnati, is credited for inventing our opera cream some time in the 1910s. He and his wife operated two candy stores in downtown, and one at the Fair, a major Gilded Age department store in downtown Cincinnati. Putman’s innovation was adding rich, sweet cream into the standard fondant ‘creamed’ fillings used in French-style chocolate bon bons. Creamed fondants were basically emulsified fondants of cooled, molten sugar, none with actual cream in them, only sugar, water, and flavoring.
Convenient for Cincinnati candy makers, a Dayton, Ohio , company invented what is called the Ball Cream Beater, the machine that all makers of Opera Creams use to make the delicious filling inside the chocolate coating. It was designed to make any creamed fondant type of filling for chocolate bon bons from maple cream to mint creams to pineapple creams. The “Dayton Beater” as it’s called, was patented in 1905. All the advertisements for it in the Confectioner’s Association trade journals proclaim “Every Candy maker must own one.” And for sure, anyone that makes opera creams needs one.
The ball cream beater is a water-jacketed, horizontal, round mixer that is designed to cream a cooling molten mass of sugar and other ingredients into a candy center for use in chocolates. Oddly enough, it’s the same type of machine used to emulsify pork to make our Cincinnati Brats.
It’s a huge and heavy piece of equipment that once it’s installed, is rarely removed. The now defunct Sam’s Candy in Covington still has their original 1910s Ball Cream beater in the basement of what was once the soda fountain and candy store at street level. Fawn candy has theirs in the basement of their original Westwood candy factory.
Sam’s Ball Cream Beater in Covington, Kentucky (left) and Fawn’s in Westwood (right).
It is so important a piece of candy making history that our Smithsonian National Museum of American history has a Dayton Ball Cream Beater catalogue in their collection.
Instructions for how to use a ball cream beater are given in the Up to date Candy Teacher in 1921 by Charles Apell. Although there’s no recipe for opera cream ‘fondant’ – it’s the same basic procedure, with the ingredients of our opera cream being a bit different. After melting the sugar and cream together, and the mixer poured with cold water, the candy is poured onto the table of the Ball Cream Beater. When it stops bubbling, cold water is poured on top to prevent a sugar crust forming on top that would give the resulting fondant a grainy texture. Then the water cooling jacket is turned on until an impression can be made in the surface of the candy. Then the water is turned off, and the mixer turned on to ‘cream’ it into fondant. Once creamed, it is cut into it’s desired shape, and placed in tubs to be either dipped in chocolate or put on a chocolate enrober.
Now nearly every candy company in Greater Cincinnati makes its own Opera Creams. You can find them from Papas, Schneider’s in Bellevue, Sweet Tooth in Newport, Esther Price, Aglamesis, Graeters, Fawn, and others. And Easter is the time to taste all the lovely varieties!