Some Stir-Crazy Monks Find Their Fudge Is Turning a Heavenly Profit

updated 08/15/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/15/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

In the beginning there were the carrot cakes. But sales were discouraging, and even monks have bills to pay. So while other monastic orders peddled fruitcakes, liqueurs or wines, the small (12 brothers) Brigittine Order of Wood-side, Calif, de-emphasized carrot cakes a year ago to cast their lot with fudge.

That sweet inspiration has paid off—there is no other word for it—divinely. The monks, ranging in age from 20 to 53, produce 3,000 pounds of Brigittine Monk's Fudge a month, which sells for up to $7 a pound by mail order and in major department stores, primarily in the West. "It's an exquisite product," says Norbert Stanislav, general manager of Neiman-Marcus in San Francisco. "I took a pound home and ate the whole thing myself." Adds Julie Hedberg, an assistant buyer for I. Magnin: "It sells the minute it comes in. Since it's made by monks, it also has romance to it."

Though they have now perfected five varieties—chocolate, chocolate with nuts, peanut butter, butterscotch and divinity (a mix of white chocolate, marshmallow and walnuts)—their labor was not love at first bite. It took the Brigittines, whose ancient order was founded in 1370 by Saint Bridget, patron saint of Sweden, three years to perfect a basic recipe. The secret ingredient, insists Brother Benedict, the group's jovial prior, is mazzeta, a homespun (63 minutes per batch) marshmallow cream used as a base in the fudge. They also use "the best" ingredients: fresh butter, pure vanilla and Guittard's chocolate, a gourmet Bay Area brand. Like most good cooks, the monks take pride in their product. "Everything has to be beaten at certain temperatures and hand-poured," explains Brother Benedict.

The monks' all-work, almost-no-play life-style seems conducive to the time-consuming process of making candy. Their days begin at 4:30 a.m. Though they devote six-and-a-half hours daily to prayer and spiritual reading, the monks, who wear gray, hooded habits and adhere to the monastic traditions of poverty, chastity and obedience (not to mention no chatting in the kitchen), still find six hours a day to produce the fudge. Their "factory" is the commercial-size kitchen of Camelot, an opulent, $3.5 million Tudor-style mansion made available to the Brigittines by Stauffer Chemical heiress Mitzi Sigall Briggs. Despite the elegant trappings (there are 24 rooms and 12 acres of formal gardens), the monks' lives are predictably tame. "There is no TV, no smoking, and we don't go to movies or ball games," says Brother Benedict. "It doesn't sound like fun city to most people."

Right now the monks are making "just enough" money to keep going, reports Brother Benedict. They use their earnings to buy new candy-making equipment, help keep up Camelot (one recent four-month heating bill totaled $3,516) and cover basic living expenses like groceries and medical insurance. In addition, no matter how tight their finances are, they feel obligated to contribute to various charities. "Money is a constant concern," says Brother Benedict.

The monks hope eventually to crank out 25,000 pounds of fudge per month. They'd like to acquire their own monastery—but Brother Benedict insists the order is no threat to Fanny Farmer. "We are not a candy manufacturer," he says flatly. "We are a monastery that happens to make candy." How sweet it is.

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