This is Highly Recommend, a column dedicated to what we’re eating, drinking, and buying. Here, Hilary Cadigan writes about the best flameless candles she’s ever encountered.
I consider myself a candle expert. Ask me about wick trimming (¼ to ⅛ of an inch, every time you burn). Or tunneling (the first time you light a candle, let it burn until the entire top layer liquifies, to prevent that hole-in-the-center situation). Or why—knock me over with a feather—fake candles no longer give me the ick, thanks to my latest purchase.
Whether we’re talking about taper candles, votive candles, or tea light candles, my passion for candles runs deep. I love the instant vibe they create, the way they transform the ambiance of my boring living room or unkempt back patio into a sexy flickering grotto, ready to seduce both my guests and my own fragile psyche into thinking said space is much nicer than it actually is. I light candles at dinner, during my Zoom dance meditations, and any time people are coming over and I need to pretend I change my cats’ litter box as often as one is supposed to.
But traditional candles have their problems. They’re expensive. They constantly need replacing. They drip wax everywhere. They release tiny particles into the air that, en masse, aren’t exactly great for your cardiovascular and respiratory health. They put you at risk of burning down your own house. And, when a cat drags his tail through an open flame, it’s a situation.
All these issues never really deterred me from my candle habit, but they did lead me to considering alternatives to the real thing. My initial thoughts: flameless candles suck. Like those horrible little LED tea lights that resemble white plastic hockey pucks and have a sad, frozen facsimile of non-flickering flame. If this was how a fake candle looks, forget it, I’d take my chances with fire hazards or a singed cat tail.
Then, during a cabin weekend upstate a while back, my friend Paco whipped out a box. “I have a surprise,” he said. “And it’s a very good one.”
Out of the box he pulled three white cylinders of varying heights. Unbeknownst to me, they were flameless pillar candles. He placed them around the room and pulled out a tiny remote control. Then, with a flourish, he pointed it like a magic wand at each of the candles in turn. And one by one—behold!—each cylinder became adorned with a flickering light and gave off a warm glow that looked…well, exactly like a real candle. Had I not seen with my own eyes the wizardly way in which they burst into light at the press of a button, I would have been sure they were real.
The secret behind these realistic-looking LED candles is their little moving wicks: a piece of plastic lit from below and loosely balanced on a thin wire so it waves around at random like a real flame. Crucially, they’re also made of real wax as opposed to plastic. All of this might sound janky, I know, and the photo that accompanies this article isn’t exactly strengthening my case, but put these wax candles in a dark room and prepare to be amazed. They’re battery-operated (opt for rechargeable to keep it sustainable) and will give you 500+ hours of light on a single pair of AA batteries. You can even adjust the flicker and brightness level by remote.