Sunday, March 20, 2011
Papabubble is an artisan candy shop that first opened in Barcelona, Spain in 2004. There are now shops in eleven cities around the world including Tokyo, New York, Hong Kong and Moscow. I visited the one in Amsterdam while I was in Europe earlier this year.
One of the conceits of the shops is that all candy sold there is made there. And all the candy they make is just plain old hard candy ... I say plain because the recipe and basic steps are quite simple. But the technique and craft is extraordinary. The centerpiece of the store is the candy kitchen, where the boiled sugar and glucose mixture is poured out onto heated tables to be flavored, colored and crafted.
The Amsterdam shop is tucked away on a narrow street (aren’t they all?) called Haarlemmerdijk a little to the northwest of Amsterdam’s Centraal Station. I took a tram over there then walked back to the station on my last morning in town.
This video features they New York store, but is still a great representation of how the candy is made at all the shops.
The shop, like many in Amsterdam, was narrow. (At one time property in the city was taxed on its width.) It’s quite deep and I was surprised to see at the back of the store area was a series of steep stairs, about five of them, that led down to the kitchen area. Like the video shown above, the work area for the candy makers is a long table with a clear glass backsplash so that customers can watch them do their work. There’s also the added advantage of looking down into the area from above as well.
The store is well stocked with previously made merchandise. All the items are hard candies, some are single flavors in a package, some are cut rock and others are pillow shaped confections.
When I visited at the end of January, the pair of candy makers was just finishing up their latest batch of heart shaped lollipops. Not much to photograph there, just bagging the glossy candies. They did look great though.
What I really wanted though was to taste the diversity of the candy flavors that they used, and hopefully find an assortment that showcased what was unique about the Amsterdam Papabubble, as each shop does things customized to their own culture. I found a mix called Pillow Fight.
The bags are a tough matte silver back with a clear pocket on the front. They held 160 grams and cost 4.95 Euros - about $7.00 at the time. I thought that was a lot for about 5.6 ounces. But then again, it was made by real people, right there, and probably recently.
Pillow Fight is a mix of classic herbal and spice flavors, all in the pillow shape, which is made by taking a long rope of the hard candy and crimping it to make the mouth-friendly shapes. The other style of candy they make is what most folks know as Cut Rock. This is the same basic rope but usually has a design on the inner core that’s revealed when the rope is cross sectioned (one variety in my mix was this cut rock, as you’ll see below).
The package didn’t look like it was going to do a great job of protecting its valuable contents. The little pillows already looked like they had a light sanding of pulverized brethren on them already. But my concerns were unfounded. The way they mix up the candy, the ends get a little worn and there is a bit of sugary dust at the bottom of the bag. But everything was quite dry (which keeps it from becoming sticky and losing its shine). All I needed to do when I got them home was pour them out on a paper towel and lightly roll around to shine them up.
The other style of packaging they have are little plastic jars. They’re great to look at and of course hold more candy and are probably easier to serve yourself from.
Lavendel (Lavender) - purple stripes - these were by far the prettiest little pillows. The lavender flavor is a lot like rosemary, a strong oily and mentholated flavor.
Anijs (Anise) - black & white stripes - this was a mild and flavorful anise drop. Sweet and with a great crunch ... I like to crunch my candies. The pillows seem to have a lightly aerated center. Basically, the warm candy mixture is pulled on a hook like taffy to add a little air into it which gives it a little bit lighter texture and smooth melt.
Bergamot - light orange with orange stripes - this was similar to the lavender, it’s aromatic and sweet but has a balsam note to it. I didn’t feel like it was quite bergamot, but it still had a citrus zest quality to it.
Beterschap! (Cough Drop) - This was the only cut rock in the bunch - round cream color with red cross in center - the word beterschap means “get well”. It tastes rather like a cough drop - part cola, part cinnamon and part menthol. It was one of the most strongly flavored candies in the bunch.
Cola - yellow & orange stripes - is rather bold. It’s tangy and has a strong lime and nutmeg note to it. I liked it, but that’s likely because I appreciate cola candy because it’s not that common in the States.
Mojito (Lime & Mint) - light green and yellow stripes on a clear background - this one was tangy and minty. Kind of like a cough drop. Mojitos aren’t a favorite drink of mine, but are more successful for me because fresh spearmint tastes so different from spearmint candy. This version had a lot of lime oils in it, which made it much more medicinal for me.
Scherpe Kaneel (Sharp Cinnamon) - magenta and green - the color didn’t say cinnamon, but it was most definitely sizzling cinnamon.
Lemongrass Gember (Lemongrass Ginger) - yellow & green - this was very bold, the ginger notes were strong and a little more on the side of extract than the earthy, fibery root is fresh. The lemongrass did feel authentic though, not too sweet and no hint of tartness.
Eucalyptus (aqua with white stripes) - wasn’t as strong as I’d hoped, but still smooth and soothing with a light freshness. It was so mild, for a while I wasn’t sure what it even was until I looked at the little flavor guide.
I would love to spend more time at the shop and to have seen them making candy from start to finish, unfortunately my schedule didn’t allow it. (They open at 11 AM and my train was departing at 12:20 PM and I just didn’t hit it right when I arrived a little after eleven and they said they wouldn’t be ready for more crafting for another 30 minutes.) Of course my dream would be to learn how to make candy like this from start to finish. It looks like a lot of work and care goes into it, along with a bit of personality - each shop has a slightly different offerings based on the artisans themselves and the culture of the clientele.
The candy is expensive, but it really is to notch, far and away better than the similar Christmas mixes I sometimes pick up at the drug store. Besides, candy that you saw being made always tastes better, just like kettle corn and cotton candy. I plan to visit the New York store for sure next time I’m in the city and if you’re traveling the world, check to see if there will be one near you.
I give the shop a 9 out of 10 and the candy itself an 8 out of 10.
Thursday, March 17, 2011
Starburst makes some excellent jelly beans and have expanded their line to include a couple of different flavor mixes similar to their fruit chew flavors. The new Starburst Crazy Beans are unlike the fruit chew ancestors. They feature a flavored and colored shell with a different colored and flavored center. There are six varieties in the package.
The package is fun, the bright purple and yellow certainly got my attention. The prospect of two flavors in one, instead of combining flavors is also appealing. The crazy part, I think, comes with the combinations that Wrigley’s has come up with.
The beans are opaque and note quite as jewel toned as the standard beans. There’s a slight mottling to the color which I liked, it was as if they were dyed little granite pebbles. The sizes are pretty standard and the quality of them is good - they were consistent and glossy. The package boasts that they use real fruit juice, but the ingredients say that it’s less than 2%. Unlike the regular Starburst chews, these have no additional vitamin C. They also contain a confectioners glaze so shouldn’t be considered vegetarian/vegan.
(These don’t go in the order of the photos above, just because.)
Grape-Ade (Purple) - the grape on the outside was easy to distinguish right away, just like a Pixy Stix. The lemon center was a little more muddled, but still had a little citrus note. Good start.
Peach-A-Palooza (Orange) - is definitely peachy on the outside. I don’t know what the center is supposed to be, but it tasted like cherry to me. Not a winner in my book, but I’m sure this is an ideal combination for someone.
Tropical Cherry Splash (Blue) - it’s unfortunate to find another cherry one, this one has a bit of a papaya note to it that makes me as equally unhappy as the peach. Pass.
Razzin Watermelon (Pink) - this pink one was a little confusing. It’s pink on the outside and blue on the inside. But the outside tastes like bubble gum instead of watermelon. And the inside is all sweet and fragrant like raspberry and strawberries. The shells on all of these were downright thick and crunchy as well.
Banana Berry Blast (Yellow) - it starts with a light whiff of banana but quickly becomes a standard tangy berry. I liked it though I would have preferred a little more banana in the mix.
Strappleberry (Green) - it’s true to its name, it’s a sweet golden delicious apple flavor mixed with a mellow berry note. These varied widely, some were puckeringly tangy, others were all sweetness and little flavor.
They’re much more expensive than other jelly beans, though I admit that they’re quite flavorful. However, this particular flavor mix didn’t really hit within my zone of interest. I’d prefer something a bit more on the traditional side or with more intense fruit flavors. (Or maybe they want to try doing candy coated gummis, since they’re already making Life Savers Gummis and Starburst GummiBursts.)
I feel like we’re running out of flavors and though there’s a large number of combinations possible - the results are merely proof of concept, not great candy.
I don’t know if these are a permanent item or just a seasonal one.
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
I don’t chew a lot of gum because I prefer gum made with real sugar, not artificial sweeteners. Glee Gum is not only made with real cane sugar, it’s also one of the rare gums made with authentic chicle.
Today most gum is made from synthetic gum base. But if you’re ever curious about what early gum was like, check out Glee. I recently picked up this box of one of their newest products, Wee Glee Gum.
The little pieces are bigger, more rounded than Tiny Size Chiclets. I found that four or five was a good portion for chewing.
It’s a stiffer chew. The shell is crunchy but not thick or hard to get through - it incorporates quickly. But it’s not so sugary that it becomes soupy or sticky. But as more sugar goes away, the gum does get thick and hard to chew, especially in cooler conditions (such as chewing gum outside in the spring).
The pieces come in four flavors and colors, all of which are mild and blend together pretty well.
Tangerine (orange) is a mild orange flavor. Orange has never struck me as an ideal flavor for gum, and that’s coming from a huge fan of citrus flavors. This tangerine is all sweetness and little else than a hint of fragrant citrus peel.
Banana (yellow) is sweet and a great soft flavor for gum. It doesn’t have that chemical note to it, though it still feels cooler on the tongue than the other flavors. It goes well with the other flavors, just like a banana thrown into a smoothie is usually a welcome addition.
Triple Berry (dark red) is fragrant and does have a mild berry note to it, which berries I’m not sure but I suspect they’re of the raspberry variety.
Bubble Gum (pink) is just a flavor, not an attribute. I didn’t get many of these in my assortment, but I can say that they’re pretty worthless when it came time to try a bubble. However, I liked the smooth, mild flavor. It was clean but still had that note of “not quite a natural flavor” that the combination of flavors that bubble gum is made from evokes.
The chew does get softer as the sugar goes away. The tooth-sticking issues I had with Glee Gum when I bought it and reviewed it years ago have gone away for the most part, not due to any action on Glee’s part. At the time it was my fillings that were made from dental amalgam (those dark metal fillings) which I’ve slowly had replaced with dental composites. I have less of an issue now. Still, the chicle is like a cross between the modern synthetic gum base and the old chewable wax lips.
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
One of the most popular chocolate brands in Europe is Milka. It’s currently distributed by the international food conglomerate Kraft but began its existence as a family chocolate brand made by Suchard back in the early 20th century. I tried the version that’s available in the States about four years ago.
Milka is, of course, known as milky chocolate, very similar in profile and price to Cadbury. However, instead of putting vegetable oil in the chocolate, Milka uses just a touch of hazelnut paste.
Milka is now widely available in the United States but I wanted to pick up some while I was in Europe, just in case it was a little different. I did find this assortment called Milka NAPS Mix in Germany. It features four different varieties of tiny bars: Alpenmilch, Crunchy Caramel, Erdbeer & Creme au Cacao.
The little bars are about 4.25 grams, individually wrapped and easy to identify your favorite. The bars are about 1.5 inches long.
The traditional Milka is just as I remember it. Milky, sweet, smooth and not very chocolatey. They’re a good candy and at this size, and excellent little tough-covering pick me up. The hazelnut is just a light hint of roasted nuts, not like a thick gianduia. It’s much creamier than I recall the American packaged bar I tried, though as someone who likes a lot of either chocolate in my chocolate or hazelnuts in my gianduia, this didn’t quite fit my personal profile.
The Milka Crunchy Caramel is the same little bar with some toffee chips in it. (Not Daim chips, for some reason.) I liked the crunchy texture and light salty hint, though sometimes they tasted a bit like butterscotch and not quite like toffee. This was my favorite of the mix, now I’m sorry I didn’t pick up the Daim version of Milka.
The Milka Erdbeer is the milk chocolate with dried strawberry bits in it. The strawberry bits taste real, but have a grainy quality to them that kind of ruins the texture of the chocolate at time. Still, the milk and strawberry flavor was great, it reminded me of neapolitan ice cream.
This was the only filled bar in the mix. The center was a thin little strip of chocolate creme. It really didn’t taste that much different than the standard Milka Bar, mostly because of the proportions. It had more of a chocolate frosting flavor to it though. It was my least favorite of the mix.
I like that Milka comes in so many different varieties and that the European versions also come in different sizes and seasonal variations. This box of chocolate though was a bit on the expensive side, compared to the large 100 gram (3.5 ounce) tablet bars at 3 Euros (about $4). Basically, I could have bought one of each of these varieties as a full sized bar for about the same amount of money, but had more than 3 times as much candy.
I have a dark chocolate version of a Milka bar at home, I’m hoping that’s a bit more to my personal liking, but mixes like this always have something to please most folks. (And I did finish most of the box without any help from anyone else.)
Monday, March 14, 2011
They’re little, beefy one inch rods of licorice with a candy shell. What’s interesting about these that’s different from most licorice pastels is the fact that the shells are flavored. They come with two flavors in each bag - lemon (yellow) and peppermint (white). As with all Panda licorice, the ingredients are all natural and vegan.
In Europe a slightly different version of this candy is available. I bought a bag in Amsterdam called Liquorice Comfits, which had three different colors (more about that in a moment).
This particular bag is small, it holds 100 grams which is 3.5 ounces. The retail price is pretty steep for a sugar candy, I paid over 2 Euros for mine in Europe and it appears that the American version will be prices around $2.50 to $3.00 per bag.
The pieces are consistent and attractive. They’re not slickly smooth, but they are shiny. The yellow is creamy and the white is stark and bright. (The green ones are from the European mix.)
The white ones are Peppermint and I was hoping they’d be similar to Skoolkrit, which I love so much. The licorice center is soft and chewy but not deeply flavored. It’s a bit doughy, like Panda can be, but missing the dark molasses notes. The licorice flavors are exactly that, the mellow and lingering sweetness of the licorice root. Though they have aniseseed oil in them, there’s less of that flavor in the profile. The mint shell gives is a fresh start and finish. It’s crunchy and sweet as well, but doesn’t really stick with me after consuming.
The lemon was a bit more of an unconventional combination. It was definitely sweeter to me with a lemony start that reminded me of icing. The licorice just seemed sweeter in this version.
Both are fun to eat, but I kept waiting for some stronger licorice flavors that I was relieved when the bag was empty and I could move on to something else.
Without the flavored shell, you’d think they’d have more of a licorice punch, but it was the same thing. Too sweet, not enough rich burnt toffee notes.
I don’t expect that I’ll pick these up again. I’m sure there are plenty of folks who will like these and I expect for parents who want a great family licorice, this is a good place to start, especially with younger kids who are turned off by strong flavors.
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I think I like Good and Plenty better, I certainly prefer the price.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.