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.
Wednesday, March 2, 2011
Name: Hershey’s Kisses Air Delight
Name: Bosco Milk Chocolate Bar
Name: Black Cow
Name: DryScream ~ Ice Cream Candy
Name: Pine Bros. Throat Drops
Name: Chocobloc Air
Tuesday, February 1, 2011
There are some trends that I’ve noticed at the confectionery show. One of them is the lack of trends. There is very little trendiness, perhaps I noticed this because I’m from Los Angeles where we’re very trend conscious. But as far as I can tell, confectionery, at the moment, is all about doing what it does well. It’s not retreating, it’s not fighting back, it’s just putting itself out there: proud and sweet.
I feel like confectionery apologizes for itself a lot, at least in the United States At this show, there’s very little talk of 100 calorie treats or obesity crises. The only politic notes are conversations about Egypt and sometimes about Fair Trade and chocolate slavery issues.
Most of the confectioners and representatives I’m meeting are proud to talk about why their product is the best in its class, or at the very least, why they think it’s the best in their market.
I like that. It’s a simple sort of thing and sometimes gets lost in the shuffle. Maybe it’s because I’m approaching these folks as a writer who wants to hear their story, instead of a buyer who wants to make a good deal.
If there’s disappointment from me about the show, it’s that there are a few very big confectionery companies that are not represented: Haribo, Ritter Sport, Mars/Wrigley, Nestle, Kraft and Lindt are the biggest ones. There are other large companies that also have huge booths (honestly, if my house and yard can fit in the space, I can’t call it a booth) with receptionist and appointment books who do not wish to talk to the likes of me. This is fine, I can continue my relationship with these brands like the rest of Candy Blog’s readers, as a buyer and consumer. To that end, since I’ve been in Europe I’ve visited dozens of stores, just so I could see what’s on shelves and buy what everyone else is buying. So don’t think that just because I went to Germany and the trade show didn’t have any Haribo that I didn’t pack up this extra suitcase with some stuff from the grocery store.
The last day of the show is about to begin, and I admit I’m more than a bit weary but also a bit energized because I still have some important meetings. (Really, I dread packing and leaving this lovely city.)
Monday, January 31, 2011
Day two consisted of much walking. I have a better sense of the layout of the show at this point and did pretty much walk through about 70% of the aisles on day 1, so day 2 was about diving deeper into those that caught my eye. For most of the day I was in the company of some other Americans who had some different goals. This was fun for me to watch, as they were experiencing some different products and confectionery styles for the first time. I was also smitten with quite a few things which I’ve picked up samples for.
Part of what I enjoyed was finding a brand that I was familiar with and seeing what else they make. In the United States, when something is imported and carried at a store I shop at, it’s usually been carefully curated for a reason. For example, I went to the booth of Amarelli, which makes “Liquirizia di Calabria”. You may have seen their tins before, they’re beautiful and charming (the same basic format as the Altoid tin).
They had some lovely tins, many products which we can’t get in the States. I’ve usually purchased their tiny nibs of licorice coated in a white candy shell with a light mint flavor to them. What interested me though were their other, more exotic, flavor combinations, such as orange and licorice and even violet and licorice. I got a sample of their vanilla rocks, which are large chunks of licorice coated in a vanilla shell that of course look like white pebbles (in the lower right of the photo).
You can follow along as I post some of my photos on Flickr.
Also, after the show I realized that there are some important German brands that are either not exhibiting at the show or not willing to talk to the blogging press, so I hopped on the U-bahn and hit the local stores (Aldi, Rewe & Penny Markt) to pick up some local Haribo, Katjes, Mars and Ritter Sport candies.
Sunday, January 30, 2011
After day one of ISM, the international Sweets and Biscuit Fair in Cologne I have no handy, condensed update.
I am officially overwhelmed, and if you know me and my ability to take in candy, you’ll understand how huge this thing is.
That building up there is filled with candy. There are 10 halls and 6 of them are taken with candy displays. I went through about two halls on the first day and it took me at least 90 minutes to just get my bearings. I don’t speak German, though I understand it pretty well for the basics and at least can read some of it. But I’m never prepared for the overwhelming crush of a big show like this.
I’m on the look out for trends, but it’s hard to spot because it is such an international fair and the companies and products are so specific. If there’s one trend I can spot it’s that every country makes it’s own version of the same thing. You like Chupa Chups? There are 20 other regional versions of them around the world made by other companies. Same goes for Mentos and of course things like Caramel Wafer Bars.
I’ll leave you with a photo, as I prepare for my second day:
Monday, January 24, 2011
ISM Cologne is the world’s largest confectionery trade fair. For over forty years it’s featured the best in European candy and biscuits (cookies). About 1,500 companies from 70 different countries around the world come to display their wares to buyers, wholesalers and brokers.
I’ll be attending this year, with a full press pass to cover the show. The show lasts four days, starting Sunday, January 30th to Wednesday, February 2nd at the 4th largest convention hall in Europe, Kolnmesse. The exhibits cover more than one million square feet. (I’m bringing good walking shoes.)
I’m really excited to go to Germany, which has such a rich and varied tradition of candy. They have such a wide array of confectionery traditions, from their invention of the Gummi Bear, traditional devotion to dairy milk chocolate and marzipan and globally known brands such as Ritter Sport, Haribo and Kinder (part of Ferrero).
My journey will begin in Amsterdam, where I plan to spend three days checking out the local licorice and chocolate scene. Then I head to Cologne via ICE (high speed train) on Friday. I’m hoping to spend a day before the show starts visiting local German stores to see how and where candy is sold to get a sense of how confections fit into daily life in comparison to North America. Cologne is also home to the Chocolate Museum, so I plan to get a world-class education on chocolate.
Posting may be a little lighter here for the next ten days or so, but after I get home with my lovely samples and photos, I’ll have lots to share.
Wednesday, January 5, 2011
I get advance tastes of new candies, but I often post about them months before they hit the stores. Here’s a little review of reviews of new candies:
Snickers Peanut Butter Squared from Mars is a new introduction to the Snickers family of candy bars. It’s not a limited edition and is available in single serve size and fun size bags.
The regular package is two squares of candy. It features nougat, peanut butter and caramel covered in chocolate. It’s a bit less of a textural marvel than the standard Snickers. Folks who like a softer chew may prefer it, but it left me wanting a real Snickers bar.
I saw these first at the checkout at Target.
See full review for Snickers Peanut Butter Squared. (7 out of 10)
The new Hershey’s Drops come in two varieties: Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Drops and Hershey’s Cookies ‘n’ Creme Drops. They’re large chocolate beans with no candy shell, easy to pop in your mouth or share. The milk chocolate variety isn’t different enough from a typical Hershey’s Kiss for me, even if there’s less unwrapping. But the Cookies ‘n’ Creme is interesting because there are so few candies that use the white confection like this. (Though there is a Kiss version, too.)
I saw these first at Von’s (photo) in stand up bags.
See full review of Hershey’s Drops (7 out of 10)
Like the Hershey’s Drops, the new Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups Minis are here to making snacking easier. They little cups are easy to pop into your mouth and don’t require layers of wrapping like the foil-wrapped, fluted-cupped miniatures. They’re going to be great for baking.
See full review of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Minis (7 out of 10)
I teased these last summer and I’m doing it again. New PEEPS Chocolate Covered Raspberry Flavored Marshmallow Hearts in single-serve packages. This year, PEEPS Brand Marshmallow Candies are melting hearts with their new PEEPS Chocolate Covered Raspberry Flavored Marshmallow Hearts. Delicious milk or dark chocolate cover raspberry flavored PEEPS to create a scrumptious chocolate and marshmallow experience.
I tried the Peeps Peppermint Trees for Christmas and found them to be poorly made. I bought six of them and all were oozing, cracked and sticky inside. (Even the ones that weren’t cracked still had deflated centers.) I’m hoping the quality control for the Raspberry version will be better, because I think it’s a great idea.
I don’t think they need the colored marshmallow centers though, it just adds more ingredients that do nothing for the flavor (in fact, I’m prepared that the pink will taste bitter to me).
Finally, another tease. Mars is introducing a new Limited Edition Twix Coconut this spring. Look for it to hit shelves in April 2011.
Like the Coconut M&Ms, these have no coconut in them. Instead it’s a traditional Twix with a cookie base, caramel stripe and chocolate coating plus a light touch of coconut flavor.
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
Sometimes I meticulously photograph things with the intention of doing an exhaustive review.
And then I eat them.El Rey makes chocolate from Venezuelan beans. Not only is it really good quality, it's pretty reasonably priced.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.