Friday, March 30, 2012
Haribo Gold Bears stand as the epitome of the gummi bear for good reason. They were the first and they are known around the world. Haribo is so big that they have 18 factories, but only five of them in Germany.
I’ve been told over the years that the German Haribo products are the best. The Haribo products we most often see here in the United States, especially the Gold Bears, are made in either Turkey or Spain. So while I was in Germany I made sure to pick up a bag of the original version made in Bonn, Germany. Flipping over the bag, it was immediately clear that they’re different. There’s an extra flavor.
The German Gold Bears have six flavors:
The Turkish or Spanish Gold Bears have only five flavors:
Further, the German Bears are made with all natural colorings. Here’s an array of Bears and Bunnies for color comparison:
On top are the German Gold Bunnies, packaged for the American market, in the middle are the German Gold Bears purchased in Germany and on the bottom are the Turkish Gold Bears purchased in the United States.
So let’s start where things are weird. First, the Green Gummi Bear. As you may have noticed in the listing above, in the United States, the green gummi bear is Strawberry.
I compared the colors of the Green Gummi Gold Bears because they show the most difference between the countries. The German bear is a light olive color, not a true green. Other than that though, the bears are the same shape and mass.
I thought maybe one was taller than the other, or thicker, but the variations are just that, variations across all the bears. Some are slightly thicker or taller, some have different facial expressions. But there’s no real difference in the moulding.
Turkish Strawberry (Green) compared to German Strawberry (Pink): The Turkish bear is just slightly firmer. The flavor (once you close your eyes and forget that it’s not lime or green apple) is light and only slightly floral. It’s tangy, but not puckeringly tart. Mostly it’s a bland gummi bear. The German bear is softer and just slightly more pliable. It’s jammy and has a good blend of florals and tartness, and though it’s slightly more flavorful, I wouldn’t say that there’s a huge difference in the intensity, just the nuances. Germany Wins.
Turkish Raspberry (Red) compared to German Raspberry (Red): The artificial nature of the Turkish bear is much more apparent when placed next to the deeper, wine red German bear. The Turkish bear is sweet and tangy, the berry flavors are fresh and have only the lightest note of seeds to them. The German bear is softer and has richer, more dense flavor with more boiled fruit flavors to it. Germany Wins.
Turkish Orange compared to German Orange: this is tough. Both looked virtually the same, and the textures were also so similar. The zesty and tart notes on both were dead on. The German bear tasted every so slightly more like freshly squeezed juice, but that could have been my imagination. Tie.
Turkish Pineapple (clear) compared to German Pineapple (clear): The Turkish version had an ever—so-slight yellow cast to it, which really only showed when I placed the bears next to each other on white paper. Pineapple happens to be my favorite flavor for the bears and this was no exception. The Turkish bear actually had enough tartness to make my jaw tingle. It’s sweet and floral and just wonderful. The German version was just as good, but had an extra little flavor towards the end, a more intense thing that I can’t quite peg as pineapple zest, but that sort of buzz that comes with fresh pineapple. Even though there was a slight difference, I will indiscriminately gobble both. Tie.
Turkish Lemon (yellow) compared to German Lemon (yellow): Lemon is a great flavor and Haribo really can’t fail. There’s a wonderful blend of zest and juice in the Turkish version, with so much lemon peel that it verges on air freshener. The German version is more like a candied lemon peel or marmalade, slight more bitterness but still plenty of juice. Turkish Win.
The last one is the German Apple. It tastes, well, like tart apple juice. Honestly, I’m glad it’s not in the bags that are sold in the United States, it would be one I’d pick around ... and there currently aren’t any Haribo Gold Bears that I don’t like.
So if there’s an additional flavor in Germany, I thought maybe this Easter Haribo Gold Bunnies version which features little rabbits instead bears and says it’s made in Germany would have that apple in it.
It does not.
The Green Bunny is actually strawberry.
But what’s more disappointing about these Haribo Gold Bunnies is that they’re terrible compared to both the Turkish Bears and the German Bears. Sure, the shape is cute and the colors are all natural, but the flavors are pale and watered down.
So if you’re a Green Apple fan, it’s worth it to seek out the true German Haribo Gold Bears. If you don’t care, then the Turkish version that we’ve been served all these years is great ... it’s not quite as intense, but it’s still a good quality product. The other think I noticed is that I paid one Euro (about $1.30) for my 200 gram (7 ounce) bag of German bears ... and I paid $1.50 for my Turkish bears, which only has 5 ounces in it. The German Bunnies were on sale for $1.00 at Cost Plus.
Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Schluckwerder Fancy Eggs - Fine Marzipan are featured at Cost Plus World Market every year around Easter. It’s a very simple, almost mousy looking package. A gold plastic tray with ten sections holds pastel candy coated marzipan eggs.
I’ve been stalking these eggs for years. I’ve even taken photos of them in the store, hoping to go back after Easter when they’re on sale. The only problem with that plan is that there’s never any left after the holiday for discounting. They’re a little on the pricey side, $3.99 for a package weighing only 5.29 ounces from a German brand I’ve never heard of. On the other hand, I have a lot of confidence in German marzipan, now that I’ve visited a few factories in Germany and tasted quite a variety over the years. Germany knows what it’s doing when they combine sugar and almonds.
Each egg is about a half an ounce, so two is a good and filling portion. The center is pure marzipan with a thin chocolate coating then a sugared candy shell. They use all natural colorings, however, they do also use carmine, so the product is off the table for vegetarians who draw the line there. (There’s also milk in there, so it’s a no for vegans.)
The eggs vary a bit in size and shape. Some were spherical and about 1.25 inches in diameter and the more ovoid ones were about 1.5 inches long.
Even though they’re kind of big, they’re easier to bite than something like a Malted Milk Egg or Marshmallow Hiding Egg. They have a slightly floral scent, nothing really overt, just a clean sort of orange blossom or fig perfume. The chocolate is thick enough to provide quite a bit of flavor. It’s not very dark but has a well rounded woodsy cocoa flavor and a smooth, silky melt. The center is soft and quite moist, which is nice because I don’t care for the chalky and tough marzipan.
The marzipan is a little doughy but not overly sweet. There’s a faint bit of amaretto flavor, but mostly it’s a clean rosewater and nutty almond flavor. They’re hearty without being sticky sweet. They’re easy to eat, though I usually ate mine in two bites instead of popping the whole thing in my mouth at once.
I’m glad I took the plunge and tried these. They’re definitely worth full price, especially if it’s something you had as a kid or in your travels. When you come down to it, the price works out to about 1.33 per ounce, which is far more reasonable than Caffarel. And I think I prefer this marzipan to the Caffarel version. I’ll still keep an eye out for them on after-Easter clearance.
Wednesday, January 4, 2012
I’ve been stopping by convenience stores more often lately, waiting for some new candies to come out on the shelves, so I noticed these Mamba gummis. I’ve already tried the regular packages, but these were Sour, so says the big green splat on the front.
The Mamba Sour Gummies end up being expensive at the 7-11, which is almost as bad as going to a concession stand at the movies. 1.5 ounces is $1.19. The package says that they’re made with real fruit juice (5%) and the calorie count per ounce (100) is actually pretty low for candy, with only 150 calories for the entire package.
The package says the flavors are: orange, banana, raspberry, pineapple and cherry.
The pieces are about one inch across and feature a sweet and sour sanding on them. They’re soft and pliable, like gummis.
The idea of Sour Banana isn’t exactly appealing. I don’t care for unripe bananas, though they’re not really sour, just not quite sweet yet and too firm. In this case the sour banana doesn’t taste like either a ripe or unripe banana. More like a lime soaked banana.
Pineapple was dreamy. It was floral and tingly and unlike the banana that started out sour, this started out sweet and got quite sour towards the end, all the way to the jaw tingling finish.
Watermelon was quite mild and really only about the sour. It had a good and reasonably authentic watermelon flavor, which means not much of a flavor at all.
Raspberry is a sour jam without much floral or much in the way of that seed flavor. It’s okay, not really one of the better raspberry gummies I’ve had, but it is at lease naturally flavored.
I didn’t get any orange in my package, nor it appears any cherry.
The gummi market is crowed, though there aren’t that many in sour available in little packets at the convenience stores, so I have to give credit to Mamba for being in that space. I think the biggest competition for these would be the Life Savers gummis. With the natural ingredients and 5% juice content in this version, I’d say a parent is much better off with these than Life Savers. The packaging and shapes don’t make it feel like it’s a compromise.
Wednesday, December 28, 2011
You may notice a lot more about German candies on the blog in the coming weeks. I went there for a week of candy factory tours earlier this month and have lots of fascinating adventures to share. (I’ll try to focus on candies you can either get in the United States or are worth seeking out.)
Ritter-Sport is a large German chocolate brand with a unique selling proposition, its chocolate bars are square. Their standard 100 gram (3.5 ounce) bar comes in 23 varieties with another 3-9 promotional and seasonal variations throughout the year. In the United States there are about six core varieties on shelves, but some stores like Target will sell about eight. Even in Germany, I still only found about 14-16 of the versions at the stores (which included the Bio and Winter Kreation varieties). The best place in Germany to find everything Ritter Sport sells, naturally, is at their factory store.
The Ritter family started making chocolate in 1912, but didn’t introduce the Ritter Sport square bars until 1930. They’re becoming better known around the world as 35% of their total sales (over 20,000 tons of the 60,000 they produce) are now for export. (Russia is their number one customer, then Italy, then the United States.) The quality for a consumer bar (sold for less than one Euro) is excellent and the company prides itself on its innovation, ethical sourcing of their raw materials and quality of their products.
For the past two seasons in the United States I’ve actually been able to find the Ritter Sport Winter Kreations in stores. (Mel and Rose Wine and Liquors and a really good 76 gas station in Glendale on Glendale Blvd & Glen Oaks.) Last year the Winter Kreations limited edition set was Orangen-Marzipan (orange marzipan), Nuss in Nougatcreme (hazelnuts in gianduia) and Vanillekipferl (vanilla cookie cream). This year the Nougatcreme did not return but was replaced by Gebrannte Mandel (burnt sugar almonds).
The Ritter Sport Orangen-Marzipan bar is pretty special. When I got to Germany back in February of this year, this was one of the first bars I sought out and bought. After eating some of it, I bought the little assortment above plus an additional full size bar. Then when I was there earlier this month, I again bought a full size bar, since I think it’s the right proportion of chocolate and marzipan.
The bar is a little different from the classic Ritter Sport Marzipan bar in that it has a milk chocolate shell (sorry, it’s not vegan). It smells like fresh orange juice, almost like an orangesicle, actually, because of the sweet and milky chocolate. The chocolate is quite sweet and so is the marzipan center, but it all works swimmingly together. The orange flavors are both juicy and zesty, without being bitter. The marzipan is moist and sticks together like a cookie dough instead of being dry and crumbly. There’s a light hint of amaretto to it as well.
It’s terribly sweet, which is usually a turn off for me, but I enjoyed the decadent sticky quality, probably because it’s cold out and I usually want more sugar when I’m chilly.
I do wish that it was the dark chocolate shell though, but since this is the only other marzipan bar that they make regularly, I can understand wanting to hit the milk/marzipan market at least seasonally.
I don’t think I would have appreciated this flavor in the same way without my visits to the Christmas Markets in various cities. The Gebrannte Mandel stalls were ubiquitous (photo), sealing this confection as a definite seasonal fixture. It only makes sense that Ritter Sport would create a Winter Kreation that includes some toasted almonds with a caramelized sugar coating.
The base of the Ritter Sport Gebrannte Mandel is milk chocolate. Ritter Sport makes eleven different chocolate bases for its different bars, including several varieties of milk chocolate. This version has a cacao content of 30%, so a richer milk chocolate than most American consumer brands.
The bar is light in color, silky and smells much like the stalls at the Christmas Market, like toasted nuts and sugar. The nuts in this case are crushed (I’m not sure they’d fit well in the bar otherwise and might end up a little too crunchy). It’s sweet and the sugar coating on the nuts gives it more of a grainy crunch, but also adds more toasted flavor. There might be a hint of cinnamon in there as well.
Ritter Sport Vanillekipferl is based on the classic Austrian cookie called the Vanillekipferl or vanilla crescent. They’re rather like a Russian Teacake or shortbread cookie with nutmeal in it. (There are no eggs in the traditional recipe.)
The bar is like many of Ritter Sport’s, a milk chocolate shell with a cream filling. In this case the cream filling was slightly sandy with a very sweet vanilla flavor. I can’t say that I got much of the shortbread or nutty qualities out of it. It was decent, but not really different enough from Ritter Sport’s non-seasonal offerings.
The Ritter Sport Nuss in Nougatcreme was a 2010 flavor and was nicely done. It was a milk chocolate bar with a milky hazelnut paste center with a bit of a crunchy, crushed nuts. I didn’t think much of it one way or the other. Again, like the Vanillekipferl, it wasn’t that different from the regular nougatcreme bar.
All of the above bars, oddly enough, I bought at the grocery stores (Rewe and Aldi for the bars in February and Kaufhof for the most recent marzipan and candied almonds). Our tour group visited the Ritter Sport factory campus on our last full day in Germany on our way to Stuttgart. The factory is in the small town of Waldenbuch, which has less than 10,000. But it’s about a half an hour outside of Stuttgart (which has about 600,000 people and over 5 million in the metro area) which is the center of Germany’s auto industry.
The Ritter family created a museum on the factory campus. Not just a chocolate museum that shows how cocoa is grown, harvested and processed into chocolate, there’s actually an art museum there. The building houses four areas: an interactive chocolate museum (upstairs to the right), a cafe (in the back left), a factory store for chocolate (on the lower right) and the front half to the left is the art museum.
The exhibit while I was there fits well with the aesthetic of the square chocolate bars. They were selections from the Marli Hoppe-Ritter Collection in a variety of media. Most were paintings but a few sculptures as well.
All of the pieces had geometric elements and either bold use of color (in primary and secondary palettes) and rarely representational.
The space isn’t large, but is well laid out in four areas with tall ceilings and awash in light.
The Ritter Sport Factory Store is exactly what I want from a factory store. First, the prices are excellent. They are below the standard price for the bars (except for what you may find on sale) and they carry everything. There were no varieties or shapes that they make that I could not find on the shelves. The standard price for all 100 gram bars was .69 Euro (about 90 cents US). They were all fresh and in pristine condition and a pleasure to browse.
In the back corner was the spot that I love factory stores for. It was where the seconds and over-runs were for sale. If I lived in the area, I’d be sure to visit often to see what turned up. There were plenty of bulk items, such as the Schokowurfel in bags. Far off there in the corner were piles on the shelves of plain white wrapped bars. They were test bars of new flavors, so I picked up a few of those for later investigation and indulgence. They were only a half a Euro each.
The branded merchandise was nice. I liked the continuity of the themes, the colors and use of either the cross sections of the bars or the square shapes. However, the prices on these items were definitely premium retail. A little back backpack was 85 Euro. There were also large tins with the chocolate cross-section design - quite large and useful for only 7.50 Euro, but that largeness thing would have been an issue for getting them home. (But what a great gift idea to buy one of those tins, then one of the bulk bags of the minis and fill it up- the whole gag would be less than 20 Euro.) I picked up the coffee mug for my husband and filled it with minis for Christmas.
So, if you’re in Stuttgart and tired of looking around at the cars or just swinging through the area, it’s a worthy diversion to Waldenbuch. There’s also a Ritter Sport shop in Berlin (which I doubt carries the factory over-runs) that has its own merits for it’s interior design.
Maybe you’ll also catch sight of their company cars in the area: these were parked in front of one of the factory buildings. When we first arrived in our tour bus, there was a third. It was canary and said Knusperflakes on it.
Full Disclosure: My trip to Germany was sponsored by German Sweets, a government funded trade organization. While this provided me with excellent access to people in positions at the candy companies, in this case all of the products featured here were bought and paid for by me. Of course being at the factory store with its excellent prices which were a fraction of what I pay for the products in the United States probably prompted me to buy things I might not ordinarily. The Ritter Sport factory was not actually on the tour set up by German Sweets (though they’re members), but since it only took our tour bus 15 km out of our way on the last day of our travels, they agreed to stop at my request.
Monday, December 26, 2011
When I went to Germany last January to attend the ISM Cologne sweets trade show I spent about as much time shopping at the local stores as I did prowling the show floor for traditional, new and different candies.
One candy that I was actually on the look out for was the Haribo Ingwer-Zitrone gummis. They’re ginger and lemon flavored and perhaps a little less mainstream and kid-oriented than many of Haribo’s other offerings. I found them at a Rewe market and bought two bags. When I returned to the States I carefully moderated myself to make them last as long as possible. Sadly, they were gone by September.
When I went to Germany a few weeks ago, these were definitely on my list. I didn’t find them at the first Rewe (grocery store) I visited but did find them at Kaufhof in Berlin (a huge department store with a large food section) ... I bought everything on the shelf, six bags (they were only .99 Euros each).
The package says that they’re erfrischend scharf (refreshingly sharp) which would probably be because it’s made with real ginger and lemon.
The pieces look like medallions of candied ginger, complete with a sanding of sugar (well, it’s not exactly sugar, it’s a sweet and sour sanding mix).
The start out like an ordinary fruit gummi. They smell at a little like lemon peel and have a soft and flexible texture. They’re easy to chew and the sweet/sour sand fades away pretty quickly. The lemony flavor isn’t very sour, mostly a juicy flavor with a lot more zest in it than most of the other kid-oriented flavors. The flavor of the ginger is subtle at first, just woodsy and maybe even a little bitter. But then it kicks in with a slow and warming heat. The ginger lasts for a while, with a strong finish that kind of burns for a while. They’re barely sweet, I don’t feel sticky eating them at all - and perhaps the ginger is even good for my tummy.
I know this isn’t for everyone, you really have to like both the gummi texture and the spicy combination of citrus and ginger. It’s my ideal gummi, probably my favorite thing this year and will go on my list of all time favorite candies.
I even returned the next day to Kaufhof to see if they restocked, but it looks like these five packages I have left are going to have to last me a while. GermanDeli.com sells them, but they’re $2.99 a bag plus shipping and their $25 minimum order - that would average out to more than $4 a bag. I’m in love, but not that desperate ... yet.
Thursday, December 22, 2011
Here’s a small selection of what I’d call Christmas chocolate bars. I’ve got to eat them up before the holidays - it may be too late for you to get them by Christmas, but there are some special ones that are worth picking up at the after-Christmas sales.
Hershey’s introduced their Golden Almond Bar in 1977. It’s a thick bar and clocks in at 2.8 ounces. The bar design and packaging has changed little over the past thirty five years. It’s still wrapped in gold foil with a gold sleeve. Bars are sold either singly or in gold gift boxes of five bars (see a 1984 ad here). They’re not that easy to find, I usually see them at the official Hershey’s stores at Chocolate World or the Times Square shop.
The bar is simple, it’s just milk chocolate with lots of whole roasted almonds in it. It differs from the Hershey’s Milk Chocolate with Almonds bar as it’s supposed to be better quality chocolate. The ingredients do not differ from the Hershey’s standard milk chocolate which includes PGPR but is at least made in the United States and not Mexico as the other supposedly upscale Pot of Gold line is.
The bar is wonderful looking, it’s thick and has a great snap. It’s about 1.7 inches wide, 4.75 inches long and a beefy half inch high. There are some almonds in there though not as many as I feel are promised but they look like they’re fresh and of good quality. The chocolate looks a little darker than the standard Hershey’s but smells like I’d expect. It’s sweet with a slight yogurty tang to it.
The texture is smooth and fudgy, with a sticky melt and a light caramel and woodsy chocolate flavor. It’s not complex and it’s not extraordinary. But if you like Hershey’s chocolate and enjoy the decadence of a thicker piece, this is a good bar to choose. I liked the nostalgia of an actual foil wrapped bar, which is so rare these days. If there’s someone on your list that loves Hershey’s, this is a little bit more elegant way to give them what they desire.
Size: 2.8 ounces
I found this seasonal bar called Niederegger Marzipan Weihnachtsschokolade at the Niederegger cafe at Marktplatz in Lubeck. The front of the package says Saftiges gewurz marzipan mit vollmilch-schokolade. So it’s a spiced marzipan in milk chocolate. The image shows almonds, cinnamon sticks and star anise. The ingredients don’t specifically list anise, just “spices” though cinnamon is a separate item.
Inside the paper wrapper there’s a stiff card (advertising the company and their website) and the foil wrapped bar.
The packaging did a great job of protecting the bar. It was glossy and unscuffed.
The milk chocolate is very light in color (33% cocoa solids and 14% milk solids). The bar smells like milky chai, a little spicy and very sweet. The marzipan is moist and a bit like eating Snickerdoodle cookie dough. The chocolate is smooth, but doesn’t contribute much in the way of cocoa to this, it just nicely encases the marzipan. The texture of the marzipan is a little more rustic than the French style fondant type that’s used for creating figures and shapes. Niederegger is meant for eating and enjoying.
The ratios on the 100 gram bars from Niederegger favor the chocolate more than the enrobed little classic loaves. (I’ll get into that more in my master post.) If you’re looking for a starter marzipan that’s more about the texture and celebrates almonds as the source ingredient, Niederegger really can’t be beat. It’s not too sweet and doesn’t have any fake amaretto flavors to it.
I would prefer a version of this with dark chocolate, but I can’t argue with the traditional recipe they have. It’s a great balance of subtle spice, sweetness, milk and almonds.
Size: 3.5 ounces
I’m no stranger to the Ghirardelli Peppermint Bark. They’ve been making it for years and it comes in a clever little square that’s perfect for some afternoon tea or coffee.
I found this set of bars at Target last month on sale for $2 each. They’re heralded as limited edition and come in milk chocolate and dark chocolate.
I’m not actually a fan of barks. I like my inclusions fully immersed in the chocolate. So the bar version of Peppermint Bark is perfect for my strange fondness for things being hidden in the chocolate.
Unlike most Peppermint Barks, which combine white chocolate with crushed peppermint candies (like candy canes or starlight mints), the Ghiradelli version uses minty, artificially colored corn flakes. I haven’t the foggiest why they did it that way, but honestly, they created something unique enough to be a new genre.
The milk and dark vary a little bit in their coloring. The milk version is sweet and has a lot of dairy notes to it from both the milk chocolate base and the white chocolate top (made with real cocoa butter). The mint is clean and bright, the little cereal bits are crunchy and a little salty and keep it all from being too cloying.
The dark version has two kinds of bits, the red bits and some little dark brown bits, which I think are little chocolate cookie pieces. The dark chocolate has a little smoky note to it which overshadowed the minty layer a bit, which I enjoyed. There’s a definite difference between the Ghirardelli Peppermint Bark and the Dove Peppermint Bark, which can also be found for comparable prices at similar stores. Personally, I prefer the Dove version, because it’s a bit butterier. This one is about the crunch, a grown up sort of crunch.
Size: 3 ounces
The last item I have is not quite a full review. The Hachez Weihnachts Knusper Bar (Christmas Crunchy Bar) is a darling looking bar. The soft white paper wrapper has a classically illustrated scene of a child ice skating on a pond.
Feine Vollmilch-Chocolade mit Zimt, Mandeln und Nussen
My German was getting pretty good, even though I’d only been listening to German podcasts for a week and was only there for a day. The front of the package said Fine milk chocolate with cinnamon, almonds and nuts. The little image also showed all of the above -cinnamon sticks, milk chocolate blocks, almonds and a hazelnut in its shell.
So I was very excited when I got it home and put at the top of my list to photograph and review before Christmas. I took it out of the wrapper, snapped it in half ... it looked and smelled so good:
The bar was glossy and showed no ill effects from the long journey (about 750 more miles on a bus at that point then the 5,700 mile plane ride).
I broke off a little piece of it to try after the photo, I was greeted by wonderfully smooth and milky chocolate and amazingly fresh, crunchy and crushed nuts and a hint of cinnamon. I could taste the hazelnuts and something else ... it wasn’t pecans, it was walnuts. What I didn’t realize was that while Nussen might be a generic word for nuts, it usually meant walnuts. (Walnusse is the more specific word.) So technically, I didn’t eat any of the bar. I had to spit it out and rinse out my mouth (I still ended up itchy and with a sore throat all evening - my allergy has not developed beyond this irritation stage). But I’m going to go out on a limb after eating many of the other Hachez products in the past week (which I’ll have reviews for) and say that this really is a good bar.
Size: 3.5 ounces
Do you have a favorite winter flavor combination? Anything regional or something from long ago that they don’t make any longer?
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
I went to Germany last week on a Candy Junket sponsored by German Sweets, part of the Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection. Our group consisted of 10 American journalists & writers and covered 1,500 kilometers and in only five days we saw seven confectionery factories (map).
Though the weather was rather dismal (but expected) with temperatures in the forties and rain the whole week, we still braved the brisk and damp weather to take advantage of the famous Christmas Markets in as many towns as we could. The first one we stopped at was Lubeck, Germany, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Christmas Markets (Weihnachtsmarkt) feature mostly food and hot alcoholic beverages but also a small smattering of seasonal tasties like confections and some giftware like Christmas ornaments, hats, leathergoods and other small items.
One of the most common confectionery stalls that I saw at all three markets was the one that sold fresh candies nuts and gingerbread cookies. The cookies are for gifting and many were decorated garishly with frosting and had little affectionate sayings on them (photo). Most were heart shaped and came in a variety of sizes. Of course they’re horrible for bringing back in a suitcase, so I just looked at them.
The nuts were really appealing, just toffeed nuts of all kinds (photo). Almonds were the most common but each booth had a good assortment of walnuts, cashews and some peanuts. Some had more exotic flavors, the most common was a Christmas spice, but others had licorice or Nutella. The prices were pretty good, a little 100 gram (3.5 ounces) was 2.50 Euro and I believe they would mix if you asked.
The market in Berlin at Alexanderplatz near our hotel also had a small assortment of booths, again, most selling drinks and hot food and a more international fare of gift items (Russian nesting dolls, Indonisian carved bowls) as well as one confectionery stall with a rather large range of traditional candies from Germany and a few that looked more Nordic or Dutch.
The booths that sold Krauterbonbons, and I saw at least three of them in Lubeck, all smelled quite strongly of anise. It was as if they were using aromatherapy to attract customers. Two of the booths looked like they produced the candy right there. They had a copper kettle, a large counter of marble and a small pressing machine that can either cut the little candy pillows from a pulled rope of the hot sugar mixture or mold press them into individual pieces. However, we walked through the Lubeck market twice, once on the night we arrived around 8 PM, then again the next day when we visited the Niederegger cafe at lunchtime. Neither time did I see them making any candy, nor any of the other booths. Perhaps it was all theater, and perhaps it was just something they did in the morning to make their inventory for the day.
As it was my first visit to a Christmas Market, I picked up a small bag of their Krauterbonbons Mischung (Herbal Sweets Assortment), which fit easily in my pocket and I thought would travel well.
Inside the homely little plastic bag were 28 pieces in about ten different varieties. The shapes varied, some were just little pillows, others were rather rustic but pressed lumps and then there were the gems with their ornate patterns. They’re lightly sanded to keep them from sticking.
I can’t say what the flavors were supposed to be, as there was no key and many of the flavors I purchased were not sold separately (so I couldn’t match them up with the photos I took of the varieties in the jars at the booth).
Some were completely foreign to me. The little red puff was at first rather like raspberry, but there was a note of cola and maybe even Dr. Pepper (whatever that flavor is).
The light green flattened rod was pure peppermint. It was quite strong and fresh.
The black one that looks like a stylized corn cob is dark and sort of like molasses but lacking much else in the herb or spice area.
The brown rock looking thing was like a chocolate flavor, it tasted like black bread (Schwarzbrot with an hint of malt. If I had to find an American analogue, it’d be a chocolate Tootsie Pop. I actually liked this one quite a bit, it’s weird getting the flavor of dense, fresh bread in a hard candy.
The amber piece with a bee on it was honey, naturally. It was lovely. It tasted like honey and I wanted a whole jar of these, if not to eat, then just to look at.
There was also a single clear pillow with some black specks in it. It was a light anise and the exact flavor of the smell they were using to attract folks to the booth.
The light green flower with the cross in the center (back right) was rosemary. It was really refreshing, a little like pine and menthol but without any hint of bitterness.
The ribbed one with the cross in the center was like a cough drop, a mix of flavors similar to Ricola. It was minty but not completely peppermint, there was a menthol component and maybe a little touch of honey. The shape was fun to look at, as I kept an example of each on my desk lined up while tasting.
The black one with the hammers on it was like the one that I thought was like black bread, but with a strong note of licorice to it. It wasn’t overly sweet and I found it very soothing, especially with some bland, black tea.
If I had more time and was able to scope better, I probably would have gone back and picked up the flavors that were missing from my assortment. Lubeck definitely had the best assortment of these little lozenges and of course I would have loved to have seen them making them. (Mental note, next time, add “When do you make the candies” to my list of phrases I might need.)
If you’re going to be in Germany in the winter, the Christmas Markets are definitely something you should see, if only for a few hours. I think they’re probably more appealing to folks who eat sausage and drink alcohol but the one we saw in Schmalkalden actually had some fantastic looking cheese and cured meats. The architecture of many of these cities is lit up so I really felt like I was part of the place.
I was hoping to see more of a variety of sweets, but I fully understand the 90% of the Christmas Market is about tradition and the time warp of walking around a square in the dark with pretty lights and a cacophony of sounds and smells. There were no chocolates anywhere, though some of the stalls sold long ropes of flavored licorices and I actually got a giant Smurf gummi at one of them. The smaller the town we went to, the more they felt like they were true community events, not just something made up for the tourists. Their Christmas celebration through Advent, though front and center at every town, felt less commercial and more about community, even if it was temporary.
(Disclosure Note: The trip to Germany was sponsored, so I did not pay for my airfare, ground transportation, accommodations or food while I was there. At the factory tours we were given generous samples to consume on site as well as some to bring home. Any reviews of those products will be noted as to that fact. But I also brought a couple hundred Euros with me and spent them liberally and almost exclusively on candy both from the companies we were introduced to as well as many other Germany/European products that I found in my prowlings of grocery stores, department stores and the factory outlets.)
Monday, November 21, 2011
In the world of fair trade chocolate, it’s hard to find a balance between the ethical sourcing of the ingredients and the actual likeability of the finished product. One brand that has struck a good, mass appeal approach is Divine Chocolate. They’re based in the United Kingdom, but the chocolate is made in Germany.
Their product range in the United States is primarily 3.5 ounce tablet bars, with a few holiday items each year. The ingredients are Fair Trade certified as much as possible.
I picked up the Divine 70% Dark Chocolate with Ginger & Orange at Cost Plus World Market. I like the idea of a chocolate bar with a little bit of flavor and maybe even a candy-like flair to it.
I really like their new bar mold. The old one was simple and generic. The new one is the same format, but with little icons in each of the pieces. I like the thickness of the bar and the divisions - easy to snap apart and ideally sized for a bite.
The bar has an excellent and crisp snap. The scent is a bit woodsy, mostly from the ginger but with a well rounded cocoa note to it. The ingredients were not simply candied orange and candied ginger though. Instead it was something called Orange Granules which were made from orange juice, apples, sugar, rice flour, fructose, pectin, citric acid and orange flavor. Seems odd to make something that’s normally considered garbage (orange peels). The ginger is also just natural ginger flavor, no actual pieces.
The result are little sticky, slightly tacky orange bits. They’re good in the sense that they taste fruity, a little zesty and tangy with a lot more juice taste than orange peel. They’re not at all fibery, though they did get stuck in my teeth.
The dark chocolate is smooth with a silky melt and well rounded flavor. There’s a little hint of bitterness to it, but it’s tempered by the woodsy but slightly drying ginger. I was hoping for a little warm kick from the ginger, but that never really formed.
Overall, it’s a very good bar, it’s also a crowd pleaser, in the sense that most folks will go for a fruity bar over a straight 70%. I like the package design and the added design elements on the bar mold now. It would be nice to see fewer ingredients on the list, but at least they’re all real things.
Though the bar gets high marks for being fair trade, Kosher, non-GMO and vegan, it is made on shared equipment with wheat, milk, almonds and hazelnuts.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.