Hard Candy & Lollipops
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.
Monday, December 20, 2010
I love Peppermint Bark and I’m kind of disappointed that it’s not available year round. There are a lot of different variations on the idea of peppermint bark, but most involves layering different kinds of chocolate (dark or milk with white chocolate) along with a peppermint flavoring and probably crushed peppermint hard candies.
This package holds a cardboard try with six individually wrapped Peppermint Bark Snowmen. I got them for $1.99 but I expect they’re on sale some places.
It’s a two tone mold, the base is dark chocolate and the top layer is white chocolate. The package notes in bold and all caps type on the back that its MADE WITH 100% REAL CHOCOLATE. This is what spurred me to buy it. There are so many minty holiday candies that aren’t made with all cocoa butter these days, like the Hershey’s Candy Cane Kisses and even Andes Mints.
I can say that after eating these, it’s so obvious that real cocoa butter is superior to fractionated or partially hydrogenated tropical oils (and though all are high in calories, at least cocoa butter isn’t bad for your heart).
The fact that these “bark” snowmen are molded does ruin the rustic illusion of bark, but I have to say, I’m not really that fond of bark. I’m a believer in integration. If you want to put something in your chocolate bar, put it in there, get it all covered up. Don’t just let it float on top and get knocked off. Commit!
The base layer looks very dark, almost black. The ingredients mention that it’s made with chocolate processed with alkali, which often gives it that almost-black color. The flavor of the chocolate base reminded me of Oreos, it’s a toasted and smoky flavor. The melt is rich and smooth and though the chocolate flavor stands up to the others, it’s not overwhelming or bitter. The white chocolate is smooth and creamy, it has an excellent fresh dairy taste to it, more like butter than dried milk. Then there’s a light touch of peppermint. Though I think there are supposed to be peppermint candies in here, I didn’t get much. I ate three of the snowmen for this review and at first I thought that it was just a variation in the production run. But there were all rather sparse on the candy. This didn’t bother me.
It was like a good quality ice cream. Not too sweet, a good balance of flavors, clean and neat. I liked the portion and the molding was nicely done. I preferred the crispness of the flavors and clean distinction between the layers to the slightly more expensive Dove Peppermint Bark.
I really can’t find much fault with these at all. They’re not the most sophisticated candies in the world, but they were very well done. There are some artificial ingredients in there (there’s some red dye in the hard candy chips) but overall it tastes like a quality product considering the price (about 33 cents each). It would be nice if they can do other variations of the snowman for other holidays - I wouldn’t even mind seeing other flavor variations like strawberry for Valentine’s Day or Orange for Halloween. (I think Mint could return for Easter.)
Russell Stover really seems to shine with their holiday treats. These are easy to afford and stash in stockings or pass around at the office.
Thursday, December 16, 2010
While preparing for Thanksgiving I went to a grocery store near my home that I’d never visited. It’s called Golden Farms and it’s in Glendale which has a huge Armenian population (the third largest community in the world outside of Armenia). Golden Farms caters directly to this group, which makes up more than 25% of the population of the area. They have all sorts of fun things that I enjoy like dried fruits, nuts, interesting produce, fruit preserves and of course candy.
The candy that caught my eye, that I couldn’t wait until my next visit to purchase, was this Fard Cardamom Sugar Plum. I’ve already tried Fard’s Persian Nougat, which I liked quite a bit, so I felt confident about the brand even though the packaging is pretty plain. Fard’s website also calls this candy Abnabat and it comes in Lemon and Ginger varieties as well.
The ingredients are simple: sugar, citric acid and cardamom. Most hard candies also use corn syrup, which is pure glucose while sugar is sucrose. Pure sucrose candies tend to be sweeter, as glucose does not have the same mouth feel or sweetness level as sucrose.
The pieces are beautiful. They’re obviously hand formed, just scored and broken into little domed nuggets. They look like amber with little seeds trapped inside.
After opening the package, I was certain I made the right choice to buy it - it smells just like cardamom pods freshly crushed in a mortal and pestle. I’m a huge fan of cardamom and loved seeing the little seeds in the candy, I put it in a lot of things like chocolate pudding, bread pudding, jam and plain rice. It’s especially good for candy and I’ve always wanted a candy that was just cardamom flavored.
The pieces fit in the mouth well, though the irregular edges were tempting to nibble on to take off the sharpness. The dissolve is smooth and slow with a pleasant pure sugar flavor that’s just lightly toasted, kind of like Barley Sugar. There were no voids, just dense sugar and the seeds. The cardamom flavor is loud and impressive - it’s a nice mix of earthy root notes, eucalyptus and pine resin. The intensity of the flavor varied, depending on how much cardamom was in an actual piece. A few had no seeds, though still plenty of flavor. Others were just chocked full. I’m a cruncher, so candies that had a lot were a little harder for me to eat, because I wanted some cardamom and didn’t mind eating a few seeds. The seeds have a much stronger flavor and can be a little bit slippery. With pieces with a lot of seeds I usually ended up fishing the seeds out of my mouth as the candy dissolved.
The candy is refreshing and is probably great with tea or after a meal. I tended to eat it as a treat while working or just watching TV. This is something that I will probably buy again, especially if I’m going to be traveling and I imagine it will be great for my tummy on boats (cardamom is related to ginger). It’s a little rustic and of course not individually wrapped, so not appropriate for all situations.
It’s marked Kosher (Pareve) so it may also qualify as vegan, but email the company to be sure.
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
The Wonka Exceptionals Line is brand new this year, so it’s a bit surprising that Nestle already has a holiday version of one of their sub-brands when it seems like it took them decades to make holiday Gobstoppers.
The line of upscale Wonka Exceptionals includes new chocolate pieces. They’re little rectangles that are individually wrapped and feature a little bit of a different take on the standard morsel. The first introductions were Scrumdiddlyumptious (cookie pieces in milk chocolate), Chocolate Waterfall (milk & white chocolate swirled) and Domed Dark Chocolate (milk & dark stack) In addition, Wonka came up with Marvels and Fruit Jellies with all natural colors and flavors.
The holiday Wonka Exceptionals Peppermint Shortbread Chocolate Pieces come in a tall box like the Jellies and Marvels. (The previous Pieces I reviewed came in a purple hologram emblazoned bag.) Inside the slim box is a purple mylar pouch with the Wonka Ws all over it. The box only holds four ounces of the foil wrapped chocolates and at nearly $4 for the package, that’s a dollar an ounce. That’s about what I pay for See’s by the pound. (There are approximately 12 pieces in the box.)
So, Wonka is trucking along, reinventing the brand. They’re going for quality and recapturing the imagination that everyone loves so much in the Dahl books ... and then this Christmas candy comes along. The previous candies in this Exceptionals line have been good, a little expensive but they also have a unique selling position - they’re made with all natural flavors and colors. So I bite into one of these new milk chocolate pieces that have peppermint candy pieces and shortbread cookie morsels.
There are red bits in there. They’re bright red. They’re kind of minty but they’re also kind of bitter to me towards the end, there’s something slightly off about them. They have artificial colors in them. Why? They’re inside! Why would you put coloring in something that’s not even meant to be seen?
That aside, the milk chocolate pieces are creamy. They’re very sweet and don’t have a huge cocoa punch, it’s quite mild and overshadowed by the mint and a bit of the milky flavors. The candy pieces are crunchy and then there are little bits of shortbread sometimes - they’re a kind of sandy and crumbly cookie crunch that has a light salty note to it. But they’re really sandy sometimes, like cornmeal sandy.
The whole thing wasn’t working for me. It was too sweet and though most of the texture components were right (except for the lingering sand, like that stuff in your jeans pockets after going through the wash). I was irritated that I paid $4 for a box of candy I didn’t want to eat. They’ve already shown that they can do better, so I want Wonka to do better next time around.
I got a handful of these as a sample from Nestle at first, but I didn’t get the box or label with it, so that’s why I went out and bought them, so I could find out how expensive they were for myself and see that there Red #3, Red #40 and Blue #1 in there. Bah, humbug.
Monday, November 29, 2010
A couple of years ago Tootsie brought back their classic Tootsie Pop Drops. The package heralds them as Tootsie Pops without the stick! but they’re actually a mini version of a hard candy with a little filling of chewy, chocolatey Tootsie Rolls.
It only makes sense that they’d do seasonal versions, such as the Candy Cane Tootsie Pop in this smaller, sharable format. I believe these hit the shelves last year, but I didn’t find them until this year.
The 3.5 ounce box holds a thick foil/plastic pouch with the candies inside. I’m never keen on this “bag inside a box” package, but I do admit that all of the candies came out looking great, no chips or broken ones and it wasn’t just a bag of sugar dust.
I loved the look of them when I dumped them out of the bag. They’re thick and feel heavy and solid, like pieces of glass. The color of the candy is a very light and milky pink with red stripes. They’re smaller than a Starlight Mint but I find the size and shape excellent in the mouth.
The hard candy is smooth and has very few voids. The dissolve is good with a good mint flavor that has a few pops and sparkles of extra flavor on occasion. At the center is a small piece of a Tootsie Roll. I found the ratio to be a bit off, I’d like more Tootsie Roll, but still the chew of it is good. The flavor of the Tootsie Roll itself is always a bit disappointing, mostly because the chocolate flavor is often a bit musty and watery instead of woodsy and cocoa-ish. In this case there’s a hint of rum and less of the cardboard taste, probably because of the essence of Peppermint at play here.
There’s only the one flavor in the package, just like the old days when I would buy a roll of just Orange or Grape Tootsie Pop Drops. It would be fun to see these wrapped individually in wax paper and sold in rolls at least for the nostalgia value at Christmas. But the addition of seasonal flavors is a great touch that I hope Tootsie continues.
The new packaging advises that the Tootsie facility that made these is peanut free, gluten free, egg free and tree nut free. (It does contain milk ingredients and soy.)
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
My mother and I went downtown to a candy store called Jack’s Wholesale Candy & Toy before Halloween to pick up candy for the kids. They had an excellent selection of Mexican candies, including many tamarind and chili candies. But I was more interested in the cajeta and dulce de leche candies. They had lots to choose from, mostly in the form of little patties but also a few hard candies and lollipops. Since it was Halloween, we picked up this pound plus bag of Coronado Paletas de Cajeta to give out.
Cajeta is a Mexican specialty usually made with goat’s milk (leche de cabra). It’s slowly simmered with sugar until it forms a syrup so thick that a spoon stands straight up in it. It’s usually served as a spread or filling for other baked goods but sometimes boiled a little longer to create a more solid fudge-like candy. But there are are also other candies that use the caramel-like goo as a base. In the case of these lollipops, the caramel base was used to make a hard toffee type lollipop. Each was nicely mounted on a plastic stick and sealed to keep them fresh. I was attracted to the package mostly because the Coronado logo features a nanny goat picture.
Goat’s milk has both a different flavor profile and a slightly different nutritional one from cow’s milk. As someone who is quickly developing a lactose intolerance problem, I’ve been shifting over to goat’s milk products and finding them tasty, nutritious and more digestible.
I really didn’t think these were going to be very good, somewhere in the realm of the mediocre Tootsie Caramel Pops. They were far superior.
First, there are few ingredients: goat’s milk, sugar, corn syrup, sodium bicarbonate & potassium sorbate. The fact that the milk came before the sugar was encouraging.
The look of the candies was great. The mylar wrappers were a pretty mix of brown and maroon and well sealed to protect the pops (and give confidence to parents for Halloween hauls). The candy on the stick looked pretty much pristine. None that I had were chipped or broken or poorly formed. They’re about the size of Chupa Chups, or smaller than a Tootsie Pop but larger than a Dum Dum.
The flavor is smooth and creamy. I didn’t have a single void in the half dozen I’ve eaten so far (there were 40 pops in the bag and my mother didn’t get a lot of trick-or-treaters). The flavor is subtle, it’s not gamey or too tangy like some goat’s milk can be, but it’s definitely not the cow’s milk profile either. The caramel notes are true but without any bitterness that some toffee can have. It’s a very subdued sweetness.
They were quite dense and lasted a long time. Of course I like to crunch and eventually I would chip away at them with my canines. They’re actually quite crunchy without sticking to my teeth.
If you’re a fan of Werther’s Originals, these are very similar though less sweet and a little less oily.
The package didn’t say anything about nuts or gluten. It did say that there’s 23% of your calcium in every lollipop, but I think that’s some sort of math error. I’m definitely going to explore the Coronado brand more fully in the future.
Sera from The Candy Enthusiast tried a slightly different version of these.
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Sometimes candy can be therapeutic. Honey is supposed to have cough suppressing qualities. Honey candies are a great, compact and less-sticky way to serve up honey.
I’ve picked up these Honees made by Ambrosolio Candies of Italy a couple of times in the past year. The first time I found them at Mel & Rose Wine & Liquors, which they were $1.25 ... not bad as far as I was concerned. But then I went to downtown Los Angeles last weekend to a place called Jack’s Wholesale Candy & Toy (photos) and found a box of $24 for only $12.99 ... that’s about 54 cents a package. I bought the whole box (and they said that when their current inventory was gone, the price was going up to $14). They were far cheaper than the lovely French Boules de Miel I got last year at a gourmet store.
The candies are simple. It’s a honey flavored hard candy with a gooey honey center. They come in this simple foil package of nine candies. Each rectangular rod is about one inch long with rounded sides. It fits in the mouth easily, it’s about the same mass as a Starlight Mint (5 grams).
They’re sweet but not cloying or throat searing, it’s more soothing. The honey notes are a little malty, soapy and floral and sometimes I get a little whiff of lemon or eucalyptus. I found that sometimes I could let the candy dissolve and reach the honey center but most of the time I bit them and sucked out the honey or chewed them up.
They’re all natural and only have three ingredients: sugar, corn syrup and honey. (But the honey keeps them from being vegan.)
They’re less like cough drops and more like candy. I can’t say that they calmed my cough that much (but it’s just allergies at the moment, not a cold). They also come in a menthol version and a milk & honey version.
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
About 15 years ago Tootsie introduced a new lollipop. Like many of Tootsie popular lollipops it was a combination of two already famous candies. In this case the Tootsie Caramel Apple Pops combined a hard candy with caramel. It was a base of green apple flavored hard candy covered with a hard caramel (think Sugar Daddy).
Since they candy is meant to mimic a caramel covered apple, it only makes sense that other varieties of apples get their day in the sun. Last year Tootsie introduced their Assorted Apple Orchard Caramel Apple Pops. The bag has a variety: Green Apple, Golden Delicious and Red Macintosh.
I admit that I’ve had these before, well, I’ve had Green Apple pops in my possession before. I used to do product photography, so I’d get large quantities of candy to take pictures of and then I’d get to keep it. I had huge box of these and never actually ate one myself. They’re messy, the packaging doesn’t really highlight them well either. Worse, I saw them being made on TV (I think it was Unwrapped, but can’t find a mention of it on the Food Network website) and they look radically different when purchased than when they roll off the production line.
They’re puckered and irregular and often little bits of caramel poke out of the bottom of the wrapper. But I actually like Sugar Daddy and regular Tootsie Pops, so I should give these a fair shake.
The pops start with a hard candy disk, in this case flavored like green apple. Then the pop gets a coating of hard caramel and then a wrapper. During shipping and storage there’s some sort of glaciation that takes place and the pop flattens and takes on the shape of the wrapper. The hard candy gets marbled with the caramel.
The hard caramel is smooth and sweet with a light toasted sugar flavor with a hint of milk. The green apple candy is slick, without the painfully sharp edged voids of Tootsie Pops and Blow Pops. They’re not as intensely flavored as Jolly Ranchers, just a tart apple flavor. They’re comforting and mellow.
My main complaint is the width of the pop, it’s a little too wide for my mouth. The edges tend to be irregular, kind of rippled from the wrapper, this is uncomfortable when sucking on the pops after a while. The whole pop will eventually be soft and pliable and of course stick to the roof of my mouth if I’m not careful (I’m sure those impressions are like fingerprints).
The Golden Delicious variety comes in a mustard yellow wrapper. In the real fruit world, golden delicious are not on my list of favorite apples - I find them too sweet and often mealy. In the case of the candy version of the golden delicious, neither of those qualities was an issue. The scent of this pop was actually very apple like, it reminded me of peeling apples.
The apple flavor is muted and sweet and doesn’t quite stand up to the caramel as well. It’s almost like applesauce or apple pie a la mode (with caramel sauce).
I was glad that Tootsie didn’t go with red delicious on this one, instead it’s Red Macintosh which is a much more flavorful apple. The pop in this case is kind of in the middle of the flavor profile gamut - it’s not as intense or fake tasting as the Green Apple, but a little bolder than the Golden Delicious. The flavor of the red candy part was like an apple cider - notes of the apple peel and juice but still on the sweet side.
Getting over the messy look of these is a bit difficult, but the candy inside definitely has merits. I don’t see buying them for myself again but I love the idea and think that Tootsie did a great job of making the flavors distinctive enough. The pops are only 60 calories. The combination of textures and flavors makes these a good treat for those watching their calories.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.