Wednesday, September 28, 2011
In January of this year I visited Amsterdam for the first time. I was fascinated and delighted by the sweets culture of the Dutch. My visit to the city was almost completely on foot. I arrived in a plane and left on a train, but the rest was just walking around within the area of the city known as the Canal Loop. Here’s my reference map.
I stayed right around the corner from the grand flower market, which wasn’t quite in its full glory as it was late January and many of the items they were selling were just bulbs. My goal when I visit most places is to experience candy as the locals do. Sure, I go to the touristy shops, but I love to see how candy is merchandised in grocery stores, convenience shops, vending machines and drug stores. What I found while in Europe is that candy is thriving and it’s for adults and children.
Amsterdam is a great city to visit any time of year, it’s easy to walk (or take public transportation) and really explore. As I’ve mentioned before, I like to balance my visits with tourist things (canal walks to historical locations & museums) along with living like the locals (grocery shopping, local markets and restaurants). Most of the people I encountered spoke English and I learned most of the common phrases in Dutch very quickly; reading signage (if it wasn’t in English) was also pretty simple with a smartphone dictionary app.
As with most European metropolitan areas, they’re not shy about sweets. Bakeries and access to chocolate and candy abounds. I’ll have more on my candy spotting in future posts. But here are three chocolate shops I visited in Amsterdam:
This is a little tea room style shop, the front is a chocolate counter, but up a few stairs past this and the shop widens out to a little cafe for tea, coffee and pastries.
The style of the chocolates is pure classic. Creams, truffles, candied fruits, caramels and chocolate covered nuts.
They had a good selection of gift chocolate in little stand up bags (chocolate covered nuts dusted in cocoa and powdered sugar, orangettes and boxes of Valrhona chocolate) appropriate as a hostess gift or to take home and enjoy. But mostly the shop seemed to be small baked goods (dipped Florentine) and chocolates.
I picked out a small selection of chocolates by the piece. They did have gift boxes, but I had mine in a little paper bag and took them back to the office to taste with my cappuccino.
My favorite by far was the Honey Caramel with Hazelnuts & Dark Chocolate pictured there a little bit in the back. It was a caramel with a light touch of honey filled with whole hazelnuts. It was sliced and then dipped 3/4 into dark chocolate. A soft chew with lots of dark notes.
I also got a cappuccino & cognac (the twisty thing with a coffee bean on top) which was fluffier than most of my truffles and had a good leathery tang to the coffee notes and the The which was a little “dry” because it was on the intense side. In the back, the flat topped one is a nutmeg and wafer ganache: a bit of feulletine and some rich spice in a milky ganache. (I don’t remember what the other one in the front was - my guess is a dark chocolate, since I usually try to get a plain chocolate). I would definitely stop at this shop again. There are two locations.
The shop that I most wanted to visit was called Puccini Bomboni which also has several locations. My hotel was equidistant from both shops yet I had a bit of trouble getting there. For some reason the morning I decided to make that my coffee stop I chose to go to the Singel location only to realize that they didn’t open until 11 AM. The next day I tried going to the other location on Staalstraat but didn’t make it before they closed at 6 PM. On my third try I did get back to Staalstraat and because of my difficulties, I felt the need to buy nine chocolates.
The shop on Staalstraat is quaint and well situated on a quiet corner. They had lots of impulse items, prepackaged chocolate straws, nougats, chocolate covered nuts and house-made chocolate bars. The shop is lit in amber and had a warmer feel than Pompadour. Still, it was an overwhelming shop, mostly because the chocolates are huge. Seriously, they’re enormous chocolates.
The counter is arranged with what seemed like two dozen varieties. I pondered (and took a few photos) while the woman in the shop fetched an appropriate box.
I was attracted to the less common flavors and of course the liquor infused ones. I can’t remember exactly what I picked up but it went something like this:
Aniseseed, Cognac, Cointreau, Lemongrass, Drambuie, Coffee, Mint, Nutmeg and Hazelnut Marzipan.
Each piece is substantial, some were over two inches long. They were lighter than I expected, the ganache center, made with all natural ingredients were lightly frothed into something that was more like a mousse than a dense truffle.
It was too much chocolate for me, even eating two a day, I found myself overwhelmed with them, because each piece was so huge. The liquor flavors weren’t intense in the way that some alcohol infused kinds can burn. Instead they go more of the flavor in there, so the cognac was leathery and smoky while the cointreau was just a touch orange. The nutmeg was a dreamy, creamy comfort with just a touch of the woodsy and aromatic spice.
I want to eat more of these, but I know that if I ever go back there again I’m going to end up in the same boat - too much chocolate all at once. So my tip to travelers is to make this your stop on your first day, not the last day. I would have gladly traded one of my dinners made of black bread and yogurt for Hazelnut Marzipan.
Vanderdonk is a little different from the other two I visited, they carried a lot of other chocolates from all over the world: Pacari, Taza, Bonnat, Pralus, Valrhona, Venchi and even some Dean & Deluca items. Their website has a good listing of the brands that they carry, the shop is nicely designed and well curated with only a few items from each of the brands.
They also had a selection of house made chocolates. I picked out three as a dessert for my soup lunch before I visited Rijksmuseum.
It was rather cold on that day and for some bizarre reason I decided to eat al fresco. It was probably less than 50 degrees and I huddled on a wind whipped bench by a duck-graced canal around the corner from the museum and sipped my quickly chilling squash soup before diving into my chocolates. The pieces were dense and had very mild flavors. They weren’t my favorite chocolates from the trip but they were a wonderful appetizer before strolling the museum and seeing Johannes Vermeer’s The Milkmaid in person. (It’s much smaller than I expected, and even much bluer.)
If I’m in the city again, I do plan on visiting again to sample the other chocolate that they carry.
Vanderdonk Fine Chocolates
My visit was much more than chocolate, but I’ll have some thoughts about candy and licorice at a later date.
Thursday, August 4, 2011
I know there are a lot of blogs out there that review candy these days, but somehow I feel alone in my obsession for licorice. (And I feel sometimes that I’m alienating my non-licorice loving readers by featuring something black every week.)
I picked up this cute little can from Van Slooten called Flowers & Butterflies Mix of Sugared Liquorice. It’s Dutch and as far as I could tell, was a mix of salted and sweet licorice much like the previous little can I picked up and reviewed of Licorice Figures. It seemed a bit pricey, something the size of a can of beans that cost $3.99, but they really packed the candy in there, it’s over a half a pound at 8.82 ounces.
The mix inside was as described, at least six different shapes and as far as I could tell, three different varieties.
Gummi Flower & Tulip is chewy and dense but with a very mild flavor. It was mostly a toasted sugar flavor, sort of like a marshmallow and some light anise. That was it. I liked it and I ate them all. At first I didn’t realize that the tulip was the same as the flatter 10 petal flower. But once the tulips were gone (yes, I ate them first), I figured it out.
Butterflies are a great medium brown color with sparkly grains of sugar. There are two shapes for the butterflies, but I found the texture and flavor to be the same with them. I expected a griotten flavor and texture, which is a light and airy gummi with a salted licorice flavor. These did have that brown sugar and salted licorice flavor but with instead the texture was sort of tacky and chewy. I can’t say that it as quite a gumdrop, but it definitely wasn’t a gummi marshmallow. I enjoyed these, the salt was quite noticeable but not so much of the ammonia aftertaste taste that I don’t care for.
Gumdrop Flower is really chewy and has a strong molasses flavor. Aside from the grainy sugar coating, it’s quite smooth. I enjoyed it at first, but then there’s a tangy element that creeps in along with something metallic, then I got a hit of the ammonia. As long as I alternated them with the other versions, I found them passable. Ultimately I was left with a dozen of them in the bottom of the can.
I would eat these again, especially for the milder gummi varieties. They’re also pretty and I like the compact, easy to open and close package.
Candy Gurus tried their Fruit Gums called Fun & Sun Fruit Gum
Thursday, June 30, 2011
I saw that there was a new Mentos flavor pack over a year ago, called Mentos Rainbow it featured seven flavors in a mixed package. None of the flavors are actually new, as far as I can tell, it’s just an opportunity to get the full assortment at once.
The package sports a colorful rainbow of stripes across it along with icons for each of the flavors. The pieces are actually lined up that way in the package, which is good because the colors don’t exactly match the hues on the wrapper.
I picked these up twice. The first time I found them at Mel & Rose Wine and Liquors last year (and I saw them in Europe earlier this year as well). I took some photos and ate them, but didn’t review them right away. Then I noticed that they were carrying them at the Rite Aid near my house, so I thought this was the time to try them again. So I picked up two new packages and did some more photos.
Strawberry (light purple-pink) is soft and floral with a light yogurt tang to it.
Pineapple (yellow) is rather like canned pineapple, very sweet with only the slightest balsam quality to it.
Grape (purple) is definitely not the American grape we’re all used to. It’s very concord-like with some strong tannin notes and something that tastes a little bit like cough syrup (in that way that it burns).
Cherry (medium pink) actually started tasting more like a berry but developed into a rather believable cherry juice flavor.
Raspberry (dark pink) is very sweet and lacks most of the things I like about raspberries, like a potent woodsy flavor with floral overtones. None of that here.
Orange (soft orange) is sweet and juicy with a little note of zest but very little citrus tang.
Watermelon (green) is weird and metallic at first. Then I got some of the melon notes but then it was more like eating sour paper. Not for me, thankfully there are only two in the package and the only green ones at that.
I like that the package has a large variety of flavors and has a dependable portion for each one (instead of something like Skittles, that’s random). The odd thing I noticed though is that the first package I picked up last year had a slightly different flavor assortment.
The European version (shown directly above) doesn’t have Cherry, instead it has Green Apple.
They’re not suitable for vegetarians, even though they removed gelatin from them. They use all natural colorings now, which includes Carmine. I still miss Pink Grapefruit Mentos.
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Tony’s Chocolonely is a rather funny name for a chocolate company. They make fair trade chocolate in the Netherlands and can be found in much of Western Europe. (I saw them in department stores in both Amsterdam and Cologne.)
The packaging is eye catching with its bold use of primary colors and large friendly typefaces.
The issue of slavery, particularly child slavery, in cacao growing regions of Africa has been well documented. You can read more on Tony’s website. The aim of Tony’s Chocolonely is to source their cacao directly in Ivory Coast and Ghana from fair trade plantations in order to create a more responsible supply chain model and provide living wages for farmers. But really, it can’t happen overnight and this sort of widespread change needs more than just niche producers, it requires the involvement of the price-conscious, major chocolate buyers like Hershey’s, ADM, Mars, Kraft, Nestle and Cargill.
The packaging of Tony’s Chocolonely is friendly and casual, and probably a lot more attractive to children than many other fair trade options out there. So it’s a great choice around a holiday when you want to give kids a treat that might include a lesson but also include, well, the actual goodness of the treat they expect. The chocolate levels are not as intense, I’d say we’re close to the family chocolate range instead of the gourmet intense end of things.
The Easter Egg range that they gave me as a sample comes in this cute little egg carton that holds a full dozen eggs, which are about 1.5” inches high - a little larger than the size of a quail’s egg.
The Milk Chocolate Eggs are quite decadent. The chocolate is definitely kid friendly, but not without its appeal to candy lovers of all ages. The bite is soft, like a Cadbury though the cacao density is much higher at 30%. The milky flavors are in the Belgian style, clean but rather thick and sticky.
The Dark Chocolate Egg has a great snap, though in this size it’s a little hard to bite. (So just let the whole thing melt in your mouth.)
The flavor profile is very mild. There are light fruity and woodsy notes, but it’s overall a very sweet chocolate. It’s a dark chocolate for children who can’t have milk products or perhaps vegans.
The Milk Chocolate Praline Eggs are probably the most luxurious of the bunch, perhaps it’s just me because this style is not as common in the United States. The milk chocolate shell looks the same but is easier to bite. They’re filled with a hazelnut paste, which is sweet and nutty ... there’s a light and fresh floral note, a little like the fresh feeling from jasmine tea. I like them, though they were really very sweet and I couldn’t eat more than one at a sitting.
For every day consumption Tony’s Chocolonely also makes milk chocolate and dark chocolate bars. It will be a wonderful day when there are more holiday and special occasion options available and this set is a good start. I’m still a little more inclined towards Green & Black’s for my ordinary chocolate needs, but for folks who want something a little sweeter or kid friendly, this might be the stuff.
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
While I was in Europe earlier this year I made a point to sample as much licorice as I possibly could. What I found is that the world of licorice products varies greatly by cultural tradition, price point and intensity. Here are a dozen items I found, in descending order of my affection.
I meant it when I said I’m starting with the high point of my European licorice adventures. I loved this stuff.
When I was walking the exhibits at ISM Cologne (the largest candy trade show in the world), I knew that I wanted to visit the Amarelli Licorice booth. They sell wonderful little tins of intense licorice pastilles. I’ve been buying their minty coated version called Bianconeri for about 10 years, though not very often because each tin is about $6 and holds about an ounce.
I was not disappointed by their booth. They had so many different products I had never tried. The ones that impressed me the most were little glycerine pastilles that were rose or violet along with the intense and smooth black licorice. (I don’t know how they sell those, they just said that they didn’t come in tins.)
I tried their pebble looking candy coated licorice called Sassolini which I was enchanted immediately.
They’re much bigger than their other products, most of these are larger than a Peanut M&M. They’re irregular and do a convincing imitation of an actual little rock. The thickness of the soft cream and blue colors have a pleasing heft to them.
The flavor of the candy shell is vanilla, soft and with a hint of the anise underneath. The center is a chewy black licorice that has an intense flavor of both licorice and anise. They’re really strong and the dense chew of the center means they last a long time, though they do get stuck in my teeth if I chew them up instead of letting them dissolve. The flavor lingers as a dull buzzing feeling on my tongue long after its gone. I like this so much I found that Licorice International carries the nuggets in bulk, so I ordered two 6 ounce packages to refill my tin.
The tin shows a child at the beach (or perhaps just a lakeshore) with a big red pail and sail boats in the background. Of all the designs of their tins, this is my least favorite, perhaps because the design is less focused on the typography.
I first read about Lakrids by Johan Bulow on Chocablog last year. I was hoping to sample their line at ISM Cologne, so I wasn’t disappointed when I found their booth and got to try everything. They sent me home with a few packages of their line of gourmet licorice using real licorice root. The whole line comes in these chic little plastic jars. The products are all named with numbers of letters. The Choc Coated Liquorice is A.
They’re gluten free, which is pretty rare for a licorice product as most of the American and Australian styles are wheat based.
They’re also really expensive at about $8 to $10 per 165 gram (5.8 ounces) jar. (I see a trend already with my licorice leanings, I like the quality stuff.)
They smell a little woodsy and milky. The powdery coating on the outside isn’t cocoa, it’s ground licorice. True licorice is very sweet, and this stuff definitely was real and potent. A little touch to my tongue and it was a sweetness that has no thick or sticky quality like sugar. There’s a deep woodsy note to it as well. The chocolate is sweet and milky, and provides more a texture to the candy than a chocolate flavor. Most of what I got was milk, not chocolate. The licorice center isn’t very sweet but also not quite a salty licorice. There were strong molasses and toffee notes, burnt flavors and dark mossy notes.
It’s more of a savory treat than sweet. It’s incredibly munchable but at the same time, very satisfying to have two or three and be done.
Johan Bulow makes a wide variety of products already, including Habanero Chili Licorice and Chili Cranberry Licorice. I was also taken with the simplicity of the Lakrids 1: Sweet Licorice.
The glossy little nibs hardly look like real edibles, but they are. The flavor is rich and actually creamy. The flavor has a backdrop of roasted notes that come from treacle. It was sweet and bitter. The texture was a little gummy, and did stick to my teeth a bit. Like the chocolate covered version, I didn’t feel the need to keep eating it after a few pieces because they actually satisfied me.
So I got back to Los Angeles with this sample and I was confused and kind of embarrassed by my assumptions. I thought it was Italian. The name is Carletti but I found out it’s a Danish company.
I also picked up some other items they make, such as Dutch Mints (or as they call them Mintlinser Drage) which were also nicely packaged and featured (as far as I can tell with my limited knowledge of Danish) all natural colorings. (See website.)
The little pieces of firm licorice are covered in colorful (naturally colored) candy shells. They’re a little narrower than a regular Chiclet and a bit thicker. The chew was a bit dense but had an excellent flavor profile. It wasn’t salty but also not terribly sweet. The shells seemed to have a light flavor of their own, the orange being notably orange and the purple possibly violet. The center was a bitter and had some good molasses to it.
I was put off by the bitterness, but drawn to the other flavors within, something like charcoal and burnt toast and licorice. But the intensity kept me coming back.
Mentos Lakrits Mint
I’ve purchased Lakrits Mint Mentos a few times before, but I think this is the first time I’ve actually included them in a post.
They look rather watery, not very intense. But don’t let the fact that they’re not full of caramel coloring or molasses fool you. They’re quite licoricey. The flavor does have some of the deep woodsy notes and they’re oddly creamy when chewed. The mint is mostly in the crunchy shell and fades away quickly. The salty tones are very mild, for folks who have never tried salted licorice, this is a good starter.
Mentos Drop Citroen & Drop Aardbei
A more unusual version I found in Amsterdam is the roll that mixes Drop Citroen and Drop Aardbei. Drop is the generic name for licorice in Dutch.
The package may have made it look like one half was Lemon and one half was Strawberry, but they were just a random mix. Mine had about 2/3 aardbei.
The curious structure is revealed ... at the center is a little core of licorice inside the normal fruit chew.
The combination? Well, I wouldn’t say that I loved them, but I did end up eating them all. The center wasn’t so much about licorice, it was more of a salty and molasses flavor, a bit more savory than the bland fruity outside. The lemon was mild and only sweetness. The strawberry was a bit more nuanced, with some more floral and cotton candy notes to it.
This is also made by Perfetti Van Melle, the same folks who make Mentos. What I learned a little bit late in my Dutch adventure was the difference between Zoet and Zout. Drop Zoet are sweet licorice and Drop Zout are salty licorice. One little letter ... so much meaning.
A mix of griotten shaped like large hemispheres and salty rockies. Rockies are a tube of licorice filled with a grainy but slightly less intense licorice cream. They’re sanded with a bit of sugar. They were rooty and earthy. The texture was a bit more doughy than the other brands I’ve been buying and less of a licorice punch with slightly more ammonia salt.
I really bought these because of my curiosity when it came to the little domes. I didn’t know what they were. Turns out, as I mentioned above, they’re like Griotten, a small and dense licorice marshmallow.
It’s a little doughy and spicy. The griotten texture is like a firm, dense marshmallow with a sugary crust. The flavor is deep and not as intense as others I’ve had. There’s a vague ammonia salt note to it, but a strong licorice flavor with a hint of molasses. The molasses gives it the taste of a spice cookie, which is what they look like to me.
Katjes Fruit Tappsy (Germany)
I’ve had the mild licorice Tappsy before. They feature a panda face with different flavors for the ears or other contrasting color parts.
The Fruit Tappsy are gummis with a strong and stiff chew. The licorice portion is mild and the fruity portions are actually quite vibrant. The combination of licorice and fruit, though, is really not to my liking. I think the texture of the Tappsy with the marshmallow base might give a creamier component to these that might bringing it all together for me.
I’m not saying that they’re bad, just not really my favorite of the Tappsy versions out there.
I’ve tried AutoDrop candies before, based solely on the name. The entire brand of AutoDrop candies, made by Van Slooten, are based around the theme of cars and their drivers. Some are winegums but most are licorice. This bag certainly caught my eye, with its matte black background and blue foil line art.
Inside are five different candies, each with a different shape, texture and flavor profile. I don’t actually know what the name means. Donder means thunder, but maybe Donders means crashes.
Megpiraat - one eyed, grinning face - a stiff but smooth chewing molded licorice piece. The flavor has a nice mix of molasses and licorice, which is a light sweetness. A little touch of anise and some deep toffee notes.
Spookrijder - looks like a rustic piece of chalk. I was hoping it would be like Skoolkrijt (a tube of licorice filled with cream and covered in a minty candy shell). The shell is minty, but also a little crumbly. The interior looks like grainy brown sugar and has a pleasant molasses undertone and a faint licorice flavor and a hint of salmiak.
Zondagsruder - a smooth licorice gummi, I quite liked this one. It wasn’t very strong on flavor, more like a light anise with a sweet marshmallow & vanilla note.
Brokkenpiloot - this was the saltiest of the bunch and one that I pulled out of the mix. Unfortunately, it’s also the one I had the most of.
Bumperklever - caramel colored piece that has a light toffee and licorice flavor. This had a bouncy texture that was almost a marshmallow gummi. Sweet but a little salty as well but without the bitter metallic aftertaste.
Overall, kind of a losing situation for me. Out of duty I ate all the Zondagrsruder and a few of the Spookrijder and Bumperklever, but the rest have just been sitting around.
Haribo Lakritz Parade
This mix was like a German version of All Sorts. It included cream licorice (made with fondant) and other panned candies in addition to molded salted licorice pieces. I picked up the peg bag at the grocery store, again, for about a Euro ($1.40).
The little colored pieces were lovely, what’s more, the package said that they only use all natural colorings. There were licorice rods covered in a candy shell, covered in fondant (like All Sorts without the coconut) and larger diamonds of salty licorice covered in a shell (I reviewed those already). There were also little M&Ms which were a crumbly molassesy sugar mixed with licorice and salt.
They looked great, but I can’t say that my problem was with the flavor as most were just bland. The pastilles were bland, just kind of earthy and chewy. The little lentil thing was just grainy and a little bitter, the colorful licorice tubes were just sweet.
The molded licorice shapes were enchanting to look at. I can’t say that their attention to quality control was great. These were the best in the bunch. The salino is like a Zout, it was doughy and yes, a little bland except for the strong ammonia quality. The others were, again, watery and tasteless except for a dirt and vague anise note. The chew was smooth.
This is another licorice I bought in Amsterdam. It was pretty cheap, I’d say less than $2 American. I wanted just a simple licorice pastel. I’ve had Venco products before, I buy their Skoolkrijt all the time. So I thought their version of Good & Plenty would be great as well. I also lucked out that I chose a zoet licorice (unlike that Haribo Sali-Kritz)
I was worried about the word hard in the description, but at least that part turned out not to be true.
First, I’m not keen on dark colored candies, they tend to need more coloring, which displaces actual flavors and textures that should be there. So the blue and the black ones were not ones I ate with much interest.
The little rods of licorice are covered in a thin but crunchy shell. The licorice at the center is actually overpowered by the flavor of the shell. The shells, in some cases were flavored. I don’t know if they were supposed to be flavored, but the blue/purple ones were definitely floral, like violet. Not heavily licorice flavored, these just left me bored. Even the color assortment didn’t thrill me. Half of the fun of candy coated candy is the look of it.
While I was traveling in Germany I mostly when off of how things looked, but every once in a while, I pulled out my Android phone (which didn’t work as a phone) and used the German-English dictionary to look things up. So I knew that this was a black licorice bar. The character on the front says that it’s soft licorice. So at least the words were helpful.
The package is creepy. I like the boldness of it, don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a lot of the graphic work that Haribo does. But this anthropomorphic character of a string of licorice palling around with a boy is just weird. Go ahead, look at it closer. But hey, it’s what’s inside that counts, right. I didn’t even flinch at the insulting Asian caricature in the previous mix.
It’s a hefty bar, at 125 grams (4.41 ounces) for about a buck.
The bar pulls apart into licorice rods quite easily. Each is about the size and shape of an unsharpened pencil. It is soft and pliable, glossy and really looks so promising.
But it tastes so bad. The chew is dense and has a strong wheat flavor to it, yes, it actually tastes a bit like flour or al dente pasta. But there’s more, it’s a bit tangy, in the way that weak coffee can be tangy. And it has a weak licorice flavor to go with that. It’s only vaguely sweet and not quite salty. It’s not overtly earthy but tastes a little musty.
This has pushed me over the edge to proclaim that I don’t wish to ever eat another Haribo licorice product again.
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, August 30, 2010
For something that’s described as “Chew Mints”, Mentos fail on diversity of mint flavors. In the United States there is exactly one mint flavor available: Mint. In other countries there are Spearmint, Xtra (double strong Peppermint or Spearmint), Lime Mint, Ice Mint, Cool Chews Orange Mint, Pomelo Mint, Strong Mint, Barley Mint and Lakritz Mint.
The only other flavor in the current American repertoire that I think features Freshmaking abilities is the Cinnamon Mentos. They’re not easy to find, I rarely see them in stores but grabbed this roll when I saw them at Walgreen’s last week.
The package is hard to spot though, because it’s red and looks a lot like Strawberry at first glance.
The pieces don’t smell cinnamon-like. It’s not like having a package of cinnamon gum and having the scent of it waft through your purse or desk drawer. These are quiet and self-contained.
They’re smooth and have a good crunch to the outside. The inside is like a candy version of Big Red gum. They’re woodsy and a little warm from the cinnamon flavoring, but not overly hot. The flavor last through the whole chew and is in general satisfying. There’s a little hint of mint to it, but that may just be me imagining it.
Some of the fruit flavors of Mentos can have a weird aftertaste, but the Cinnamon ones have a fresh note at the end. They cut mid-morning coffee mouth without making me feel like I’ve eaten a wad of toothpaste.
Friday, August 13, 2010
I found this small bag of Crazy Candy Co Candy Laces at Aldi. They have a few sugar-based candies from this Crazy Candy Co on the shelves, like gummi bears and sour neon worms. Though Aldi sells Haribo, this Crazy Candy Co is one of their house brands.
The Candy Laces are like fruity licorice; they’re made from wheat and come in four flavors: Strawberry, Apple Peach, Raspberry, Peach. The package says they use no artificial flavors or colors. The package is cute and inviting and would certainly appeal to juveniles. The price is pretty good at 79 cents for three ounces - it’s not a lot of candy or a lot of money for a little treat.
The laces are about 18-20 inches long each. Though it’s natural coloring, they’re bold and bright.
The laces are soft and flexible, but still strong enough to take a little tugging and pulling. They have a light beeswax coating on them to keep them from sticking and drying out, but it’s not oily or sticky. I found it easy to twist and braid the laces together. Let’s face it, one of the reasons I bought them was because I thought they’d be fun to play with and photograph.
The laces are lightly translucent and well made. Not bumps, tacky or chalky spots.
The peach and apple flavors are authentic. It’s like a lightly sweet glass of juice. The texture of the chew is a little sticky but since the cords are so thin to begin with, it’s not like big gobs can get stuck in my teeth.
The color is bright and the laces sometimes look like a heap of curry ramen to me.
The peach flavor is a little tart and has a little pine note to it, like peach skins. It’s not overwhelming or artificial, though still not quite authentic.
I was hoping for something really intense and jammy. Instead it’s just a little tart, vaguely floral and mildly berry-flavored.
One thing that I noticed about the Raspberry laces is that they’re slightly smaller in diameter from the other flavors. Still the same texture though.
Strawberry is a common flavor for red licorice, so I went into this with a lot of experience with red laces. My first impression: nicely done.
The flavor is tart and good mix of floral, berry and tangy notes. The chew is firm, like an al dente pasta and it’s not as leathery or doughy as some other American and Australian versions.
I found that they kept fresh even without sealing the bag up inside a zippered plastic bag like I do with many of my opened candies. After about a week they got a little firmer, but never tacky or dry.
The package is nicely designed and the candy itself is well made. I don’t care personally for the flavor mix much, but I know that children would probably be drawn to the bright colors and mainstream flavors. (They might be disappointed that the apple isn’t more like the Jolly Rancher Green Apple.) These would be great for decorating as well.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.