Wednesday, April 18, 2012
One of the places that sealed the deal to get me to attend was Lubeck, home to Niederegger Marzipan. If there was a candy that I was introduced to through the blog that changed my mind about a long held prejudice, it was Niederegger’s Cappuccino Marzipan bar.
Lubeck is actually home to many marzipan makers. At one time there were dozens, now there are a handful, but enough of them that there is a strict standard they must follow if they wish to be called Lubecker Marzipan. Kind of like sparkling wine can’t be called Champagne unless it’s from Champagne. How Lubeck became a center of marzipan creation when they don’t actually grow the sugar or almonds necessary for its creation is kind of an odd tale.
Lubeck is a Hanseatic City, which means it was a member Dudesche Hanse, an economic alliance of cities and merchant guilds in Northern Europe starting in 1358 until the 1860s when it was one of the last remaining members. As a center of trade Lubeck had access to the almonds and sugar it needed to make marzipan and the shipping routes to export it.
In 1806 Johann Georg Niederegger purchased Maret Confectioner, where the current Niederegger Cafe stands to this day. The company is still family owned, in its seventh generation.
Niederegger is widely regarded as one of the best marzipans from Germany. It’s characterized by its consistent texture and high quality. The marzipan is made in one facility, just outside of town in the traditional style of open copper pots.
The almonds sourced for Niederegger are from Spanish, mostly Marcona almonds though at times they also source from Italy. To start the almonds are cleaned and then blanched and then the fibrous peels are removed. There’s a lot of hand work involved in the entire process, as workers pick over the almonds after the blanching process to keep the quality high.
The almonds are then mixed with sugar and ground and cooked in open copper pots. The staff were hesitant to give us exact times for how long these processes take, but it’s probably more than an hour and less than a day.
The cooking and mixing is carefully supervised by the cooks. The day we were there it was cold and rainy and it’s pretty much assured that the room was probably not heated and it was quite balmy. I can’t imagine what it’s like in there even with air conditioning in the summer. The pots generate quite a bit of steam and moisture.
Once the marzipan is finished multiple pots are dumped into a large one and quickly cooled with dry ice. The last step is the addition of rosewater, which I believe has a touch of alcohol in it. The marzipan is then molded into blocks and sent along to other parts of the factory for different purposes.
Though Valentine’s Day isn’t as big of a deal in Europe as North America, the Niederegger Hearts are extremely popular year round but do show up in American stores for special holidays.
All enrobed chocolates had the Niederegger name embossed on the bottom.
Because the company makes such a huge variety of shapes, sizes, varieties and packaging styles, much of the work is done by humans, who are far more adaptable. This also helps to account for the higher price of Niederegger products.
In addition to the machine made products, some are molded by hand and then hand decorated. Though no photos were provided, we visited one room where they did custom molded pieces, especially for corporate clients as well as favors for weddings that can be personalized for the couple.
Though many of the Niederegger products are expensive when priced out by the pound, there are plenty of items available for less than a buck. They have stick or log versions of their bars which are usually about one Euro and their little loaves are about 35 cents or so. The box above is their Klassiker which featured pistachio, orange, pineapple and espresso. I think this assortment is about 6 Euros. It’s one of the products I see for sale in the United States around Christmas but often for somewhere more in the neighborhood of $9 or $10.
The loaves are enrobed, like the hearts in the factory photos above. I generally prefer enrobed chocolates, I like the way the coating adheres to the fillings better than molded products.
At the end of our tour, the Niederegger folks gave us a sampler tray of their most popular current products. (Later we also went to their cafe and shop where I bought about 40 Euros more of stuff.)
I think the little loaves are my favorite. The chocolate is quite thin and the foil is always cute. They’re barely an inch long, so it’s not even two full bites. Since there’s little chocolate, it’s very much about the marzipan. There’s not as much sugar in the Niederegger marzipan as in some other varieties. Also, it has a more rustic grind to it, it’s not a smooth dough or paste like some. Think of it like peanut butter cookie dough - it holds its shape but has a slight grain. The sugar is completely integrated though. There’s a toasty flavor throughout.
The trick with the little loaves though is that they get dried out quickly. I found that there’s no point in hoarding them, they should be eaten within 3 months if possible, and be sure to keep them in a sealed tin or zippered bag.
The long bars solve that dryness problem with a thicker chocolate coating and a fully sealed plastic wrapper. Those seem to seal the moisture in much better. The Espresso Marzipan is by far my favorite of their standard flavors. So much so that I pick them up whenever I see them at a trade show, gourmet shop or when in Europe.
The marzipan is generally sweet, but the dark toffee flavors of the espresso really balance it out and even give it a little bitter edge that pairs well with some of the bitter note of the almonds.
In that big assortment from the Niederegger folks I got to try something new, their liqueur marzipans:
Rum Truffel - this was the most traditional and perhaps the most boring of the set. The reservoir center had a little slab of rum infused chocolate truffle. It was sweeter than the others, but had a nice little kick to it.
Orangen Liqueur is moister than most of the other Niederegger marzipans I’ve had. It’s hard to tell if there was a liquored up center, which was a little darker than the rest of the marzipan, or that was just where the stuff concentrated itself. The scent has a light touch of orange zest to it. The flavor of the marzipan is delicate, the chocolate creamy and only a very thin shell of it to seal in the marzipan and cut the sweetness. The bite of the liquor isn’t intense or harsh, just a light warming. I liked this one quite a bit, and tasted it compared to the classic Orangen piece as well. The liqueur does add a little more zest and less juice flavor to it, and the alcohol’s ability to make me blush probably gives me the impression that it’s said something flattering.
Armagnac Pflaume - is a plum brandy. The idea didn’t really sound that appealing to me, but I know that I’ve enjoyed many of the things that the Japanese have done with plums and confectionery, so I thought I’d give it a chance. This piece has a little ribbon of plum jam of some sort in the center. The flavor is a little like brandied prunes, tangy and with deep cherry and raisin notes. The alcohol was quite distinctive and hit me high in my chest, between my collar bones.
Williams Christ is a Pear William brandy puree in the center of the marzipan. Though it looked rather like the Armagnac one, it definitely tasted distinctly of pear and a little like ripe bananas.
Eier Liqueur - is made with an egg liqueur. This is one of those drinks that I’ve never actually had except in confections (all German) so it’s hard for me to compare it to anything else. It’s like a creamy vanilla pudding center, with a slight rum buzz to it. I liked it, though the idea of egg cream in a candy is a little strange at first, and then I remember my love of nougat and custards.
One of the newer flavors I was really excited to pick up in Germany was their Niederegger Vodka Fig Marzipan. They’re wrapped in bright purple foil and came in a long package like the sticks, but really just a strip of the loaves.
Again, freshness was the key here. The center had a definite grain alcohol blast to it. The figs were well supported by the delicate flavors of the almond paste and the vodka did a good job of helping disperse that flavor throughout.
On the whole, I’m not sure I needed the vodka, just a fig marzipan would be fine with me. And when I say fine, I mean, I wish there were fig marzipans available easily. I might have to make my own.
The last box I bought was called Niederegger Marzipan Weihnachtskofekt and I think I paid 6 Euros for it. It was a combination of three different winter flavors for Christmas. (Remember, I was there in December.)
The box was very simple, as are most of their packages. It was a paperboard box with a metallic gold plastic tray with little sections for each piece of candy. It protected the pieces extremely well (this was early in my trip and had to go on and off the bus every day for nearly 1,000 kilometers plus the flights home). So the inside did well, but the exterior got quite dinged up.
Since it was a seasonal product it was extremely fresh, the centers were soft and moist.
Arabisch-Mocca - toasty flavors of coffee and a little hint of chocolate in the center. The marzipan has more of a toffee and coffee flavor than anything almond. The dark chocolate shell seals it all up and has a nice bittersweet component that also gives it a creamy start.
Dattel-Honig is the only milk chocolate piece of the set. It smells like ripe bananas. In fact, it tastes like ripe bananas. Like actual fermented bananas, with a light alcoholic and tangy note towards the top. The milk chocolate and the dates keep it all rather sweet. I didn’t catch much on the honey side of things.
Ingwer is one of my favorite bars from Niederegger. The little pattie version is a gem as well. The ginger is soft and glace style, the dark chocolate keeps it all from being to sweet or sticky. There’s less chocolate in this version than the bar, and more of an alcoholic bite as well.
I know I have oodles more photos of the store, the cafe and the products I bought. But it’s more of the same. The ingredients are simple and great and I think Niederegger has very high standards for what they’ll produce. They make some other nougat (gianduia) products which I haven’t sampled extensively. They do great marzipan, one of the other marzipans that I’ve ever tried that I truly love, so I’m always eager to try more of those. I’ve noticed that no matter what kind of store I was shopping in, a department store like Kaufhof or a grocery store like Rewe, the prices were always the same. So no sense in going bargain shopping, the trick for me when traveling was finding a store that carried the size and format of the flavors that I liked.
(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.)
Tuesday, January 10, 2012
I missed reviewing this array of Niederegger Marzipan Weihnachtskofekt, special marzipan disks with seasonal flavors: Ingwer, Dattel-Honig & Arabisch-Mocca before Christmas. Suffice to say that they were fresh, nutty and delicious.
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?
Monday, January 26, 2009
The newest version is Bittersweet Chocolate filled with Ginger Marzipan (called Marzipan Ingwer on the package).
Though it wasn’t open and out on the counter for tasting, the fellows at the booth really thought this was a special bar and opened one up for me to try. After I confirmed that it was in fact, pretty darn tasty, they gave me the rest to take home. I had a hard time, even with all my other samples, not continuing to eat it before I got home to photograph it.
It’s a bittersweet chocolate shell filled with a rustic almond marzipan with chunks of candied ginger.
The bar was fresh and glossy, it has a woodsy and spicy scent. A little touch of bitter almond at the start along with the creamy and slightly bitter dark chocolate. This slowly gives way to the mellow almond paste flavors with less of the “amaretto” taste and into a warm ginger burn. It finishes again with the chocolate.
I ate the whole bar.
I am definitely a fan of Niederegger, though I can’t stress this enough: it has to be fresh. They make a wide variety of products, including traditional loaves of plain marzipan, but they’ve found a new convert through their consistent flavor versions.
The chocolate contains milk products, so this is not a vegan product but it is all-natural.
Wednesday, September 5, 2007
After Christmas last year I bought some marzipan that I actually loved. Made by Niederegger in Germany, these folks have been making marzipan for over 200 years. I wanted to buy more, but the only ones I’ve seen in stores are the regular flavor which I tried at the Fancy Food Show and found to be okay.
While I’m not ordinarily a marzipan fan, it’s my dislike for Amaretto that prompts my avoidance, because I actually love almonds and eat them just about every day. But I’m coming around on marzipan ... Charles Chocolates makes an excellent and zesty set of marzipan and I was hoping that Marzipan Orange was a more easily available version of it. (But sadly, really not less expensive.)
I was a little irritated when I opened the bar to photograph it and found that it was slightly bloomed. At first I cursed myself for not storing it properly (this was before the Great Heat Wave of Labor Day Weekend ‘07 that got temps in my candy studio up to 99 degrees during the day when the power went out), but when I opened the other chocolate items my husband brought back from NYC (the Ritter Sport Schokowurfel and another bar) I found that it was just this one and then I raised my fist to curse the folks who sold him a SIX DOLLAR bar that had not been stored properly.
But you know, I ate it anyway. ‘Cuz it smelled sooooo good. I feel pretty good about it, too.
It smells like someone has been in the kitchen juicing fresh oranges and perhaps baking cookies at the same time. The orange zest scent is lovely with an added note of vanilla and a sort of caramelly nut smell topped off with a light chocolate. It makes me happy.
Though the chocolate wasn’t as creamy-melt-in-your-mouth as the capuccino one I had before, I’m pretty confident that this was still tasty stuff, with full chocolate flavor to add to the light zest of citrus. The marzipan was firm and a little on the dry side and only lightly sweet (one of the hallmarks of Niederegger). It wasn’t a super-smooth, doughy version like a fondant or anything, this felt like a rustic almond paste. (It’s pretty high in protein too, 4 grams per 1.4 ounce serving.)
I would definitely plunk down $6 again for a fresh and properly stored bar. I saw on the Niederegger website that they little foil wrapped pieces in various fruity flavors (this is how I’ve tried the plain), I’m going to keep my eyes peeled at the holidays at places like Cost Plus World Market. If you’ve tried these before, where have you found them? GermanDeli.com has the orange bar (and on sale for $4.99 right now).
Unfortunately it’s not vegan (milk in the semisweet chocolate) but it is otherwise vegetarian.
Wednesday, January 11, 2006
I hardly thought it was possible, but I found a marzipan I actually like. (See, I didn’t give up.)
The chocolate is good quality, slightly bitter but smooth and the center is a different kind of marzipan. It’s not the ultrafine paste that you find in some of the sculpted varieties. Instead this one has palpable bits of almond in it and a darker color (because of the coffee flavoring). There’s also only the slightest hint of amaretto, which is the actual thing I don’t like about marzipan. I love almonds, I just don’t like the “flavor” of almonds.
The bar doesn’t really have much of a capuccino flavor, but a pleasing scent and creamy quality that I found really compelling.
I doubt these are widely available, but I noticed that Cost Plus had quite a variety of this brand (they were on sale for the After Christmas clearance) so I might give their actual plain marzipan a try in the future or perhaps the Orange I saw on this site.
Interesting fact: Niederegger was founded by Johann Georg Niederegger on March 1, 1806 ... that means they’re going to celebrate their bicentennial of marzipan in a few scant months. Happy Birthday Niederegger!
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.