Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Amsterdam on Foot: Three Chocolate Shops
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.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.