Sunday, March 20, 2011
Papabubble Amsterdam & Pillow Fight
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.