Wedged between the tourist-laden Italian restaurants and hole-in-the-wall Chinese eateries dotting Broome Street, Papabubble is an quiet and unassuming candy shop, making it easy to miss. It's unconventional appearance makes it even harder to distinguish: it is not your father's candy shop of yesteryear—homey and warmly quaint—and it doesn't have that joyful kiddie-friendly pop of Dylan's Candy Bar.
No, it's more like a bizarre fusion of a futuristic kitchen and a mad scientist's lab, with Erlenmeyer flasks filled with mysterious neon liquids on the back wall, alongside brushes, Popsicle sticks, graters, ladles and spatulas. Glass panels cordon off the steel tables of this "candy lab," while the opposite wall is lined with shelves demurely showcasing jars of candy in neat rows. Lollipops and candy rings in Petri dishes glow underneath glass containers, and even bite-sized candies are sold in test tubes by the cashier.
For a place that's supposed to help satisfy your sweet tooth, it's jarringly sterile and disarming. However, people keep coming back, and for a good reason: it's the only candy shop in New York where you can witness the factory process of candy making in front of your eyes, as great fruity globules unfurl and transform into lollipops and candy rings.
How the Candy Is Made
Based on the original shop in Barcelona, Spain the visible candy making is a signature of the store. Performed in-store every two to three hours, the process takes one and a half hours. Flavors are poured into a concoction of sugar, glucose and water boiled at 160ºC. Eventually, the viscous mix congeals into a jellified blob and is transferred onto one of the steel tables, which is heated to keep the blobs malleable.
The day I went, they were serving up a fresh batch of mango-flavored candy, which requires four colors for its final design: a dark honey-yellow and a strawberry red, which are combined to produce a wan shade of orange; a pasty off-white for the border; and a kelp-green for the stem.
"It's impossible to tell if something's gone wrong with the design until it's completely finished," co-owner Fiona Ryan told me as she sandwiched a slab of green between two hunks of white, forming what looked like a waxy California roll. She said the most difficult to make are cherries and raspberries, which need additional color pieces due to a bigger stem as a part of the design. Green apple might look easy, but since it only uses green and white, mistakes are more likely to stand out.
Each color layer was then wrapped and rolled into each other to form a thick, baseball bat–sized log. The bottom half was kneaded until it thinned out to the width of a marker, which was then lopped off and sliced into smaller pieces. These pieces then hardened and cooled into individual sticks, which were then chopped up into bite-sized pieces. In the center of the candy was a neat little design resembling a mango—the seemingly random smooshing together of the colored candy blobs from before actually had some sort of order!
A Variety of Sweet Creations
Don't be fooled by the store's mod look and artisan credentials: Papabubble doesn't hawk "haute candy." Flavor-wise, they're are fairly standard, and disappointingly generic in taste. Popular flavors include strawberry and passion fruit, and they also sell jars of various mixes, like the Morris Mix, essentially the store's "everything-but-the-kitchen sink" mix. The Medical Mix features hospital-related designs like a red cross or an ambulance. Each international Papabubble store also has its own unique offering—our own New York shop has its I Love NY Mix, with each candy meticulously bearing the name of one of the five boroughs. (If the mango design seemed intricate, I can't even begin to imagine how they did the writing for this one.)
Most eye-catching, though, are the unlabeled bags on the bottom shelves filled with grotesque, warped candy clumps, analogous to the laboratory essence of the shop. These are leftover bits from candymaking sessions. The store also offers custom orders (examples of which you can see from the ever-changing front window displays).
Taste-wise, Papabubble doesn't offer anything new, but it's definitely worth checking out for the cool design components of the sweets, besides that their candies make great gifts. Owner Chris Grassi encourages and wants people to come by and watch: "If you just come in, buy the candy, then leave, you've just been cheated on the full Papabubble experience," he told me. "There's a lot more to be had here." So if you're interested in watching the magic happen, make sure to give the store a call beforehand to find out what time they'll be making the candy that day.