Appreciating a country’s food is one of the delights of travelling: Spanish candies are a particularly sweet way to get to know the country.
If you look around any Spanish railway station you’ll see the Spanish have a national sweet tooth – there are almost always at least two sweet shops even if there’s only one cafe.
Of course you could stick to well known brands like Snickers and M&Ms, but travelling in Spain becomes much more fun if you look out for typically Spanish sweets.
Candied chestnuts, candied fruits, and fruit pastilles are perennial favourites: Don’t be deceived by the fact that the candied fruits might look like wine gums, if you buy them from a specialist shop they are most likely made with just fruit pulp and sugar, and the taste is intense, and as if candied chestnuts aren’t delicious enough on their own, you can sometimes find them dipped in chocolate too.
A special fruit sweet you’ll find only in Spain is membrillo, which is quince paste. Quinces are boiled with sugar to make this soft reddish-brown paste, which can be sliced and eaten on toast, as well as served as a dessert.
Each City has its Speciality
Many cities have their own particular specialities; for instance turron, a type of nougat, can be found everywhere, but Jijona on the east coast of Spain is its spiritual, and legal, home. By law, the soft Jijona nougat has to contain 64 percent almonds. The mix of soft, sweet nougat and crunchy nuts is addictive; If you have the chance to visit Jijona, it even has a museum dedicated to the sweet.
Jijona’s main competition is Alicante, not far away, which makes a harder version of turron. Alicante turron only has to contain 60 percent almonds; honey and egg whites create the nougat base.
You will find turron of different varieties all over Spain, but turron de yemas; bright yellow balls of rich paste made with egg yolk and sugar; are difficult to find outside their home, the little walled city of Avila. They are delicate tasting, a hint of lemon juice offsetting the richness of the sugar and egg. (yema is the Spanish word for yolk)
In Madrid, on the other hand, the local treat is the ‘violeta’, flavoured with violet petals. They are found in several shops but perhaps the one with most character is ‘La Violeta’ in Plaza de Canalejas, near Puerta del Sol; a small sweet shop selling fruit candies and candied violets as well.
Now for what many regard as the best sweet in the whole of Spain, take a day trip out of Madrid and go marzipan-hunting in Toledo. You won’t have to look hard; in fact it is difficult to avoid marzipan in this hilltop city, with every cafe, pastry shop and even monasteries keen to sell their version of the sweet. Some have a jam or fruit filling, others (‘marquesas’) add pine nuts to the almonds that make the marzipan, some have the distinctive taste of honey added to the normal sugar.
Legal protection for typical sweets
Toledo marzipan, like Jijona turron, has its brand protected by law. Unlike German marzipans, which tend to be sweet and somewhat soft, Toledo marzipan is quite hard (it’s baked after the paste has been moulded into shape), and the delicate flavour of the almonds isn’t overwhelmed by the sugar.
Want to get the best marzipan in Toledo? Head for the monastery church of Santo Domingo el Antiguo. It boasts a number of superb El Greco paintings as well as the artist’s tomb, but the friendly nuns also sell excellent marzipan at reasonable prices.
There’s usually a fat nun and a thin nun on duty together: Worried about the effect of the marzipan on your figure? Don’t be, it’s the thin nun who eats all the marzipan!