Unbeknown to everyone but a small group of Dessert Comes First readers, there was a sizzling forum some time ago on my post, Caramel Apple of My Eye. I say “sizzling,” because, though the forum is now quiet, the discussion itself garnered 123 comments, much, MUCH more than the usual number of comments my posts usually receive. DCF readers are quite a quiet lot, preferring to be more discerning than vocal, and that’s fine with me.
The post was my feature on SanFo Treats, the pioneer ”“ if I may say ”“ of caramel apples in Manila. Published on this website in late April, the post’s comments had its share of SanFo fans and dissenters. What heated up the discussion was the repeated mention of a certain Czarina’s Gourmet Apples. My curiosity piqued, I jumped into the discussion.
At this point, I’d like to say that I don’t usually join any of my posts’ discussions nor reply to comments/questions in the forum unless absolutely necessary. It’s just how it is on this website. I prefer to reply directly via email.
My one short comment, “Where is Czarina’s Gourmet Apples?” signed with my name, “Lori”, unleashed a flood of accusations telling me to “get a clue!” and “…the real Lori would never ask such a question on a SanFo Treats post!” I was amused, not to mention bemused at the varied reactions. How many Loris are there on this website anyway? Only one, as far as I know. So I quietly deleted my own comment and let the discussion take its course.
The big splash came when one vocal commenter with the curious moniker, “SanFo Lover”, announced that SanFo Treats had opened a dessert bar/café in Robinson’s Place in Manila. Gripes about questionable sanitary practices in the establishment ensued along with repeated mentions (again) of Czarina’s Gourmet Apples, and the whole discussion was thrown for a loop. I was traveling at the time and when I got back to Manila, there was an email waiting for me from ”“ not surprisingly ”“ the R&D director of Czarina’s Gourmet Apples, Edgar Camua. When asked to be featured on this website, I decided it was time to go pay the store a visit.
One day, I head to Alabang intent on finding this Czarina’s Gourmet Apples. My communication with Edgar had been spotty ”“ I’ve never even met him ”“ and all I know about the store is that it’s somewhere in Filinvest Festival Mall. When I ask my friend Marge, a denizen of Alabang, to come with me to hunt the store down, she rolls her eyes and says, “You don’t even know where this store is? Lori, have you any idea how big Festival Mall is???” Her voice practically drips with disbelief.
Well, I’m nothing if not a trooper when it comes to food and I have absolutely no compunction about asking for help or directions when necessary, so I make short work of finding Czarina’s after asking a few passer-bys and security guards.
Its full name, Czarina’s Gourmet Apples and Homemade Confections, is indeed an eye-catching store. Coupled with its fairly novel appeal to the Filipino, it attracts a lot of attention and curious looks from shoppers. There’s plenty to like really, at least visually. Along with the caramel apples in various designs, there are bars of wrapped caramel, chocolate wafer bars with caramel, chocolate covered marshmallow “kebabs”, and pleasingly enough, fresh apples.
Czarina’s caramel apples come in about five different categories. Super Premium is the top of the line both in price (P200) and I imagine, add-ons. It boasts of multiple layers dipped first in caramel, then milk or white chocolate, garnished with a coating of various toppings (imported nuts and chocolate), and then finished in another layer of chocolate. Premium (P150) has one layer of caramel and add-ons sourced locally such as pili nuts, peanuts, Nips, etc. The Abstract also has only one layer of caramel but is named such because of its “abstract” sprinkles and design. Also available are variants: Caramel with peanuts only and the Freshly Dipped Caramel Apples done only at the store that I don’t see on this visit. I spend P410 for one Super Premium apple, one Premium, and one each of the Caramel Bar (P35) and Choco Wafer Bar (P25). I’m grateful that the staff is quite knowledgeable and accommodating with my queries. There’s nothing that dampens my buying spirit more than a staff that doesn’t know what it’s selling.
The Super Premium I buy can really double as a mini dumbbell, so heavy is it. On a whim, I decide to weigh it once I get home: 653 grams, almost a pound and a half! The Premium is right on its tail weighing in at 497 grams. That’s a lot to bite off, which is why most people would prefer to have their apples sliced. Me, I’m quite tickled by the thought of attempting to sink my canines into this sweet morass. If only all challenges could promise to be as delicious.
No matter how big my mouth is or how strong my teeth are, it’s impossible really, to get a bite of the apple especially the Super Premium. Edgar isn’t kidding when he tells me that apples in this category have multiple layers. But the layers are really just too, too thick. The chocolate layer itself on my apple is almost half an inch deep. It’s quite an onerous task to gnaw my way through the chocolate to get to the caramel, my favorite part, and then the apple. I get a break and am able to bite off a chunk with chocolate, caramel and apple. The chocolate melts instantly but drowns out the caramel (and hence, the buttery flavor) because of the chocolate’s erm, girth. But the apple itself is quite crunchy and provides a pleasant crunch.
A word about chocolate: I don’t mind paying P200 or more for a good caramel apple, but for that price, I don’t want to get an apple coated in compound chocolate which is what Czarina’s apples are enrobed in. Because it has less cocoa butter and more oil and sweeteners added to it, compound chocolate is great for extending the shelf life of candy (it doesn’t melt easily), but the trade-off is its lousy, waxy taste. Perhaps lessen the amount of chocolate used to coat the apple and replace it with a better quality chocolate.
A word about caramel: Caramel is one temperamental, finicky thing. If I didn’t like it so much, I would’ve given up making my own caramel apples and toffee years ago. It’s best not to work with caramel when its humid or wet outside because it’ll never set up otherwise. (The ideal is an air-conditioned kitchen.) I admire SanFo Treats and Czarina’s Gourmet Apples for having the guts to offer a product that’s difficult to work with. Caramel must be made with a candy thermometer and it must be cooked to firm-ball stage (244-248°F) and then cooled to 200°F in order for it to set up properly. If the thermometer hasn’t been calibrated properly or if the caramel is pulled from the stove too soon (or too late) it can spell all the difference in the world. These varying degrees and factors involved in the preparation of a caramel apple is the reason why it’s difficult to get a consistently good apple in Manila. Too many things can go wrong. And do.
As for my apples from Czarina’s, I end up chewing on the caramel long after the chocolate is gone. It’s so chewy that I feel it’s turned into putty ”“ kids and those with dentures, beware! My jaws begin to ache after a while but that’s part of the fun of eating a caramel apple, I guess. One good thing about the thick chocolate layer is that the caramel is firmly on the apple. Lately, I’ve had apples from SanFo Treats where the caramel slides off in one bite, its sugar still somewhat gritty. (A solution to this: Before dipping the apples in caramel, dunk them in hot water first to remove any residual wax. Wipe thoroughly and proceed with dipping.)
Do Tell About The Caramel
The owners of Czarina’s Gourmet Apples, Raizza and Rommel Camua, have had this business the past four years. I’m told that SanFo Treats was their impetus for finally expanding on a broader scale. Good for them and hooray for competition.
Keep in mind that caramel apples are expensive because of the work involved, so don’t quibble about the price. It shouldn’t be part of your everyday food groups anyway, even if there’s fruit in there. I prefer Czarina’s Premium Caramel apple to their Super Premium because the latter is really just about more chocolate, not caramel. In fact, I dream of a gooey, chewy, thickly coated apple that’s ALL caramel that doesn’t peel off in one bite. No matter what, I still want better chocolate, not compound chocolate, and that goes for both SanFo Treats and Czarina’s. And whatever you do, don’t eat these caramel apples straight from the fridge. Let them thaw out for several minutes at room temp otherwise you’ll risk breaking some teeth.
Czarina’s Gourmet Apples & Homemade Confections
Level 3 Bridgeway, Festival Mall
Alabang, Muntinlupa City
482-3359 / 781-3471