They’re impossible to miss. Deeply golden orbs of various colors with what appears to be a chopstick pierced through their centers. For those who grew up with this childhood treat (me!) catching sight of these is like zipping back in time when kiddie birthday parties included bobbing for apples, decorating your own cookie, and of course eating those caramel apples, which to my mind, are the original dessert fondue. Sticky, chewy, sweet, and crunchy, it’s a treat that can’t be beat, especially now that I’m all grown up and I have a bigger mouth to take more satisfying bites.
“Most people who stop by ask me “Is that a doughnut?” So says SanFo treats owner, Rochelle Santiago, the purveyor of these caramel apples. “A few times people think it’s cake, then doughnuts. They think it’s new but it’s not. So I have to be in the store answering questions like how is it made? and why is it like that? But for the people who know about it, it’s a nostalgic treat for them.”
Rochelle grew up in San Francisco and held a job at Pier 39 making apples at the Embarcadero. Surprisingly, she would look for the sweet every time she’d come back home to Manila but wouldn’t find any. “The closest one I found was in Enchanted Kingdom where they sliced an apple and put caramel sauce on top of it,” she remembers. “But that’s not a caramel apple. So last December I decided to make a few and then I gave it to my fiancé [now her husband] to bring to work. So the 35 apples became I don’t know, 5,000 in 2 weeks. And I didn’t think anyone would order!” She exclaims.
The caramel apple is not a new invention. They were invented in the 1950’s by Dan Walker, a Kraft Foods sales representative, who used the company’s popular caramels to come up with an ingenious treat. SanFo Treats makes its own caramel from scratch, using the same recipe that Rochelle used at Pier 39. Tweaking it a little to allow for Manila’s humidity (moisture in the air prevents candy from hardening), it’s a delicious caramel made with butter and sugar and cooked to a particular temperature. “The apples are dipped thrice in caramel.” Rochelle explains. And speaking of apples, she tells me that she goes through the apples one by one, tapping each one to check for hardness and shine. “I choose the apples myself. The rock-hard ones are the best. Our caramel apples can stay at room temperature for four to five days but after that, stick it in the fridge. It’ll be good for as long as the apple is good.” While traditional caramel apples are made with Granny Smiths or Red Delicious, Rochelle prefers Fuji apples because they’re not too sweet or too tart and they’re juicy too. She readily admits that Pinoys don’t seem to be too fond of green apples.
Aside from the regular caramel-dipped one which purist me is a fan of, other flavors flying off the shelves are the apples with chocolate sprinkles, the marshmallow boulder, black forest with cherry, chummy bears, snow gecko, goldfish, peanut butter, and the cosmopolitan (pictured above) which is dipped in chocolate and then drizzled with a chocolate in a contrasting color. There are also apples with candy bar chunks of Butterfinger or Reeses’s Pieces. “There’s something new every day … we offer at least 50 varieties,” Rochelle replies, her eyes lighting up when I ask her if she ever runs out of ideas. “These are personalized designs. I come up with flavors everyday, and I haven’t thought about what wouldn’t go with an apple,” she avers.
Rochelle also accepts custom orders for personalized apples. Basically, if you can dream it up, she’ll make it for you. “Just give me a budget per apple along with the color and theme, and I can do it.” She tells me that she recently made a Dora the Explorer-themed caramel apple upon the request of a customer who wanted some for her daughter’s birthday party. Orange and pink sprinkles with lavender and pink chocolate, Rochelle “… liked it so much that I put it in the store and called it Princess.” Another order that’s now a store favorite is the Charley Brown, dipped in chocolate and decorated with yellow sprinkles, it uncannily looks like the shirt that the delightful cartoon character wears.
SanFo Treats’ caramel apples are P50-P80, depending on flavor. They’re relatively affordable, whereas if you buy them in the States, they’re $5 each. Also available are other candy novelties: Chocolate covered marshmallows (P25) and frozen bananas (bananas dipped in chocolate and then frozen) in various flavors (P30/P35/P40). Rochelle describes one frozen banana that has caramel in it: “… caramel that is drizzled around the banana and then we dip it in chocolate. So the effect is you eat the banana, you taste the banana and the chocolate and then you have this chewy candy as a treat after you eat the banana. I thought it would be hard but it became chewy. I like it.” Sounds like I’d like it too. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to spot the Rice Krispies treats (they aren’t available often), cereal rice puffs bound with melted marshmallow, another kiddie treat that I’ve only seen in Wheatberry.
I have to ask, “So what do you say when people ask ”˜how do you eat a caramel apple?’ ” Rochelle chuckles since she believes the answer is all too obvious. But she gamely replies, “Since we’re here in the Philippines and some people think it’s too messy to eat, I ask if they want it sliced. Otherwise, hold the stick, flip it over and bite. I love it when somebody comes over and grabs it by the stick and walks away eating it. That’s the greatest advertising ever!”
Rochelle has done exceedingly and impressively well for herself. Three stores in three months, all in excellent locations. She’s incredulous remembering how she just started SanFo Treats last November with her household team of two. Now she has a team of 12 that makes 600 apples a day! I’m impressed with her admiration for the apple. “Every apple goes through me. I put the final chocolate and the drizzles, that’s me. I dress them up before it goes to any store,” she says proudly. We talk a lot about how she loves what she’s doing and the word “passion” pops up frequently, as it often does when I interview people in the food industry. Rochelle talks of one day opening a café with “… those fudge bars that you cut up and weigh; selling a few deli products from San Francisco; serving hot chocolate, tea and coffee, and of course the apples. I’m in love with the product. I don’t consider it a business, it’s something that I’m doing that I love.”
*1/L Glorietta, fronting Tag Heuer
*U/L Megamall A, fronting Toy Kingdom, around the corner from Roti Mum
*Fun Ranch, beside Tiendesitas
Rochelle accepts party orders that include sno-cones and an activity table with a chocolate fountain and toppings where the kids decorate the apples themselves.
For inquiries call (632) 628-2993 / 0927-4637248.