With the flash of a golden ticket Charlie Bucket was whisked away into the magical world of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. In a magical world of sugar, he discovered giant gummy bears, candy cane trees, and even a chocolate river. Here in Buenos Aires, although there are no gummy bears the size of dogs, you don’t need a golden ticket to get into a whimsical land of sweets; you simply need to ring the right doorbell.
For just over a year, Caramelos Artesanos has been lighting up children’s faces and creating delicious sweets in the neighbourhood of Palermo.
“We started the actual business five years ago over the internet,” says creator and owner of Caramelos Artesanos, Valeria Hoffman. “But we decided to open a store and so far it’s been very successful.”
Neon yellow, emerald green, peacock blue, poppy red, and hot pink welcome you as you step into the store on Honduras 5874. The colourful sweets fill the small white-walled shop in wonderful displays of giant lollipops, swirly sticks, and endless traditional small hard sweets.
“In other parts of the world this type of sweet is extremely popular, like Australia, France and the United States,” says Hoffman. “I created this because it is very different, very original,” she says, “There isn’t a culture of sweets in Argentina, besides dulce de leche.”
Lips, angels, roses, flowers and smiley faces top the ends of white sticks. Spirals, mixing oranges and yellows, and wavy strips of blue, pink, and green lie on a table alongside a large green circular lollipop that has three tiny edible lady bugs stuck to it.
Even the small, traditional pieces are works of art. Most have a fruit drawn into them that correlates with its flavour, but some have special designs or even sayings; “I love you,” “Best Friends,” and even a person’s name decorate some. There are also mini basketballs, more smiley faces, swirls, flowers, and hearts, all no bigger than a centimetre.
“I used to be an architect. Before I designed houses, now I design sweets,” says Hoffman.
A giant tray sits on the counter offering samples of the flavours. The taste of banana, strawberry, kiwi, orange, and my personal favourite passionfruit, explodes in your mouth. There is chocolate, alfajor, coco-cola, dulce de leche, honey, pistachio, and even some savoury flavours like basil and olive.
Originally from Buenos Aires, Hoffman has travelled the world going from country to country observing the different techniques of sweet making.
Upon returning to Argentina she realised that while everyone loved and obsessed over dulce de leche, no one knew about the hard sweets she had been studying. So Hoffman rolled up her sleeves and started a business with her own hands, literally, measuring, kneading, and crafting candy artwork.
Although the sweets on offer are delicious now, Hoffman says it took awhile to perfect the recipe of water, glucose, sugar, colour, and flavourings.
After mixing and freezing the dough it is brought out in long roughly six inch think rolls to the front of the shop. In front of the customers the sweet artists roll and shape the dough into various different styles.
Once it has hardened they wrap it in plastic and tie a ribbon around it creating a delicious little present.
“There is no school for this type of sweet,” she says. “It took lot of books and almost one year to learn.”
But it was all worth the labour. Hoffman says she loves creating “works of art” while simultaneously making something edible.
“It is not easy work because they are so fragile and small,” she says. “But Argentina needed a place like this.”
So next time you find yourself wandering around Palermo with a taste for something sweet, be sure to look for the magical sugar land of Caramelos Artesanos.