I’m not much of a sweet tooth. When I call my husband to pick up a must for tonight’s dinner, it is more likely a request for lamb’s lettuce or pumpkinseed oil or pecorino than for the stuff of other people’s cravings – chocolates, Sachertorte, candies. But Vienna is changing me for the sweeter.
Edible and innovative art
To spread the love, I set out to discover the city’s best gift candy boutiques. My mission first took me to Xocolat Manufaktur. Enormous windows show off its workshop on one side and its retail shop on the other. The place smells delicious – earthy and creamy, not a bit treacle-y. In the shop, an ochre, faux-alligator gift box for men drew me in first, containing liquor-filled dark chocolates.
If there’s one thing Xocolat does best, it may just be spirits. I once maintained that alcoholic chocolates offer the worst of both worlds – just enough bottom-shelf liquor to ruin the taste, but not enough to give a little kick. Xocolat’s products forced me to reevaluate. Try the powerfully flavorful absinthe or Sekt truffles. Or open a bottle from the Barfly Collection, which combines fine liquid chocolate, fruit brandy, and a "legendary" spirit.
Each mixture is named for a cultural icon, such as Napoleon III (Cognac Hennessy V. S.) or Hemingway (Rum Flor de Cana 12yo.). At just under €18, a Barfly bottle is not a bad gift for that person who has everything. If other chocolate stores offer tradition, Xocolat offers innovation. Its non-alcoholic selection includes Austrian ingredients not found in chocolates elsewhere (pumpkin seeds, apricot, plum, red currants, horseradish). More exotic flavors also abound, such as ginger-pineapple, curry and yuzu (a Japanese fruit).
Should you wish to innovate yourself, sign up for Xocolat Manufactur chocolate cooking classes offered for around €100. Next I headed to Leschanz Wiener Schokoladekönig. The gorgeous über-traditional shop with its wood paneling and densely arrayed wares would have fit right in fin de siècle Vienna. I must admit having had reservations late last year, when I ventured in and saw a chocolate figure that, to my American eyes, bore unmistakably racialised features. An Austrian friend assured me that it is the chimney sweep, face covered in soot, who ushers in the New Year.
In any event, Leschanz chocolates are incredibly fine. I actually closed my eyes the first time I sampled one of their truffles, like an actress in a yogurt commercial. And the shop is the best in town for its selection of custom chocolate shapes from soccer balls to dentures. A grandfather came in asking for a chocolate car for his mechanically obsessed two-year-old grandson. Sure enough, they had one.
Fat kids are harder to kidnap
Candy Doc, just down from MQ, had me sold months ago when I walked by and saw its poster on a sandwich board. A candy-filled medicine bottle stands out on a crisp white background. Below reads, "Dicke Kinder sind schwerer zu kidnappen." Fat kids are harder to kidnap. The brainchild of Guido Antonio Haugg – an economist who opted out of the suit-and-tie life he once lived in Berlin – Candy Doc gives bulk candy an image makeover.
Inside the narrow all-white space, the store’s visitors wear disposable gloves to fill aspirin bottle- shaped containers from candy bins. Then they select their choice of "prescription" label. The funniest are in German, with lines that could be translated as "these ain’t no Mozartkugel," "football god", or "nicotine substitute".
There are also plenty in English ("anti-ageing", "I’m sorry", "sweet kiss") that could lend themselves to a variety of occasions. But the shop need not be for gift-giving only.
One of my girlfriends, a lean martial artist, visits the shop for its selection of small portions of favorites usually available only in huge bulk bags. These candy necklaces, sour apple strips, and gummy bottles aren’t often my first choice of sweets. But the satisfaction of an occasional, tastefully moderated regression to the candies of my childhood? Quite high, thank you.
The concept behind Blühendes Konfekt is simple: why decide between flowers and chocolate when you can give flowers and chocolate?
Founder Michael Diewald’s decades-long love of wild botanicals finds expression in this unique shop. The truffles come topped with candied blooms. Spring is certainly the time to visit. Watch handfuls of petals tossed out in preparation for their transformation into the prettiest chocolates you might ever see. If I were taking an out-of-town guest to a single sweet destination, though, I’d stick to the classic.
We’d brave the crowds of Demel for an Anna Demel Coffee and piece of Torte in-house, then browse the mirrored confectionery rooms for souvenir sweets. Demel’s prices are among the highest in the city, but the aura of 230-odd years permeates this historic business. Partaking in the vestigial splendor may be worth the €16.80 for a tin of candied violets. Or the €19.20 for Katzenzungen in a box whose vintage graphic depicts saucy kittens sticking out their tongues. Maybe.
Or you could simply use Demel as a backdrop for some interesting snapshots, then leave empty-handed, as I did. Clearly, I still have a ways to go for true Zuckergoscherl (or sweet tooth) status. But I’m having fun getting there.
Xocolat Manufaktur: 9., Servitengasse 5
Leschanz Wiener Schokoladekönig:
1., Freisingergasse 1, www.leschanz.at
Candy Doc: 6., Getreidemarkt 13 www.candydoc.com
Blühendes Konfekt: 6., Schmalzhofgasse 19
Demel: 1., Kohlmarkt 14, www.demel.at