Have You Tried Nordic Kandie Magic’s Marzipan?
For someone who has grown up both moulding and devouring saccharine cashew nut marzipan every Christmas and Easter, it can be tough to accept that we’ve been doing it wrong all along. (‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ and such.) It’s easier to be convinced, though, when the right way is scrumptiously divine. The marzipan pops at Nordic Kandie Magic are just that, and it didn’t take too long for me to be won over by the sheer ingenuity that goes on behind the seemingly-enchanted, enormous royal blue door at Peddar Road in South Mumbai. The all-white and glass interiors of the store prove to be a perfect setting for the cases of colourful, intricately-embellished sweets that come in an overwhelming assortment of flavours. Here, everything screams gourmet and luxury.
Thea Tammeleht, the woman behind the masterworks, is from Estonia — the birthplace of marzipan; hence the brand name. She keenly takes me through the history of and craftsmanship behind the treat, introducing me to her world of passion, art, vibrancy and flavour. The fascinating story dates all the way back to 1422, to the Estonian capital of Tallinn and, more precisely, to the oldest operating pharmacy in Europe — the Tallinn Town Hall Pharmacy.
According to legend, a distinguished leader of the town fell gravely ill and was promised a cure by the head pharmacist. As luck would have it, he, too, fell sick, leaving his bright young apprentice, Mart, to come up with the concoction. The clever novice decided to add sugar and almonds to the remedy (pricey commodities back then; only possessed by pharmacists), since he would have to first taste it himself in front of the patient, in order to rule out poisoning. Not only did the medication work, but the alderman loved it so much that he ordered it in bulk, and the sweet, textured medicine quickly came to be known as ‘Mart’s Bread’ and, now, ‘marzipan’. “It’s a wonderful story that only adds more to the experience of tasting something so authentic,” Tammeleht’s husband, Thomas Abraham, explains. “The pharmacy runs even today, and Tallinn has been preserved just the way it was back then. You can still go there to buy marzipan and see unusual medicinal ingredients all over the walls.”
Speaking of wonderful stories, we move on to discuss the conception of the couple’s vastly popular brand. Tammeleht may be trained in psychology, but one could say that candy-making is in her blood. “I’m a sixth-generation marzipan maker,” she tells me. “I still remember my great grandmother’s artistry and the sweet, sweet smell that used to fill the house when she was working her magic. I’m glad I learned so much from her. She was a master baker, too, and used to do everything with her traditional wood-fired oven.
I learned very early in life how to make little marzipan figures and experiment with embellishments.” The fact that her family has such a legacy in the craft, however, never seemed to hit her until her engineer husband pointed it out during a get-together at their home in Estonia, while discussing both her move to join him in India with their daughter and what career path she should embark on. They formed the company right there, in three hours, and here in India, in four months. The rest is history.
The duo have a small factory in suburban Mumbai, where Tammeleht supervises a team of chefs that she has trained meticulously — without, of course, giving away any family secrets! All essential steps, as well as the embellishments which the brand is so famous for, are still carried out by her and handcrafted to perfection. Every ingredient that goes into a Nordic Kandie Magic marzipan is of the highest quality — top-notch Mamra almonds come from Iran, luscious chocolate from Belgium and edible 23-carat gold and silver from Giusto Manetti Battiloro in Italy, the world’s leader in the creation of fine gold and silver leaf. In fact, the marzipan pops that are covered in this leaf come with a certificate of authenticity from the Italian establishment. And, as I lay my eyes on the presentation, its attention to detail and the brand’s sleek royal blue box with a gleaming gold ribbon around it, I am convinced that the couple’s quest for quality doesn’t just stop at the sweetmeats.
Before I know it, there are approximately 20 different flavoured mini marzipan pops in front of me (all covered with a thin layer of either white, milk or dark chocolate), each with little picture labels to guide my excited palate. I start with plain almond coated in white chocolate and quickly get more experimental with chilli, green apple, nutmeg, orange and — my favourite — mint. Every flavour is distinct without being overpowering and the texture, though unfamiliar, quickly grows on me. Surprisingly, I learn that India is actually the only country in the entire world that uses cashew nuts to make marzipan — which I think is quite cool — but I do see why the almond version is considered to be the superior kind.
After spending the most fascinating afternoon with Tammeleht and Abraham, I walk out of the door with a happy tummy, a sparkle in my eyes and the comprehension that though I might still harbour a deep-rooted love for my childhood indulgences, there’s more than enough room for the Nordic edition in the sweet-toothed world that I live in!
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