Food for a Quid: Chinese Toffee Apples

Chinese toffee apples, in all their myriad persuasions, are one of my favourite Chinese street sweeties, and add colour to any hutong as they sit threaded on their long, slender sticks. Whether sold from a bicycle, a cart or a street stall, they’re pretty much guaranteed to brighten your day.

I’ve called them Chinese toffee apples, but they’re traditionally made with the sour, astringent, slightly pulpy pinky-red fruit I’ve seen called both hackberry and Chinese thornapple — if anyone knows the correct English name, if there is one, please help me out, as neither of these are right (picture here).

And this is probably still my favourite variant, though I’ve seen Chinese toffee “apples” made with everything from kumquats to strawberries to kiwi slices, pineapple chunks and even cherry tomatoes, which are treated as a fruit here in China.

Stall with display of Chinese toffee apples.

It’s the sourness, the astringency and the texture — granular and slightly slushy, like an over-ripe Cox’s Pippin — that does it for me.

As with a toffee apple, the process is simple. Thread the fruit on sticks, dunk in a thick brown sugar syrup, leave to dry, then relish the clash of crunchy sugar and soft fruit, of sweetness and tang, and the lovely jewel-like colours of the fruit glowing through the glaze.

I’ve seen them coated in sesame seeds, but that’s gilding the lily IMHO. This one came from a hutong in Qianmen, Beijing, off the north end of Meishi Jie.

Cost: 3 Chinese Yuan (30p)
Flavour: 8/10
Presentation: 9/10

EDIT: Thanks to Fiona for giving me the correct Chinese and English names of these gorgeous fruit. They’re a type of rosehip known as the (Chinese) hawthorn.

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Comments: 6

  1. Renee — RambleCrunch February 2, 2013 at 3:08 pm Reply

    Those look delish. I think the sesame seeds sound tasty, depending on the fruit.

    • Theodora February 2, 2013 at 3:19 pm Reply

      You could be right, in fact. I’m such an old traditionalist. There were some strawberry ones in Harbin today that looked absolutely delicious, and then I was all, “STRAWBERRIES? IN -30?!” I need to explore further……

  2. Fiona February 2, 2013 at 11:26 pm Reply

    These delicious winter treasures are hawthorns (shanzha 山楂), a tye of rosehip. The sticks are all called bingtang hulu 冰糖葫芦 (rock candy fruit sticks) regardless of the type of fruit used, whether it’s haws or tomatoes or strawberries.. I discovered they make a type of fruit jelly with them too, like quince paste but better, which goes really well with cheese!

    • Theodora February 3, 2013 at 10:44 am Reply

      Fantastic, thank you! I think 山楂 is literally “mountain quince” — so it’s funny they make jelly out of them. I love the things, too, even when they don’t have the rock candy on them — I thought they looked like rosehips, only bigger. Now craving cheese…

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