Up until yesterday, I hadn't really done any cooking in a week (between work and general laziness, there wasn't any food to cook), so I thought I would go all out and make some technique-heavy dishes.
First up (well, it wasn't really first, but I made it first because it had to chill) was some pâte de fruit, or French fruit jelly candy. Pistacia Vera back home in Columbus makes great pâte de fruit--it was the first place I tried it, and actually one of the few places I've ever encountered it (never having actually been to France). Pâte de fruit isn't like your typically gummy bear--the fruit almost barely holds together, creating a wonderful smooth and luscious texture. The fruit flavor is heavily concentrated, too, which makes even a tiny piece go a long way.
To make it, you cook pureed fruit with sugar. The pectin, a polysaccharide that occurs within plant walls, acts as a gelling agent and causes the puree to, well, gel. Pectin levels in plants vary depending on the type of plant in question, the stage in its growth cycle, and the part of the plant, so depending on what you're using to make pâte de fruit, you may need to add either powdered or liquid pectin, or different ratios of fruits naturally high in pectin in order to achieve a satisfactory result. After the puree/sugar mixture is set, you can cut it into pieces and roll it in sugar.
Yesterday, I made some strawberry pâte de fruit. I wasn't able to find a recipe, so I ended up sort of winging it. I used two pounds of strawberries, hulled, pureed, and strained for seeds, mixed in a little less than two tablespoons powdered pectin (strawberries have very low levels of pectin), and half a cup of sugar. I then cooked them together for a little bit, then added 1.5 more cups of sugar a let boil for a while until it thickened. You're supposed to use a candy thermometer and be really precise, but I don't have either a candy thermometer or a lot of patience with this kind of thing. These recipes aren't exactly new, and presumably people in the time before the candy thermometer were able to make jellies sans catastrophe. Anyway, as the mixture is boiling you can see it getting thicker, and after what I deemed was the appropriate amount of time, I pulled it off of the stove and filled a small cake pan, then stuck it in the fridge for a couple hours.
Cutting and sugaring the candies is probably the most fun part. They always turn out so beautiful!
As for the winged recipe, it actually turned out really well. The pâte de fruit was maybe a touch too loose, it could have used a little more pectin, and about a half cup less sugar (maybe more--it was pretty sugary). I might have to try two different batches and see how each change would affect the final product, or three different including the possibility of incorporating the two changes at once (which would then account for any interaction the sugar and pectin might have).
I didn't eat candy for dinner, although I wouldn't have minded doing so. Instead I made sweet potato gnocchi, with lemon sage brown butter and parmesan cheese.