Posted in candy, thickening

Cranberry Pâtes de Fruit, the easy way

cranberry pate de fruit 1
Aren't they pretty with the light coming through?

When I was studying abroad in France, some family friends took me out to dinner at Apicius, a devastatingly good restaurant. When they brought dessert, there were a few things that they served regardless of what we ordered, and one of those things were these little square raspberry things coated in sugar. They were soooo good. But that’s not all; they were the mysterious puciunin that my then-boyfriend used to tell me about (his Piedmontese grandmother called them that). I had tried to figure out what they were, but try googling puciunin – hardly anything comes up. Sure enough, I saw them again at a store in the airport in France (and bought them, of course!), and that was when I found out what the rest of the world calls them: pâte de fruit. Fruit paste, in other words.

They’re not as schmancy as they sound: they’re just overcooked jam. But try these and you may start calling jam undercooked pâte de fruit, because really, what better way is there to eat your fruit? (I’m just so sad that a lot of the nutrients break down at the temperatures required.)

When I got home I tried making them. Several times. I never got quite the consistency I wanted. Puciunin should be a definite solid, but not rubbery. They’re not like jello, either. They’re just right. I made some apple ones that were a little too firm, some apple ones that were too soft, some strawberry ones that were too firm, some pineapple ones that were too soft.

The problem is that pectin is the gelling agent, and pectin is very finicky. It needs just so much sugar,

cranberry pate de fruit 2
This is the dish held vertically. I'd like to see jam do that.

just so much acid, just so much heat. But the fruit you’re using has an unknown amount of sugar, acid, and even pectin.  I considered buying a refractometer and ordering the brand of fruit puree that you can use to eliminate these unknowns, but eventually it occurred to me that I could (more inexpensively) just buy some low-sugar pectin and see if that helped.  Low-sugar pectin is still kind of finicky, as you can’t use too much sugar with it, but trust me, these things do not suffer from a lack of sweetness.  I’ve also noticed that both kinds of pectin have an acid in their ingredient list, and so I wonder if the acid included in pâte de fruit recipes is actually necessary.

So the other night I found myself with a lot of cranberry juice left over from my cranberry fondant (yes, that’s how long I’ve been sitting on this post), and it was so delicious, except for the fact that the acidity or astringency or both made it undrinkable.  But I could tell that it would be delicious if I could get it under control!  I thought, you normally make pâte de fruit from puree, but juice could work.  It might not have quite the same consistency, and you shouldn’t make this substitution in a recipe you have without taking into account that the juice will have less pectin than the puree, but still…  And so, I gave this a shot:

  1. 2 1/2 cups cranberry juice (not juice cocktail)
  2. 2 cups sugar (Ok, to be totally honest, I didn’t write this down and I’m not sure if I actually used 2 cups.  But it must have been in the ballpark…I know, big mistake.)
  3. a pinch of cream of tartar
  4. a packet of low-sugar pectin

I boiled the juice and sugar for a few minutes and then added the acid and pectin.  Then I boiled more, and more, and more, continually testing it by spooning a little onto a pyrex pan kept in the freezer (my candy thermometer is being shipped to me

sugared cranberry pate de fruit
Here they are after being dipped in sugar. Though it's traditional, it really wasn't necessary.

with a bunch of my other stuff that wouldn’t fit in my suitcase).  In the end I sort of chickened out – it was just shy of perfect, and I knew if I cooked the pectin too far it would break down and not gel at all, so I stopped there, and poured the whole thing into aforementioned pyrex pan.  I let it cool on the counter and then stuck it in the fridge.  The next day, I cut it into squares and spread them out on a plate so the sides could sort of dry.  They don’t end up feeling dry or anything, they just get a little firmer and less sticky.  I think it would have been even better if I had had the patience to flip them over and let the bottoms dry, too.  Finally, I tossed them in sugar (sanding sugar is preferable, but I just used regular granulated).  This was the test: the bottoms ended up, not visibly wet, but wet enough that the sugar didn’t look white anymore.  The other sides stayed dry and white.  So I guess that’s the trick to keeping them from weeping and dissolving the sugar and getting sticky: cook them enough, and let them sort of dry out for a while first.

I wish I had added even less sugar, because the wonderful acidity of the cranberries is a little lost.  I also think I should have cooked them just ever so slightly longer; but still, I think these pass as pâtes de fruit, and that is a triumph!  Who would have thought my most successful try would be the one where I just used juice?

Posted in candy, dry heat, foam

Meringue cookies, or as much sugar as I could fit in two square inches

Plan A for this endeavor was to make itty bitty meringue shells with cranberry curd, a curd I had never thought of until I saw this on Supper in Stereo.  But if this went exactly as planned it wouldn’t be much of an adventure, now would it?

I have a terrible history with meringue shells, but I figured if I planned ahead for lots of drying time and made them really small for minimal potentially sticky inner area, I might be able to pull them off.  I also decided to try Swiss meringue, which is supposed to end up drier than the French meringue I usually make.  Here’s a typology of meringue:

  1. French meringue: the one I’m used to, in which you beat the egg whites a little bit, then add sugar, and just keep beating.
  2. Swiss meringue: Whisk the egg whites and sugar in a double boiler until they get hot – I’ve seen 120F, 130F, and 160F as target temperatures.  Use 160F if you’re not going to bake it later, but otherwise I’d stay lower to avoid any risk of coagulation.  Then remove from the heat and keep beating until they’re the right stiffness.  This takes more sugar than the French way, is more stable, and is said to make a harder product.  Among those who know all three ways, it appears to be a favorite.
  3. Italian meringue: Heat sugar and water to the firm ball stage, drizzle the hot syrup into egg whites that have been whipped to soft peaks.  This is widely regarded as an unnecessarily difficult way to make meringue.  I secretly think this is the method that’s actually French.

Apple Pie, Patis, & Pate says that the ratio of sugar to egg whites for Swiss meringue is 2:1 by weight.  (By volume, several websites say 4 Tbsp per egg white.)   A little acid, in the form of cream of tartar or white vinegar, is good for French meringue; I don’t know if Swiss meringue makes that obsolete, but I have some so I’ll give it a shot.  I also think cornstarch is a good idea because it absorbs moisture so the meringues don’t come out too sticky.  So my recipe ended up like this:

  1. about 4 egg whites
  2. twice that weight in sugar (around 240g)
  3. about 1/4 tsp cream of tartar (they say 1/8 tsp per egg white, so I could have used 1 tsp, but…I didn’t)
  4. about 2 tsp cornstarch

Whip to…

…well, my whites never got past the soft peak stage.  I was shooting for stiff.  I was using a handheld electric mixer and the poor motor was hot and I was so tired of mixing that I moved the bowl to where I could sit down and then finally I decided, this just isn’t going to happen.  I don’t know if my whites suffered from being frozen (something weird did happen to them that I haven’t seen anyone talk about before, my guess is freezer burn, but I threw that part away) or if I did something else wrong, but that was that.  So I piped them from a zip-top bag with a tip cut off onto two parchment-paper lined baking sheets, sprinkled a little powdered sugar on them for extra moisture-insurance (it contains cornstarch) and put them into a 200F oven for two hours.

Although the soft peaks meant they wouldn’t really hold a shape besides flattish blob, they baked beautifully.

Snowy Backyard
View outside the kitchen
Unbaked meringues
View inside the kitchen

They stayed quite white, and they have a completely dry, crispy outside with an inside not unlike marshmallow creme.  I baked them a little longer than I would like for myself so that no one would think I was going to get them sick with the soft center, though.  Next time I’ll bring them to a safe 160F when I’m heating them in the beginning and then I’ll take them out when they’re still marshmallowy on the inside.

The sight of these was especially cool because this was the day that we got our first heavy snow, and for a Florida girl like me, it was amazing.

Sad attempt at pomegranate curd
I'll have to try again with whole pomegranate...I know it's possible!

Then it was time to make the curd.  I was planning on using cranberry juice (I don’t have a food mill so I thought whole ones would be too much trouble), and then on a whim I bought pomegranate juice instead.  I substituted that in for lemon juice in my my trusty lemon curd recipe, which I’ll post soon – promise.  I held back half the sugar so I could adjust according to how much the pomegranate juice needed.  I failed to remember that when you mix eggs, butter, and red liquid (like when I made zabaione one time), you get brown.  This brown was so ugly, I couldn’t even squint and see it as burgundy (like I could with the zabaione).  Nor did it taste particularly great.  So I tossed it.  Very sad.

I still wanted some kind of topping, though, so I thought about what could give me a pretty color.  Fondant is both yummy and white.  So I decided to make cranberry flavored fondant (I went back to cranberry because I was not impressed with the flavor of the pomegranate juice I bought, and I figured cranberry juice would be redder, anyway).

I used Joe Pastry’s recipe for poured fondant:

  1. 496, so about 500g sugar
  2. 113 g water
  3. 85g corn syrup

Heat to soft ball stage (238F). Cool, stir.  Mix with 2:1 sugar: water syrup to pour.

Joe Pastry didn’t say whether he meant 2:1 by weight or by volume, and when he wrote about cake syrup (not the same thing, but I was hoping to find out if he tended to use one or the other) he mentioned the same ratio with “by weight” one time and “by volume” another time.  Maybe because it doesn’t make that much of a difference.  So I chose volume – out of character for me, but I cringe a little whenever I have to put my pot on my scale, even though I know my scale can handle it.  He said he used about half a cup of the syrup, so I used half a cup of cranberry juice and a cup of sugar.  Assuming I didn’t make a mistake in measuring my cranberry juice, this yielded about a cup of syrup.  I poured half a cup into a bowl and let it cool to 110F, then added the fondant.  There was no dissolving going on, so I put it on a pot of boiling water.  After a few minutes, the part of it that was liquid got above 110F, and I took it off the heat and stirred like crazy.  It was harder than making the fondant in the first place!  But eventually I got almost all of it “dissolved”.  Some little pieces stayed hard, though; I’m guessing those are the little pieces that got the hardest when I was originally making the fondant.  Maybe they shouldn’t be saved.

Glazed Meringues
You can see the puddles of syrup that dripped off...

My ruby syrup mixed with the white fondant to make the perfect color for an Easter egg. I knew I’d end up with pink, but I didn’t realize it would be so pink.  I hope the male speaker in whose honor I’m making these won’t mind.  I dipped the meringues into the fondant, which worked just fine.  Then I realized that I had some cranberry syrup left over, and I dipped the already dipped meringues into the syrup to see if I could liven up the flavor and color.  It mostly dripped off of the shiny surface of the fondant, though.

I think the color and flavor would have come through better if I had used more cranberry juice – I should have used it in the fondant and in the syrup I mixed with the fondant instead of just in the syrup.  But I was so frazzled after going through Plans A through C that I’m just glad I ended up with something edible!  They went over well, but my original plan to have a curd would have balanced the sweetness of the meringue better.