Category Archives: Candy and Confection

Candy Apples

Candy apples, rank and fileI really want to like candy apples.  They are so closely associated with fall and carnivals and country fairs, they seem like a fantastic way to celebrate our local apples.

In practice they are usually disappointing.  They are often died a garish red.  The candy coating is either adamantine, or it sticks to your teeth and threatens to pull out your molars.  And usually the fruit is so large that it cannot be eaten comfortably from the end of a stick.  You have to unhinge your jaw, which compromises your ability to break the adamantine candy coating.

In theory all these problems can be solved.

Let’s talk apples.  Any good eating-apple is a good candy-apple.  Firm, crisp, juicy.  Apples that may be a touch sour to eat out of hand can still make good candy apples.  As I hinted above, small apples are key.  I say 2.5″ in diameter at the most.  Edmonton is awash in many varieties of smaller apple that you can comfortably fit between your teeth.

As an aside, to make candy apples you have to use whole, intact apples; you can’t use segments or slices.  The skin of the apple acts as a moisture barrier between the flesh of the fruit and the hard candy.  If the hard candy comes into contact with moisture it starts to melt.  Candied slices of apple will deteriorate within 10 minutes of the sugar setting.

Candy coating.  Here we use white sugar, corn syrup to prevent crystallization, and a bit of water to slow down the caramelization.  The name of the game is hard crack.  The syrup needs to reach 310°F.  Any lower and the the candy will not be brittle, and will stick to the teeth.

Most candy apples are dyed an intense, impossible red.  Personally I think they look better without food colouring, as you can see the natural colour of the apple.  Edmonton-grown apples come in a shocking array of colours, from gecko green to straw yellow to lipstick red.

I know it’s a bit crafty, Pinterest-y, even Martha Stewart-y, but I love using twigs from an apple tree as the sticks for candy apples.


Candy Apples


  • 480 g granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup corn syrup
  • 180 g water
  • 8-12 apples, firm, crispy specimens not more than 2.5″ across


  1. Skewer each of the apples with a thick twig from an apple tree.  Line them up on a sheet tray lined with parchment paper.
  2. Combine the sugar, corn syrup, and water in a heavy-bottomed stainless steel pot.  Stir briefly to moisten all the sugar.  Turn the heat to medium high.  Monitor the temperature of the syrup with a candy thermometer.
  3. As soon as the syrup temperature reaches 310°F, remove the pot from the stove.  Working quickly, dip each of the apples in the syrup, rolling the apple to ensure the entire surface is coated with the candy.
  4. Allow the syrup to cool and harden before serving.  Obviously.

Sour Cherry Pâte de Fruits

Originally published December 14, 2013.


Evans cherry gelsPâte de fruits, literally “fruit paste,” is a simple confection made of fruit, sugar, and pectin, though some recipes call for gelatin instead.

Pâtes de fruits have a very distinct texture.  They are firmer than a spreadable breakfast jelly, but without the persistent chew of a gummy bear or gummy worm or any other fauna from the gummy kingdom.  One of my chefs compared the texture to a medium ganache.

Another distinction between true pâte de fruits and inferior industrial candies is flavour.  They are very bright, pure expressions of the fruit from which they are made.  They tend to be tart, though well-balanced.

The chemistry behind pâtes de fruits is the same as that behind jellies (see this post).  We require three things to form good pectin bonds:

  • heat, to evaporate moisture and concentrate the pectin
  • acid (hydrogen ions), to neutralize the negative charge that repels pectin molecules
  • sugar, to draw in moisture and make room for the pectin molecules to get intimate

The only difference between a spreadable jelly and this jelly candy is the concentration of the above-listed ingredients.  The real trick is finding the right pectin content: too little and the paste will not cut into clean squares, too much and they will be very firm and have a slightly mealy texture on the tongue.

Estimating the required pectin quantity is especially hard if you are using fresh fruit.  Bakery supply shops carry fruit concentrates designed to be used in this type of confectionery, and each is carefully blended to have uniform characteristics across batches.  Fresh fruit, however, is not and cannot be controlled in this manner.  Pectin content varies from plant to plant and within the same plant as the fruit ripens.

I’ve been trying to make a great Evans cherry pâte de fruits for some time now.  For the Eat Alberta 2013 tasting board I set out to make a pâte de fruits with some of the Evans cherries left in my freezer from last season. I wanted to give folks a really clear idea of what our sour cherries taste like.  Since we were still three or four months away from having fresh cherries, I thought that jelly candy was the best way to do this.  To be completely honest they had too much pectin in them, so the texture was a bit too firm and mealy.  Interestingly, I let some of the candies leftover from Eat Alberta sit, covered, at room temperature for a few weeks, and the texture smoothed out and they were exactly the right consistency.  My working theory is that pectin bonds degrade over time.

Anyways, for my latest batch of Evans cherry jelly candies I used the recipe below and they turned out great.  As mentioned above, due to natural variations in pectin content, you might need to tweak the quantities for your cherries.

I have omitted extra acid such as citric acid solution from the recipe because I think that Evans cherries are plenty sour on their own.

I’ll share two more details before leaving you with the recipe.  First: boil the jelly very aggressively.  This preserves a lot of the flavour of the fresh fruit.  Second: when selecting a dish to pour the jelly into to set, pick one that is a size that will make your jelly candies about 1/2″ high.  Making the candies too flat makes them hard to pick up.


Evans Cherry Pâte de Fruits 


  •  600 g Evans cherry purée (pitted cherries run through the blender)
  • 170 g liquid pectin
  • 300 g white corn syrup
  • 600 g granulated sugar


  1. Combine the cherry purée, the liquid pectin, and the corn syrup in a large pot.  Heat and stir to dissolve the pectin.
  2. Add the sugar and stir gently to dissolve.
  3. Crank the heat and boil aggressively until a candy thermometer reads 218°F.
  4. Immediately and quickly pour into a casserole.
  5. Allow to cool and stand at room temperature for 24 hours.
  6. Cut into squares or diamonds and roll in sugar.


Can you imagine if Edmonton restaurants started serving these when they brought you the cheque, instead of a mint?


Homemade butterscotch sauceThe Origins of Butterscotch.  Though butterscotch is common in Scotland, the “scotch” in the name does not refer to that country.  In fact “scotch” is a very old English word for an etching, or scratch.  Another instance of this suffix is in “hopscotch”, the game in which children jump across etchings or chalk-marks on the ground.

Scotch is also an old style of candy.  To make scotches, sugar is boiled to hard crack, then flavoured and poured onto a buttered slab or dish.  Portioning the individual candies while the sugar is still hot would yield sloppy candies with stringy edges, so once the sugar is partially cooled, the candies are marked out by cutting lines partway down into the mass.  Once the sugar is fully cooled, the marked tablets can be gently tapped on the counter and broken into tidy pieces.[1]  Butterscotch was once made by boiling brown sugar with butter to hard crack and portioning the candies in this manner.

Butterscotch as flavour.  Nowadays in North America butterscotch, like caramel, is thought of more as a flavour than a specific candy or preparation.  I grew up, for instance, eating butterscotch pudding after school, and butterscotch ripple ice cream.  The flavour of true butterscotch is browned butter and caramelized brown sugar.  A touch of salt also helps.



Master Ratio – 1:3:3 butter, dark brown sugar, heavy cream


  • 2 oz unsalted butter
  • 6 oz dark brown sugar
  • 6 oz heavy cream
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp kosher salt


  1. Melt the butter over medium heat in a heavy-bottomed stainless steel pot.  Add the brown sugar and turn the heat to medium-high.  As you stir, the sugar will go from looking like dry sand, to wet sand, and after a few minutes it will look like bubbling lava.  Cook until you can smell the browned butter and the caramelized sugar, the hallmark aromas of butterscotch!  This will take maybe 10 minutes.
  2. Whisk in the heavy cream.  It will boil vigorously when it hits the hot sugar-butter mix.
  3. Cool to room temperature and season.  Add the vanilla.


Notes and Refrences

  1. This process is described in the butterscotch recipe found here: McNeill, F. Marian.  The Scots Kitchen.  ©2010 The Estate of F. Marian McNeill.  Birlinn Ltd, Edinburgh, Scotland.  Page 242.

Royal Icing

Royal icing used to mimic snow on a gingerbread houseRoyal icing can be used in several ways, but it is most notable as the mortar that holds gingerbread houses together.  It is decorative.  It’s certainly not unsafe to eat, but it is almost entirely sugar, and it sets very hard and brittle.  The CIA Baking and Pastry book says it best: “not intended to be consumed, at least not in any measurable quantities.”

In fact besides sugar royal icing has only one other major ingredient: egg whites.  It might also have cream of tartar or lemon juice, which strengthen the protein matrix created by beating the egg whites.

To make royal icing you add a small quantity of egg whites, say 3 oz, to a mixing bowl, then start whisking.  Once the egg whites froth, slowly add a large quantity of icing sugar, say 16 oz.  Continue to whisk until the icing is able to produce stiff peaks.

While the quantities above will yield a good, workable icing, there are some nuances of texture that can be achieved by adjusting the exact ratio of egg and sugar.  For instance, in the photo of the gingerbread house above, I used a relatively high-sugar royal icing which was a bit more stiff and matted in appearance to lay the almond shingles.  Then I beat in a bit more egg white to make a slightly more slack, lustrous icing that tapers to clean points for the snow and icicles.

After mixing the icing to your desired consistency it’s important to cover and properly store the mixture.  Seriously think about it as cement that will set hard if left exposed to air.  I transfer my icing directly to a plastic piping bag.  It can be used immediately or stored in the fridge for several days.  Be aware of hard bits of icing that form up the sides of the bowl and whisk.  If these get reincorporated into the soft icing they could block the tip of your piping bag.


Royal Icing


  • 3 oz egg white
  • 1/4 tsp cream of tartar, or 1/2 tsp lemon juice
  • 16 oz icing sugar


  1. Whisk the egg whites and cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer.
  2. Once the egg whites have become foamy, slowly add the icing sugar while continuing to whisk.
  3. Whisk until the icing is stiff and has a matted appearance.
  4. Immediately transfer icing to a piping bag or airtight container.

Chocolate Truffles

Homemade chocolate trufflesChocolate truffles are bite-sized balls of ganache, usually rolled in cocoa or nuts, or coated in a thin layer of hard chocolate.

Though most think of truffles as a luxury item sold in boutique chocolaterie, they can actually be made at home without fuss or artistry.  All you need is good dark chocolate, heavy cream, and some garnishes of your choosing.

First, make the medium ganache described in this post.  Let it cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until firm.

Use a measuring scoop to portion the ganache into bite-sized pieces.

Roll the pieces between your palms into uniform balls.  I use nitrile gloves for this.  Besides forming the round shape of the final truffle, this process also melts the outermost layer of ganache so that your garnishes will adhere.

While the outer chocolate is still partially melted, roll the truffle around in the garnish of your choice.

Notes on Garnishes

Nuts.  Always toast the nuts first.  A small amount of salt is usually welcome.  The most important part of nut garnishes is crushing the nuts to the correct size.  Too fine and the nuts become flour.  Too coarse and they will look awkward clinging to the side of the truffle.  I use a food processor, then sift out the nut flour, and then use a perforated pan to remove large pieces.  The nut flour can be reserved for other baking projects, the larger pieces of nut returned to the processor.

Chocolate.  Rubbing a bar of chocolate with a peeler will create tiny, elegant curls of chocolate that make great truffle garnishes.

Dried Fruit.  You can create some interesting garnishes from dried or candied fruit.  The challenge is in busting the fruit into small enough pieces.  I use a food processor and add a good pinch of granulated sugar which prevents clumping.  The same can be done with candied ginger.

Interior Garnishes.  Hide a whole, roasted nut or a piece of dried fruit inside the truffle.  In the photo below, the truffles in the centre contain a dried cherry that was soaked in kirsch.

Applying the Garnishes.  I just toss the rolled chocolate balls into a bowl of the garnish, then gently shake the bowl to jostle the ganache.  I don’t roll the ball in my palms any further, as this would press the garnishes into the chocolate; I prefer the garnish to “stand up” on the chocolate.  When removing the truffle, don’t use chocolatey hands that will smudge the garnish.  Below are some sloppy truffles.  The one on the right has the garnishes pressed too far into the chocolate.  The one on the left was handled with chocolatey hands.  Not a great picture, but hopefully you get my meaning.

Poorly made truffles

They don’t have the same visual appeal as these little beauties.  From left to right: pistachio, sour cherry and kirsch, candied ginger and orange.

Homemade chocolate truflles


Scooping ganacheGanache has two ingredients: chocolate and cream.  They are combined in a way that transforms the hard, brittle chocolate into a soft, perfectly smooth, workable substance.

Types: Soft, Medium, and Hard.  I most commonly make medium ganache, which is one part chocolate and one part cream by weight.  It is firm but workable at fridge temperatures, and very soft but not fluid at room temperature.

Hard ganache is two parts chocolate to one part cream.  It is much firmer than medium ganache and holds it’s shape well.  It is, however, less stable: the concentrated solids in the chocolate slowly absorb moisture from the cream, then swell, clump, and make the ganache grainy.  Hard ganache is often used as a glaze for cakes.

Soft ganache is roughly two parts chocolate to three parts cream.

A General Procedure.  Weigh out your cream.  Heat the cream in a heavy pot on the stove, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching.  Keep an eye on it so that it doesn’t boil over.

Meanwhile, weigh out your chocolate and put it in a container with a tight-fitting lid.

Once the cream is simmering, immediately pour it over the chocolate.  Cover the container tightly and wait a few minutes to let the chocolate melt.

At this point the ganache will look like chocolate milk with nebulous splotches of dark chocolate throughout.  You can whisk it or even blend it, but usually pastry chefs try to avoid incorporating air.

You have now made ganache.  It’s best to let it cool at room temperature.  The gradual cooling encourages the development of crystals in the chocolate that will slow the melting process, whether the ganache is in your hands or on your tongue.

Uses.  There are countless uses for ganache, but the supreme application is chocolate truffles.  Stay tuned.

Hot Chocolate

Chopping dark chocolate to make hot chocolateToday I made hot chocolate using chocolate.  It was the first time I had ever done that.

I grew up drinking hot chocolate made from prepared powder that came in little packets.  The baggies had tiny, desiccated marshmallows in them that rehydrated when combined with hot milk.  There was usually a portion of the talc that failed to dissolve and accumulated on the bottom of the mug.  (Yum!)  The drink tasted mildly of bad chocolate, but mostly it tasted like milk.

It first occurred to me that one could make hot chocolate from chocolate when I read The Polar Express, in which children are served hot chocolate “as thick and rich as melted chocolate bars.”  That caught my attention.  Then, seventeen years later – today – I tried it.

Holy Jesus.  It’s amazing how convenience products can so quickly and thoroughly expunge good food from the collective conscience.  Real hot chocolate is amazing.

Scratch hot chocolate is usually made with both chocolate and cocoa powder.  The chocolate, which should be of the finest quality, is obviously providing flavour, but also a rich mouthfeel.  The cocoa reinforces the chocolate flavour, but if you use too much, you can make the drink astringent.  Balancing these two incarnations of Theobroma cacao is the key.

Avoid using heavy cream, which blankets and muffles the flavour of the chocolate.

The final piece of advice I can offer is to use an upright blender to blitz the hot chocolate into frothy oblivion.  This gives the drink an otherworldly full but light texture on the tongue.  The fine foamy consistency is surprisingly stable, easily lasting through the most contemplative of hot chocolate sessions.


Hot Chocolate
adapted from “Haute Chocolate” by Jeffrey Steingarten


  • 20 oz whole milk
  • 2 oz granulated sugar
  • 3.5 oz very good chocolate, chopped into very small pieces
  • 1 oz cocoa powder


  1. Bring milk and sugar to a simmer in a heavy pot.
  2. Add the chocolate and cocoa and return the pot to a simmer.  Whisk until the chocolate has melted.
  3. Transfer the mix to an upright blender and mix on high speed for a few minutes.

A cup of real hot chocolate

Sugar Plums

Sugar plums, rank and file on a drying traySugar plums are one of those items that are common in Christmas carols and stories and yet are basically unknown to modern revelers. (Other examples: wassail, yule, and figgy pudding. Furthermore, I’ve never seen mistletoe before, and I just saw real holly for the first time a few weeks ago, at the farmers’ market. I got excited, grabbed the leaves, and stabbed myself.)

My dictionary defines a sugar plum as a small ball of candy, and nothing more. There are not necessarily any plums in sugar plums.  The word “plum” is associated with dried fruit, and good modern dictionaries still give one of the many meanings of “plum” as “a raisin.”  The most common manifestation of sugar plums is in fact dried fruit and nuts, chopped up, sweetened, bound with honey, and rolled into little balls.  While Edmonton isn’t awash with the fleshy fruits that lend themselves to drying, like apricots and figs, there are certainly lots of sour cherries and plums to be had. Even if you can’t find any from within the city, in the late fall the farmers’ markets are always full of dried fruit and nuts from BC.

The ratio at the core of my sugar plum recipe is two parts dried fruit to one part roasted nuts.  You can use whatever dried fruit you have on hand, but I suggest finding a relatively neutral fruit, like prunes, to use as a base, to which you can add a smaller amount of tart fruit, like cranberries or Evans cherries.  Sugar plums really benefit from a bit of acidity.

I run the fruit and nuts through a food processor, but you could just as easily chop them by hand.

As far as sweetening goes, it’s best to use a combination of honey and sugar.  Honey is required to bind the fruit and nuts together, but using too much will make the sugar plums soft and sticky.  I use half honey and half icing sugar.  Icing sugar is ground very fine, so it dissolves and incorporates with the fruit even though there is very little moisture in the mix.

Some ground spice is welcome, but I’m careful not to overdo it.  I add a quarter teaspoon for every two pounds of fruit/nut mix.

Sugar plums can be rolled in coarse sugar, but I find them plenty sweet as they are.

It’s good to make these a few days before you intend to serve them.  Immediately after being rolled they’re quite sticky, but over time the surface dries out and becomes smooth and firm.


Sugar Plums

Master Ratio: 2:1 dried fruit to roasted nuts, by weight


  • 8 oz prunes
  • 2 oz dried cranberries
  • 2 oz dried apricots
  • 6 oz roasted walnuts
  • 1/4 cup icing sugar
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • a bit less than 1/4 tsp freshly ground cinnamon


  1. Put the dried fruit and roasted nuts in a food processor and blitz until they’re broken into small pieces.  The mixture should still be loose, not pasty.
  2. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl.  Add the remaining ingredients and knead with a stiff spatula until everything binds together.
  3. Divide the mixture into 1 tbsp portions and shape each portion into a ball about an inch across.  The little portion scoops with wiper blades work great for this.  Also, I find that having slightly damp hands prevents the fruit mixture from sticking to your fingers and helps develop a nice, smooth, cohesive exterior.
  4. Let the sugar plums stand overnight.  The surface will dry so that the candies are less sticky and easier to handle.

Yield: 30 to 35 lil’ sugar plums

Spruce Syrup

Spruce tips: the tender, young needlesLast year I wrote briefly about evergreen syrup, flavoured with the flourescent, tender bundles of needles that appear on spruce trees in spring.  I first came across this preparation in Austria, where the restaurant I was working at used the syrup to flavour a sauce accompanying the roasted leg of a May deer, a fantastic, fantastic example of terroir-driven flavour pairing.  The syrup also has obvious applications in the pastry kitchen.

This week I made the syrup myself for the first time, and I want to relate a few of the details of its preparation.

I’m kicking myself for not getting an exact recipe from Looshaus.  I recall that they brought the syrup and evergreen tips to a simmer, then removed the pot from the stove immediately.  However, a quick internet search of the syrup’s true German name Maiwipferlhönig yielded many suggestions to boil the tips vigorously for half an hour.  This method sounded promising.  I know that in beer-making extracting the flavour from hops flowers requires extensive boiling.  There are a lot of similar flavours between hops and evergreen needles, so perhaps the long boiling method would yeild a more flavourful syrup?

I tried the two methods side by side.  Both pots contained:

  • 2 oz spruce tips
  • 5 oz granulated sugar
  • 10 oz cold water

The first pot was brought to a boil, then poured into a jar and left to stand at room temperature overnight.

The second was boiled vigorously for 30 minutes.  Every 10 minutes I added a bit of water to maintain the liquid level.  After boiling this mixture too was jarred and left on the counter overnight.

Jar One: Quick Simmer

  • appearance: liquid is clear and without sediment; a faint, dull, brown-green tint
  • aroma: medium to strong smell of spruce; clean and minty
  • taste: tastes like it smells – strong, minty evergreen

Jar Two: Long Boil

  • appearance: liquid is cloudy with a faint, dull, brown-green tint
  • aroma: unmistakably evergreen, though slightly muted compared to jar one
  • taste: a mild evergreen taste; resinous, slightly bitter; also gives a slight impression of acidity
Two jars of spruce syrup: one briefly simmered, the other extensively boiled

In hindsight these results make perfect sense.  Now that I reconsider the hops analogy, I believe that the extensive boiling in beer-making is done to extract the bitter flavours of the hops. Lengthy boiling destroys the finer aromas of the hops, so hops that are meant to contribute to the scent of the beer are typically added at the very end.

All in all I vastly prefer the character of the quick simmer method.  I’m also reasonably happy with the strength of the aroma and flavour produced by this ratio of spruce tips to syrup, though I’ll be trying some stronger batches in the near future.

Glacé Sour Cherries

A jar of glacé sour cherries“Glacé” is a confusing term because it can refer to ice cream, cake frosting, fruit candied in “hard crack” syrup, or simply fruit preserved in syrup. It’s that last definition that applies here. Most sources I consulted had a similar procedure for making glacé cherries:

Make a simple syrup of one part water and one part sugar.  Bring to a simmer, add pitted cherries, remove pot from heat, cover and let stand over night.  This is simply to infuse the syrup with cherry, and the cherries with syrup. The next day, remove the cherries and reduce the syrup until a candy thermometer reads 230°F.  This gives a good thick-but-runny consistency.   Reintroduce the cherries, simmer briefly, then store in a sanitized jar.

I used to fill my Christmas fruitcake with glacé Bing cherries, but a few years ago I switched to our local Evans cherries instead.  They were so soft after the glacé process I worried they would be too delicate to fold into the dense pound cake batter.  While they definitely don’t hold their round shape like the bings, they managed to stay in one piece.  Their tartness is a welcomed addition to the cake.

The syrup that the glacé cherries are preserved in is fantastic in sparkling water, or cola, or cola and rum.