OBSESSED is an understatment ::::
My history with pâte de fruit is long and sometimes arduous. There have been lots of trial and error attempts, feeding into my nature of just wanting to figure something out to get. It. RIGHT. Passion fruit as the star is more than apropros here: the sweetness and sparkling perfection of these fruited jewels is intoxicating, like passion itself.
Trial #1: Passion fruit pâte de fruit from Always Order Dessert
It starts with sugar, pectin, and knowing some chemistry. Never did I do this much research on pâte de fruit in the past. I found some very helpful reading from the Butter Badge food blog and a journal article from India on the chemistry of pectin cued me into understanding the differences in pectins. The blog post from chef Michael Laiskonis is also very informative and a joy to read (I am SUCH a nerd). To paraphrase Butter Badge and Laiskonis: There are two types of pectin: high methoxyl and low methoxyl. Pectin is a polymer (a large molecule) and how many methoxyl (-OCH3) groups attached influence how the pectin sets. The high methoxyl pectin needs low pH and high dissolved solids (mostly sugar, about 55%) to set well. Low methoxyl pectin, used for low sugar jams/jellies, requires less sugar and needs calcium to set. There are ranges in the low and high, some pectins setting rapidly (better for more turbid things) and other setting slowly (better for clear things). These are just the basics: it’s more complicated than this but I won’t bore you. As are many things in the US market, pectin is not labeled well and therefore it can be difficult to determine what pectin is made of. BB explains that pectins used for jams and jellies in the US are not pure pectin and calibrated to certain recipes; this is why you must follow your jam recipes so carefully, without deviation. Pâte de fruit recipes aren’t calibrated for these types of pectin, though there are quite a few recipes out there which are successful after having been extensive tested. Pâte de fruits recipes need pure pectin, such as apple pectin or yellow pectin, which is not normally found in your local grocery store.
I ordered yellow pectin off of the L’Epicerie website as suggested by many of the resources I referenced. After reading a variety of sources explaining the differences between pectins and mostly relying on the BB site, I decided it was important enough to spring for the good stuff and not try to substitute. (This explains why perhaps I had such terrible luck with the French Laundry grape pâte de fruits recipe a few years ago….) My thermometer is also a digital thermometer which I’ve used frequently for other things without a problem. I even calibrated it: it’s en pointe. I also used my beautiful enameled cast iron pot: it cooks caramels, sears chickens and onions, cradles potato röstis. Basically, it’s great.
Despite my set up for success and the tested recipe using “provincial” passion fruit puree by Alejandra Ramos on her beautiful blog Always Order Dessert, I did not have such great luck with the final candy. I cooked the mixture, continuously stirring, for over 40 minutes and my temperature did not get any higher than 214 degrees F. I am not sure what I did wrong. I ended up with a very reduced amount of liquid, which fit into a much smaller pan than suggested. I stopped cooking because if the amount if reduction and the dark color my candy was turning. The final candy product was very gummy, like gummy bears, not the tender pâte de fruit. Gummy is not what I was aiming for, but I ate it anyway, without dredging in sanding sugar and with careful maneuvering to snip off pieces with a sharp scissors. The cooking temperature imparted taste much like a honeyed apricot.
Given my thermometer is calibrated, my pot conducts heat well, I stirred the mixture continuously, and that I had the correct pectin, I suspect it was the water content of the fruit. Or, the shape of the pot. The shape. Of the pot.
It’s oval. On a round burner. A gas burner without a flame diffuser. That most likely explains the slow temperature rise, as the horizontal apices of the pot remained cooler than the rest, even with my vigorous stirring. Right? The evaporative surface of the oval pot was probably larger than a round one, and therefore resulted in more liquid turning to steam and a thicker end product. Probably. But maybe not.
So I tried again. When it comes to the precision of candy-making, I get a bit obsessed. I know it can work. I want it to work. So, why doesn’t it? A fluke? A crappy pot? The wrong pectin? A broken thermometer? Imma goin’ with a fluke this time.
Trial #2: Blueberry pâte de fruit
The second time around I tried a new pot (a good excuse to buy one, right?) and puréed blueberries instead. I found a great chart from Boiron, the high-end French company known for their exquisite fruit purées. It shows dozens of fruits and a few vegetables and the formula in which to use for pate de fruits for each. Like grapefruit? Pâte de fruit for you. Blackberries? The recipe is there. What about raspberries? Done deal. It’s a jackpot.
This second attempt also involved my mother. Still in search of the very successful fruit jellies recipe I made in junior high from Young Miss magazine (her memory) or Gourmet (my remembrance), she was game for trying again (and because Sky-Girl is such a mover, I couldn’t stand at the stove on my own while trying to watch her). We used the Boiron formula exactly, save for the fruit purée. I wasn’t about to order the expensive stuff when I had beautiful thawed wild blueberries to use. This version also used some apple juice, which naturally has pectin in it. We also replaced the acid with lemon juice. And watched that thermometer like hawks.
Another failure. Dernit.
It was the opposite of before. We ended up with an ultra-sweet gloppy, jammy (though good with yogurt or ice cream) mess, so I went back to my reading to try to figure it out. Even the kids thought it tasted too sweet! I even considered spending $50 on Chocolates and Confections: Formula, Theory, and Technique for the Artisan Confectioner by Peter P. Greweling, a book that many websites I perused mentioned in high regard.
Then I found this, searching the internet for pâté de fruits failure troubleshooting:
“Most of the fruit purees the charts are written for (boiron, la frutiere, that other one) have 10% sugar, so if you are using something else or making your own adjust accordingly. ” — from a comment in an e-gullet forum.
So, there’s that. Why did I miss this? I hadn’t studied the ingredient list of the Boiron fruits, assuming they were pure. Why wouldn’t I have done that, studying the unparalleled choice of fruit and, tempting myself into buying one of the expensive purées? That’s exactly why I didn’t do it.
Secondly, there was a question of the tartaric acid use. Numerous sources I read noted a very strong taste with its use as well as difficulty obtaining it easily. I also noted many recipes used lemon juice successfully. But the conversion? It’s still a bit muddled to me, stating a 1:1 substitution is effective, while the Boiron website states
“To obtain a tartaric acid solution: Boil 200g of water and add 200g of tartaric acid. Tartaric acid can be replaced by citric acid or lemon juice”
And, also on that site: “10 g citric acid = 15 g tartaric acid = 120 g lemon juice”
So how do I convert this? The overly sweet taste overshadowed the tart blueberry flavor despite my addition of the lemon juice. My 1:1 substitution wasn’t enough to make a taste difference.
The apple juice also posed a problem when I started comparing some other recipes. It didn’t exist in other recipes. While the pectin in the juice was important, I think it watered down the final product too much, where the addition of more powdered pectin would have been more effective. Again, I probably missed some important detail in the original table that either included or did not include the Apple juice as an ingredient. It was lost on all of my other distraction. Or perhaps the temperature played a role….
Trial #3: Grapefruit pâte de fruit
So I tried a third time. *sigh* Eschewing the Boiron formula, I tried a simpler recipe. On a whim, I thought I’d try a recipe (not included here) using apple sauce as part of the pectin need, with a little of the powdered pectin added. I found a simple recipe for grapefruit pâte de fruit on CHOW with good reviews, and thought I’d give it a go, too. The recipe did not mention the specific type of pectin to use, except that it should be powdered. I used the yellow pectin, that high methoxyl group pectin promising a hard gel. (Though I understand too much acid can affect the gelling process.) The boiling went well. The candy thermometer and timing was right on target with the original recipe. Yes! I thought. This is it! I will have have some Ruby Red grapefruit pâte de fruit by the end of today! Christmas gifts are materializing! These jewels are mine….
This is what happened:
Third time is apparently not a charm. I failed at the passion fruit, blueberry, and grapefruit, all different recipes. I am destined for a limbo of pâte de fruit success, wavering on my past (limited) success and worsening with the day. My apricot-earl grey pâte de fruit is the pinnacle! And that wasn’t even close to Everest! So I put everything aside for a few months. We visited my parents for Christmas, eating fine meals cooked mostly by my mom. Her desserts included the Christmasy-colored cranberry-pear pâte de fruit using a recipe I tried in 2006 (pre-food blog) from a more recent Gourmet, perfectly jeweled and sparkling, with just a teensy bit of stickiness. Ah, motivation and inspiration!
Trial #4: Back to passion fruit
I am persistent. Then I tried a fourth time more recently, at the start of spring. I found a more complete Boiron chart and saved the PDF. (It is more complete in that it has more details on the cooking and explains more on measuring Brix, the sugar content of a solution, and using a refractometer.) This one also did not include the apple juice as an ingredient. Ugh. It was difficult to decide which fruit to try with this algorithm.
Ultimately, I went back to the passion fruit pâte de fruit recipe, with lots of education and trials behind me, steeling myself for the realistic outcome.
It worked — using TWO thermometers! Other than the strange thermometer issue of one supposedly calibrated thermometer reading no higher than 220 degrees F and the another calibrated thermometer reading 226 right next to it in the SAME pot (good thing I checked with two!), and the longer cooking time, everything worked out great. My gas stove is a bit finicky so I attribute the thermometer differences to flame-pot position.
Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest….think about pâte de fruit day in and day out until it is conquered! These make great gifts packaged in pretty boxes. Via the Post Office, I sent sugared candies in parchment-lined boxes and wrapped securely, perfectly received days later (per my mom’s report). Peach and I also packed up two dainty boxes for her teachers for Teacher Appreciation Week. And I sent some to a friend in California. The effort was worth it: one cannot receive a box of pâte de fruit without a squeeee! from the lips.
Should I dare try another flavor again? Are you ready for some more dry reading offset by photos of twinkly candies? I make no apologies for the boring read. This is purely selfishness for my benefit (and the lucky few who can taste the outcomes). Happy Birthday, to me! Pâte de fruit is better than a cake!
Three years ago: chawanmushi (such comfort food)
- 900 grams frozen passion fruit puree, thawed (such as Goya)
- ⅓ cup plus 2 teaspoons powdered apple or yellow pectin (do not use citrus pectin)
- 1 cup plus 4 cups granulated white sugar, divided
- ⅔ cup liquid glucose OR light corn syrup
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- sanding sugar to dredge candies
- Special equipment: candy thermometer(s)
- Line a 12x17" sheet or jelly roll pan with parchment paper or a silicon mat (do not use a flat pan; use one that has at least 1" sides on all 4 sides, Alejandra suggests).
- Combine the pectin and 1 cup of sugar in a bowl and whisk together thoroughly. This prevents pectin clumping in the fruit mixture when you pour it into the fruit puree and whisk over heat.
- Attach a candy thermometer to a heavy bottomed and nonreactive pot (such as an enamel-coated dutch oven) and place over medium-high heat. Pour the passion fruit purée in the pot and bring to a simmer for 3 minutes.
- Whisk in the pectin and sugar mixture, followed by the rest of the sugar and glucose/corn syrup. Whisk continuously until mix reaches 226 degrees F (about 15-20 minutes, per Alejandra; it took me 35 minutes to get up to temp).* Follow the heat so that it is not too hot. Medium is about right.
- Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice. Pour into your prepared pan and let set for 6 to 8 hours. My pan was larger than what my cooked product needed (some evaporation during cooking, I assume) so I pulled up the parchment to even it up and create a 11x11-inch square. I've made this recipe since then and not had this problem. Allow this to sit overnight.
- Once set, unmold, and cut.
- The candy may start to "weep," especially after dredged in sugar. As you might remember from my prior jelly candy making, this irritates the crap out of me. I found one source (at chefsteps.com) explaining how soaking the cut candies in Everclear (it does not say for how long but I think just a quick immersion is enough) before dredging in sugar helps create a drier skin on the outside, mitigating the weep after dredging. If you don't mind waiting and don't want to buy a load of alcohol, allowing the cut candies to dry at room temperature overnight before dredging in sugar also works. I've also cut them, dredged, then dried them overnight on a rack with similar results.
- Store pâte de fruit at room temperature or in the fridge in air tight containers separated with sheets of parchment. I feel the room temperature works better -- if you refrigerate and allow to come to room temp before serving, condensation can form. This also adds to weeping issues!
- Toss in granulated sugar again before serving.
- What I do: I can happily say that after drying out at room temperature, then sugaring and sitting in airtight containers, NO WEEPING! The three-day-old dredged candies were not as sparkling as the sugar became more translucent but no stickiness. Redredging is no problem before serving.
- * The temperature 226 degrees F gives the candy a lighter, fresher flavor. Cooking to 248 degrees F imparts a more cooked flavor, per other pâte de fruit recipe sources. It really depends on your fruit choice and the amount of liquid. However, I felt cooking passion fruit up to 226 degrees F cooked it quite a bit, darkening the mixture and giving it a jammy, apricot flavor. Cooking to 224 deg F (around 107 deg C) give a slightly softer but still firm candy.