parma violets, my childhood friend, sweetness is one-dimensional ::::
Spending a couple of my formative years in England as a child, I sampled many sweets. In between the wine gums, the milk gums, Jelly Babies, the Jaffa cakes, the Cadbury Flakes, there were many days of sweet Parma Violets. I clearly remember the post office down the street from my primary school selling penny sweets. I often chose the Parma Violets over other more popular sweets. I went so far as ordering some online 20 years later, only to be disappointed that the shape of the candy and packaging was completely different. And the taste: not as bright as I remember. But these flowers, oh so brilliant when you see them in real life:
That brightness, like the pop of purple in a field of green, is what I aimed for in this recipe for violet jelly candies. Reminiscent of pâte de fruit, this recipe actually much simpler. And I pause to even hold these jellies to pâte de fruit criteria as there is no fruit. One important similarity is how to handle the pectin. You must mix the yellow powdered pectin with sugar before pouring into your pot, or else you’ll end up with what you see on the right in this photo: CLUMPS!
Given, my experiment does not have proper controls: I used different purple food colorings for the left and right trays. However, that aside, there is a noticeable difference between the pectin clumpiness on the right and none on the left.
The ease of this recipe is the short cook time, no need for a candy thermometer, and use of extract. Using yellow pectin (like my paramount passion fruit pâte de fruit trials) is important; contrary to what anyone tells you, all pectin is NOT the same. See my very detailed passion fruit pâte de fruit recipe for a lengthy description on methoxyl groups, if so inclined.
And not all flowers are the same. Violets are known to be sweet and fragrant. The reputation of a “shrinking violet” does not quite hold. Though they may be sweet, there can be a little tart and tang. Such are these violet jelly candies.
The addition of the citric acid is necessary here: adding just sugar to the violet essence does not bring out the full flavor. It’s just like my kids: there is sweet, and there is always a bit of tang and tart. All the flavors, and characteristics give our life dimension.
Important note: These are not pâte de fruit, though a relative. First, there is no fruit used. Secondly, the consistency is more chewy, like true gummy candy. This recipe makes fairly firm candies. Edge the pectin down a bit if you want a softer bite.
More notes on the ingredients: The violet essence can be changed out for just about any kind of extract: vanilla, rose, orange, peppermint, whatever you like. The citric acid gives the candy a nice tart undertone (leave this out if doing peppermint, non-flower, or non-fruity flavors). By no means is the citric acid necessary for the final product to be enjoyed, but I feel it gives a better depth of flavor that is lost if not using. It can be found online at multiple sources or at cake/candy making supply stores.
Two years ago: tomato and halloumi salad with pomegranate drizzle and peach-blueberry pie
- 45 to 50 g powdered yellow pectin*
- 1 cup of sugar, divided (Divide into two ½ cup amounts. This is about 115 g each.)
- ¼ teaspoon baking soda
- 1 cup of light corn syrup
- ¾ cup water
- 2 teaspoons violet extract
- 2 teaspoons citric acid
- Purple food coloring (I prefer the McCormick, liquid neon purple color. I've tried the Wilton Violet gel and it looks too gray. Gray jellies are not very appetizing.)
- Prepare a 9 x 5" loaf pan by lining it with parchment paper. I also recommend preparing your mis en place fully before starting.
- Important step: In order to prevent clumping of the pectin, you MUST mix it with ½ cup of the sugar first. Use a whisk or a fork to completely mix and resolve dry clumps. Afterwards, mix in the baking soda.
- In a small sauce pan, stir together the pectin-sugar mix, water and baking soda over medium heat. Concurrently, in a medium sauce pan, mix together the remaining sugar and corn syrup and cook over medium heat. Heat the pectin mix to a completely smooth mixture, stirring with a whisk. When the sugar-corn syrup mixture is fully boiling, add the pectin mixture and continue to whisk for one minute. Set your timer to do this.
- Now, remove the pot from the heat and add in the violet extract, citric acid, and two drops of liquid purple food coloring. Stir to combine and immediately pour into prepared loaf pan.
- Set loaf pan in undisturbed area overnight at room temperature. You may cover it loosely with foil when completely cool.
- The next day, sprinkle a cutting board with sanding sugar. Invert loaf pan to release jellies. You may need to use a knife to loosen gently. Peel parchment away and gently sugar this side also. Cut into small squares, in about 1½ cm squares or find small cute cookie cutters or aspic cutters to cut flower shapes. You can also cut very tiny cubes and place on tops of cupcakes as delightful and tasty toppers.
- Dredge completely and sanding sugar and serve immediately. These keep well at room temperature using an airtight container if storing longer-term. If you find the jellies have the dreaded weepy look to them, try to dry them out for another day at room temperature and re-sugar. Using silica gel packs in your storage containers also help.
Since I did not have true sweet violets, I made this sugar with the bland, unscented common blue violets in my yard back in April. If you want to make your own sugar out of season, you can order pesticide-free flowers from various flower shops or gourmet food shops. Make sure you wash and dry the flowers very well before using, or else you'll have dirty tasting sugar.
Another great use for this sugar: make candied violets and use this sugar to dredge. Purpley!
1/2 cup sugar, divided
1/4 cup violet petals, prepared (see below)
a few scratches of finely zested lemon
1 to 2 drops of violet essence, optional
1. Before plucking the petals from the heads, gently rinse and blot violets. Pluck off the petals and set aside.
2. Pour ¼ cup sugar in a food processor or spice blender, and add in the petals and lemon zest.
3. Pulse the mixture until you have a brilliant purple sugar and violet petals are no longer chunky pieces. Add in the remainder of the sugar and blend until fine. The now purple sugar will feel like moist sand to the touch.
4. Turn on your oven for one minute then turn it off, just to give enough warmth to begin the drying process. Too high heat can cook the violets too much, thereby dulling the color. Spread the violet sugar on a parchment-lined tray and place in oven. The mixture should be completely dry before bottling. Give it a few hours.
5. In batches, give the violet sugar a few whirs in the spice blender to break up chunks.
6. Pour into cute bottles, storing in a cool, dark place. The color will fade in time and sugar can be stored for a few months.
* Alas, I do not have the English violet with which to cook, the most fragrant of the violets. Cheating a bit with violet essence does no harm seeing as I'm using flavorless common blue violets.
Important note: I will repeat this on each of my posts about edible violets. African violets are not the same as edible violets, genus Viola. Again, African violets are in the genus Saintpaulia and NOT edible!