Monday, 4 July 2011

Sweets for my sweet

It's been a busy couple of weeks. Busy, satisfying and a bit sticky. On Saturday, just after spending three days in Burgundy, I was helping out at my daughter's school summer fĂȘte, manning a stall selling jars of sweets to raise funds. We'd collected used jam jars from other parents which we filled with sweets and decorated with gingham fabric. Even if we say so ourselves, they looked pretty tempting!

Some sweets had been bought, such as chocolate eclairs and jelly strawberries, but others I'd made at home: smoked salt tablet, rocky road, chocolate fruit and nut clusters, peppermint creams and honeycomb. It turns out I love making sweets – I'm becoming a dab-hand with my sugar thermometer – as long as I can give most of them away. My self-control is a work in progress. Mary Berry's Ultimate Cake Book (BBC Books) includes some useful recipes, as does Indulgence: Petits Fours, A Fine Selection of Sweet Treats (Murdoch Books), but here are a couple of recipes.

Peppermint creams
My good friend, Mrs M, recently shared a recipe for peppermint creams. She uses egg white, combined with peppermint essence and sifted icing sugar to make a malleable dough. As I was making mine in advance, I decided, after a bit of online research, to use water instead of egg white. I kneaded together the ingredients, starting with the sugar and 2 teaspoons peppermint essence, adding enough water to make it smooth and pliable. You can shape them by hand, but I rolled out the dough to a thickness of about 5mm on a surface dusted with more icing sugar and used a small shot glass to cut out the mints. Leave them to dry out on a cooking tray covered with greaseproof paper. The dough goes a long way. A 500g pack of sugar yields about 60 mints if you keep gathering up the offcuts, kneading and re-rolling. I didn't dip my mints in dark chocolate as per Mrs M, but almost certainly will next time.

This was much more dramatic and like a school science experiment. Firstly grease a 20 x 30cm baking tray and line with greaseproof paper. Place 325g caster sugar, 2 tablespoons honey, 80ml liquid glucose and 80ml water in a large, heavy-based saucepan. Over a low heat, dissolved the sugar, stirring well with a wooden spoon, increase the heat to medium and bring to the boil. Once it is bubbling away, remove the spoon and leave to boil until it reaches 150°C/300°F (hard crack stage). This takes 8 to 10 minutes and the colour will darken to an amber tone. Once the caramel is ready, you need to quickly stir in 1 tablespoon of bicarbonate of soda. Pour the foamy caramel into the prepared baking tray and leave to set. Cut into pieces or break into shards. Honeycomb can, of course, be dipped in chocolate (I prefer to use 70% dark chocolate). Sprinkling it over ice cream wouldn't be too bad either.

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