Well, it seems we are on the path to French candy land. Another day, I will tell you about our caramel adventures. For today, we have a pâte de fruit story. This summer, we have been exploring how to make the fruit jellies called pâte de fruit (pronounced paht de fwee, translated as fruit paste). When done right, they have bright, concentrated fruit flavors. When done wrong, well they are just nasty. My only experience with fruit jellies as a kid was spitting them out. In France, however, they are held in high regard and can often be quite expensive. So, we figured with really good fruit and a solid recipe, we could probably make something quite good.
Fruit pastes are some of the oldest sorts of candies. They are basically stiff jam that has been cut into pieces. The ingredients are the same: fruit, sugar, pectin, and some acid, but it is cooked longer. Pâte de fruit recipes often have corn syrup/glucose to prevent crystallization, too. Quince fruit was historically used as it contains plentiful pectin and tastes wonderful after a long cooking.
Now, when we started this project, we thought that pectin was pretty much the same wherever you went. Turns out we were wrong — there are a bunch of different kinds. Generally speaking, there are two types: high methoxyl and low methoxyl. Pectin is a polymer and the number of methoxyl (-OCH3) groups that are attached influence how the pectin sets. High methoxyl requires low pH and high dissolved solids (mostly sugar, about 55%) to set well. Low methoxyl requires less sugar, but needs calcium to set — it is what is used in low sugar jellies. Within low and high, there are additional ranges, with some setting rapidly and other setting slowly. Slower setting pectins are better for clear jellies and faster setting better for things with inclusions. Pectin is unfortunately not labeled very well and it can sometimes be hard to figure out what you are buying. Pectins used for making jams and jellies in the US are not pure pectin and are calibrated to certain recipes. Pâte de fruit recipes aren’t calibrated for these types of pectin. They assume pure pectin and call for things like apple pectin or yellow pectin. Apple pectin and yellow pectin are not usually found in stores. You can find them at L’Epicerie (yellow and apple) and Le Sanctuaire (yellow). If you find other sources, please post a link.
This is our starting formula for pâte de fruit, although the specifics will vary depending on your fruit.
for ~50 small pieces (can be doubled or quadrupled easily)
250g fruit puree (225g fruit puree + 25g sugar)
50g corn syrup
50g sugar + 7.5g pectin, whisked together
5mL lemon juice
This is pretty much the recipe that comes on the apple pectin package from L’Epicerie and is also based on the recipes for Boiron purees, which are high quality purees that are usually used for this sort of thing. We use lemon juice not because we can’t get tartaric/citric/malic acid (check your local brew supply store, here’s ours), but because when we used it, the candy was really strongly acid flavored. We feel that good fruit will have high acid content and if not, lemon juice seems to do the trick for flavor and final gelling of the pectin. We use the acids when we are not using fruit (e.g. vanilla-mint). The amount of pectin that you will use will vary depending on how much is in the fruit. We have found 7.5g/250g puree to be a good starting point.
Now, we finally get to the most important part — the fruit. Make sure to get the best fruit that you can. It doesn’t need to be completely ripe, but it does need to be fruit that would taste amazing when ripe. We find our fruit at Chino Farm, where they consistently produce amazing fruits and veggies. We did a few test runs with fruit we got at a less expensive market and most people had trouble identifying the flavor. By spending $3-5/50 pieces of candy more on fruit, we went from a nondescript sweet treat to a deep fruit experience.
For this summer’s project, we attempted to make 7 kinds and succeeded at 5: strawberry, vanilla-mint, beet, nectarine, and rose geranium. We failed moderately or pretty badly at two: watermelon and corn.
First off, a success:
Beet pâte de fruit:
Now, beets are not normally used for pâte de fruit, but they are naturally very sweet and the Chinos grow wonderful ones. We began with about 5 medium-large beets, peeled & chopped:
Since you will be stirring nonstop, it is important to have everything in place before you start. Set up the sugar, corn syrup, lemon juice, and sugar/pectin mixture in bowls.
Also, get ready whatever you are going to use to form the candies. You can use a rectangular container, lined with plastic wrap. We have these aluminum bars that we got from Online Metals that work as caramel bars. We set them up on a silpat on top of a marble board to insulate the heat from the table. There is no need to oil them as the candy will pull away cleanly.
To cook the candy, we have seen a number of different methods. You can bring the fruit puree to a boil, then add sugar/glucose, bring to a boil again, and then add pectin. When it reaches 224F, you add the acid and pour into the mold. You can also make a syrup with the sugar/glucose and a little water, boil to ~230, add half the fruit, boil, add the rest of the fruit and the pectin, boil to 224F, and add acid and pour. You always add the acid at the end. Adding fruit later I think helps the flavor, but I am not sure. For this version, we added the fruit later. Both ways work. Here’s a pic of the beet with everything but the lemon juice added:
And poured into the mold after reaching 224F and adding lemon juice:
After about an hour, the candy is cooled, ready for cutting, and tossing in sugar. We cut with a chef’s knife into 3/4 in x 3/4 in pieces. We use normal C&H sugar for this, but you can get fancier with larger crystaled sanding sugar. Here’s nectarine, beet, vanilla-mint, and strawberry.
Nectarine pâte de fruit
Strawberry pâte de fruit
Vanilla-mint pâte de fruit
enough water to make a syrup (1/2 c)
1 Tahitian vanilla pod, scrapped into syrup while cooking
bring to a boil & then add pectin
1/2 bunch fresh mint, chopped, added with acid
4g citric acid in a little water
Rose geranium pâte de fruit
1c water + 25g sugar
1 small bunch (7-8 flower clusters) rose geranium, with flower petals separated and reserved.
Bring to boil water, 25g sugar and rose geranium leaves. Add 250g sugar, and corn syrup. Bring to a boil and add 7.5g pectin.
4g acid (half citric, half malic), in a little water
When solution reaches 224F, remove from heat and add acid. Stir in acid and boil for a minute. Add reserved flower petals and pour into mold.
For watermelon, we reduced the juice about 2.5x before making it with 7.5g pectin. The result was sticky and gooey and never really set well. We’re wondering if there wasn’t too much glucose/fructose in the reduced fruit juice. We’ll try leaving out the corn syrup next time and see if that helps.
For corn, we weren’t sure what would happen. We used less pectin (5g) because we thought the natural cornstarch would add some thickening power. We also doubled the lemon juice (10 ml) because the corn doesn’t have that much acid. It didn’t set up and was super sticky. After sitting a day, it developed a crystallized crust.
The flavor, however, was unreal and I suspect a quest is in our future. We’ll try going heavy on the pectin and acid next time.
Well, did we badge? We’ve sourced pectin and fruit/veggies well. We’ve researched the science and history to some extent, and we’ve made the recipe a number of times until we usually get it right. I’d say that qualifies as a badge. However, I think the key to pâte de fruit is being able to optimize to the particular ingredients that you have. I see an advanced badge in the future about optimizing the recipe to new ingredients. Not that we need to get the corn right, mind you, but figuring out a harder one like watermelon would be nice!
eGullet Pâte de fruit
Chocolates and Confections by Peter Greweling
Hungry in Hogtown’s description of El Bulli’s Vanilla pâte de fruit
Sweets: A History of Candy by Tim Richardson