December 15, 2013

Pâte de fruit: two flavors

Pâte de fruit is a sophisticated holiday treat made from pure fruit puree. Its translation means fruit paste, but it more resembles a jelly candy. The process is much like making jam, but with a stronger gelling agent. Most high-end chocolatiers and confiseries carry this sweet treat, which can be quite pricey. They are best eaten right away, which is usually not a problem; they get gobbled up immediately. They can be made with any flavor of fruit, but berries tend to be popular, both due to their distinctive flavors and bright hues. Although some of the ingredients in this recipe are hard to find, it's worth searching them out to achieve the proper results.

flavors: açai berry and cherry

As much as I love eating these tiny treats, I was not looking forward to making them. I was actually dreading it, and very nearly talked myself out of it. Here's why. This recipe requires many special ingredients, many of which I couldn't buy in stores and didn't have time to order online. Apple pectin, Boiron fruit purees, tartaric acid, to name a few. Usually, I'm confident in my ability to make substitutions, but this time was different. Since apple pectin is impossible to find, I bought Pomona's pectin instead. After extensive internet research, I was able to guesstimate the amounts required. Turns out, apple pectin and citrus pectin gel differently. According to Pomona's website, a calcium water solution is also required to gel the fruit properly. I spent a good long while trying to convert Bouchon's recipe to use the citrus pectin, trying to translate cups to grams and ounces. I wanted to pull my hair out! Another thing making this process difficult, I didn't have the brand or flavor of fruit puree recommended. Instead, I found açai berry puree and cherry puree. However, every fruit has a different sugar content, and therefore different gelling capabilities. Also, the purees I bought came in 400 gram packages, and the recipe called for 500 grams. Ugh! So now I had to scale down all the other ingredients in the recipe, in addition to calculating the proper amount of pectin and calcium solution. I haven't done this much math since grad school!

Once I had all my calculations complete, I threw my hands up in the air and figured, let's just go for it. If it doesn't work, I'll start over. So I prepped all my ingredients, lined the pan with plastic, crossed my fingers and got started. The funny thing is, the actual process of making the recipe is easy. Just boiling fruit and sugars together, essentially. Quick and simple. All that fussing beforehand led to such a simple act. I added the calcium solution with the fruit puree first, then continued with the rest of the ingredients. Although the recipe says to let the mixture come to 225 degrees, I found that it never got above 200 degrees, no matter how long I cooked it. I tested it on a cold plate and it gelled correctly, so I didn't worry about the temperature anymore. First I made açai, which was super dark, and then the cherry, which was a rich red color. One thing I noticed about both batches, the pectin was very difficult to dissolve, as was the cream of tartar at the end. I used a whisk for most of the cooking process, and never got all the powder to dissolve.

After resting for about an hour each, I coated the jelly in sugar and cut it into pieces. Sticky and messy! But so pretty, once all the squares were coated. I rested them on the sheet pan of sugar, and it looked like they were sitting on top of freshly fallen snow. The açai jellies weren't as translucent as I expected them to be, very dark, but the cherry ones turned out nicer. They almost look like raw tuna sushi. The flavor of the cherry was so yummy, but the açai isn't as pleasant. I think it needs more sugar, believe it or not. They were also difficult to photograph, being so dark. I doubt I'll make these again, but I'll certainly enjoy them more when I purchase them from a specialty shop, knowing all the work that went into them.

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