Sunday, May 10, 2015

Sugar Plate

Violet petals preserved in sugar plate. Sugar cooked to hard 

crack stage (300 degrees) on left. Sugar cooked to "candy height"

(230 degrees) on right. The white spots on the hard crack candy is
the confectioner sugar I sprinkled on it to keep it from sticking
together.














This past week I have worked with varying degrees of success with the “Sugar Plate” recipe from Constance Hieatt’s “Pleyn Delit”. What I have learned is that a digital thermometer, although a bit more expensive is definitely worth the investment. I have also learned that the success of your sugar cooking is directly related to your thermometers ability to tell you the correct temp, or your own ability to use water to determine which stage sugar ist at. After two unsuccessful attempts at cooking the sugar to the hard crack height recommended in “Pleyn Delit” and testing using the water method, both of which resulted in a soft gummy like candy--I bought a thermometer.

The third attempt was successful at producing clear amber colored hard candy with violet leaves floating in it. The process is very simple. Take approximately two cups of sugar, 2 tablespoons of rosewater and add enough water to wet all of the sugar through. The amount of water you add is dependent on the humidity. I also add a tablespoon of lemon juice to any of my candies because the addition of the acidic lemon prevents sugar crystals from forming on the side of the pan. I heat my mixture on a low heat stirring continuously until all of the sugar has dissolved. It is at this point that I turn up the heat and I do not stir it again until after it has reached the desired temperature. For hard crack candy, that is 300 degrees.
Recipe found in Pleyn Delit.

While I am waiting for the sugar to reach the correct temperature, I take a piece of parchment paper and lightly oil it. Rice flour is not something I have handy, but a light spray of cooking oil I will always have on hand. I use an old cookie tray with a low rim about it. I want the candy to be thin, but I don’t want it to run everywhere. You can also use candy molds prepared by lightly coating them with a thin coat of oil if you choose. I like the look of jagged hard tack candy, so I did not use candy molds. Once the syrup has reached the proper temperature, remove it from the heat and pour it onto the prepared mold or pan. I added violet petals to my candy right before I poured it.

I did “play” with my last batch based on a theory. Having read the recipe, a phrase caught my eye “sette it on a furneys, & gar seethe…the moutynance of a Ave Maria, a whill evermore steryng with the spatur, and sette it ageyne, but lat it noght wax over styfe for cause of powryng.”

Roughly translated, “set the sugar mix over the heat and let it cook the time it would take to recite the Ave Maria, stirring with the spatula, but let it not become stiff because it will need to be poured.”

My theory is that the recipe is calling for the sugar to be cooked to “candy height” or, 220-230 degrees, which is much less than the 300 degrees needed to reach hard, crack stage. At this stage, if you were making “Manus Christi” the sugar would be removed from the heat and beaten until it became white. The resulting candies are delicate, almost fudge like in texture, and are very white.

Working on my theory, my last batch of sugar plate this week was cooked to candy height, or 230 degree. I then beat it like I would for making Manus Christi, and after the sugar had cooled enough to turn white I added the petals of violets and pinks to it.

Both candies are very pretty to look at and once again my team of test teenagers declared them a success. I have dim hope that there will be leftovers for future use based on the amount consumed by the test subjects. But that’s OK. I will be making another batch in the future once my roses bloom.


Which stage is the correct stage to cook the candy to? My answer is whatever stage works best for your own purpose. I personally think the softer, whiter candy is the prettier of the two, and is the one I prefer to eat.

Bibliography

Hieatt, C. B. (1996). Pleyn Delit: Medieval Cookery for Modern cooks. University of Toronto Press.