Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Candied Violets

Candied Violet

Recipe Tips by Robin

Unusual days call for unusual recipes. Today is leap year day, and we won’t see another until 2016. A recipe whose main ingredients are sugar and flowers is unprecedented for Seasonal Eating, yet violets are in season and unusually prolific this year. Considering the sugar content and the amount of finesse needed to make these Victorian goodies, this is indeed a special occasion recipe.

With a bumper crop of violets in my yard, I went to to find out how to make candied violets. I’d never actually seen one, much less made one. The process seemed straightforward, and there are two methods. You can paint the violets with egg white and sprinkle them with sugar, or dip them in a heated sugar solution then sprinkle them with sugar. Sounds simple, right?

Painting on the Egg White
I failed to read between the lines of the method before trying it. Picture a violet, a delicate flower, snipped from its home, doused with water, blown dry, and plunged into hot liquid or painted with sticky stuff. It’s hard to imagine that the violet will hold its shape and still look like a violet. Therein lies the challenge.

Candied violets require time and patience, yet one must work fairly quickly to avoid flower wilt. I hope the following tips help you to plan well and enjoy the process.

  • Set aside at least two hours, preferably three. One focused amateur can make about 40 violets in three hours. Use this figure to determine how many violets to pick.
  • Make it a party! Invite someone to help, a friend or two, or a patient, artistic child.
  • The egg white method produces better results than the hot sugar solution dunking method. Even if sugar solution is cooled, violet surfaces resist sugar solution, but accept egg white readily.
  • Gather violets early in the day, after dew has evaporated. That’s when they’re most fragrant. Pick violets that look freshest.
  • Do not delay after violets are picked. Rinse off immediately, and spread out on towel to dry. Use a fan on low to lightly circulate air around them. Check frequently, and as soon as they dry, start candying. Drying takes less than ½ hour.
  • When violets are drying, set up work area near them. Cover a cookie sheet or cutting board with plastic wrap.  Pour some extra-fine sugar into a small cup, sifting out any lumps. Put egg white out in bowl. Make a place setting for each candy-maker with a small paintbrush, a small damp towel, and a dessert plate with a couple spoonfuls of sifted extra-fine sugar. Put small scissors on table.
  • Sprinkle the sugar onto the violets a little at a time with your fingers, adding more as the egg white absorbs it. Try to avoid dropping big white clumps of sugar onto the violets.

Candied violets are typically used to decorate special occasion cakes, petit fours, cupcakes, frosted brownies, and the like. Victorians sometimes added them to their tea. You can store them for at least one month, once completely dry, in a cool dark place, preferably a sealed tin.

Hold by Stem and Sprinkle on Sugar
Candied Violets

Violet blossoms
1 egg white
Extra-fine (baker’s) sugar
Small paintbrush
Small scissors

Early in the day, gather the number of violets that you plan to candy, according to the “time available” calculation above. Choose violets that are not wilted, missing petals, or partially eaten by insects. Cut with scissors, and leave a stem of an inch or more.

Rinse the violets gently in a colander. Some people use a hand-held sprayer.

Put violets on kitchen towel to dry where you will be candying them. Use a fan to circulate air if possible, on low and not too close.

Meanwhile, beat egg white until consistency is uniform. Set up work area as detailed above.

Holding the violet by its stem, paint each surface, front and back, with egg white. The first few violets might not be perfect. Practice will help you learn how to hold the flower to keep the petals from folding into each other as you paint, and/or how to correct this.

Hold the violet over your plate with one hand, and sprinkle sugar from the plate onto it using the thumb and forefinger of your other (painting) hand. Use just a little, and build up layers on each area gradually. Cover both front and back. If you missed painting an area with egg white, brush some on and continue sugar-coating.

Candied Violets Drying
The sugar will stabilize the petals to some degree, and as you work you will learn how to manipulate the violet for easiest coverage, and how to reshape folded and stuck-together petals with your fingers and stabilize them with sugar. Be patient: this is art! Build up sugar until you see tiny crystals, but try to avoid making the whole violet white.

When violet is sufficiently covered with sugar, hold it close to plastic wrapped surface while sliding small scissors down stem to base. Snip off the stem, and position the violet the way you want it to dry with your fingers. If some areas look very wet after wrestling them down to the plastic, sprinkle on a bit more sugar with your fingers.

Wipe off your fingers on the damp cloth and repeat.

Allow violets to dry for at least 24 hours. It may take 48 hours or even longer.

Leftover violets? Remove the stems and dry them to add to tea or potpourri.

1 comment:

  1. My Nana used to love these! Not sure I have the patience to make them and haven't seen violets in my area to even try it but thanks for the sweet memory and the beautiful pictures.