I immediately pulled out a bowl and started mixing sugar with food coloring and small amounts of water, then packing and cutting them into squares with a long knife. After 20 minutes or so of drying, I was left with gorgeous little sugar cubes in an irresistible shade of pink.
I then went one step further, replacing part of the tap water I'd used with rosewater, and repeating the rest of the process to create rose-scented sugar cubes. I brewed a cup of tea and dropped in a cube to test it--it melted gently just like a store-bought sugar cube and added a subtle rose flavor to the tea. I was hooked!
I made batch after batch, using orange blossom water, and then Meyer lemon juice (with yellow extract). Each time, the results were delicate little sugar cubes in pretty pastel colors with just a subtle hint of flavor. I was so excited that I could hardly wait to share them with you!
These would be absolutely gorgeous served in the sugar bowl at a ladies luncheon or bridal shower. And I bet that they would be a hit at a young girl's princess or tea party. The colors can be changed to match your color theme (great for a wedding or baby shower), and the flavor can also be adjusted. Try adding a drop of vanilla or anise extract, or scraping in the seeds from a vanilla bean.
Another bonus? These aren't just for girly tea parties--drop one or two flavored sugar cubes into a glass and top off with champagne or white wine for an instant aperitif!
You can also use small cookie cutters to create pretty molded sugar cubes. Simply pack the wet sugar tightly into the cookie cutter of your choice and lift the mold up gently. Let dry for 30 minutes before moving onto a drying rack and letting it dry completely (about another hour).
Serve alongside tea or coffee, or place on a small plate in the center of your table so guests can help themselves. Depending on how small your cookie cutters are, guests can break off small pieces to stir into their drink or just use the whole thing. (These would also make fun decorations for a cake!)
I made rose hearts for Valentine's Day, but I'm going shopping for more small cutters to make different shapes. I bet lemon daisies would be absolutely adorable!
Definitely give it a shot and tell me what you come up with. Just a warning--if you get as into it as I do, you may end up with pastel fingertips and a sugar-dusted kitchen. (Though I think it's definitely worth it.)
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Homemade Flavored Sugar Cubes
Makes about 30 1/2" cubes or 12-15 1" hearts
1.5 cups granulated white sugar
2 teaspoons flavoring such as rosewater, orange blossom water, or fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons plain water
1-2 drops food coloring of your choice (I used 3 drops red to get this bright pink color, 2 drops yellow for the yellow, and 2-3 drops each red and blue for the purple)
Pour the sugar into a large bowl. In a separate small cup, combine the rosewater, water, and food coloring. Pour the rosewater mixture into the sugar and mix thoroughly until evenly combined. The texture should feel and look like wet sand with a bit of fluff to it. If the mixture is too wet, add granulated sugar by the tablespoon until the texture is right (this might be the case if you live in a very humid climate). If it's too dry, add a bit more water.
Pour the sugar onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and use your hands to pack into a flat, compact rectangle. Use a bench scraper or knife to cut the block across in rows and then again in perpendicular rows, creating approximately 1/2 inch cubes. Leave the cubes to dry for about 30 minutes, before separating gently and letting dry an additional 20 minutes.
To make molded cubes: pack the wet sugar mixture tightly into a small (about 1" to 1.5") cookie cutter on a piece of parchment paper. Gently lift the cutter off and let the sugar dry for 30 minutes before moving onto a drying rack and letting dry on the reverse side. Repeat for each cube until completely dry (about an hour).
When completely dry (you should be able to squeeze a cube gently without it breaking apart, you can serve in a regular sugar bowl, or store in an air-tight container.
Notes: Try out different flavorings or maybe even alcohols for the liquids, but avoid very sugary or syrupy liqueurs (I wouldn't use amaretto, for example, though almond extract mixed with regular water will work well). Orange blossom water works really well in the same dimensions. If you want to use an extract, only use 1 teaspoon and make the rest plain water. I noticed that the lemon juice cubes take several hours longer to dry completely and need to be turned.