My confections instructor, a master chocolatier who cared for little else, would dismiss these gems with a toss of his head, "In the summer, when it is too hot, we make pate de fruit or little shapes of marzipan. It doesn't melt. The tourists buy it. But it is not serious."
And with that verbal sneer, he'd move on to yet another lesson on tempering, pouring out rivers of melted chocolate on the marble work slab, for us to push and scrape and push until it was smooth, shiny, just a shade warmer than the inside of our lip.
The chocolate was fine, but it was the silly not-serious fruit candies, the ones our instructor had little interest in, that captured my attention. I used to stare at them in the shop windows, and would use any spare dollars I had (not many during those very lean culinary school days) to buy myself a treat or two.
Back home, I've continued the habit of purchasing a few whenever I found them on sale, but I soon grew obsessed with the idea of making them myself. I spent hours researching and comparing recipes, only to discover that there are as many different recipes as there are flavors. I was totally confused, but could wait no longer and decided to just start experimenting. It took a bit (I ran out of sugar twice!), but I finally figured it out.
You may already have a favorite, but this is the one that I've found has worked best for me. It produces a candy with the perfect combination of sweetness and acidity, with a chewy, but not sticky texture.
Pate de fruit is essentially a sophisticated gummy candy. A Chuckle, made serious and elegant with pride and natural ingredients, and with a fresh, fruity flavor that far exceeds anything available on the drugstore shelves.
I'll admit right now that it isn't the easiest of confections--like most preserves, it's hot and sticky work, and your arms will feel like jelly long before you're done; Eugene actually stepped in for a few minutes for me, stirring while I did a few stretches and took a quick break. But I don't mean to scare you off as with a bit of patience and a few quirky ingredients, I guarantee you'll be delighted with the results. Considering that in the shops these often go for a dollar or so a piece, they are more than worth the effort. (Plus, hey…it's a free arm workout!)
I used a kitchen ruler and a rolling cutter to get even squares, but a sugared cookie cutter would also be fun if you'd like to make shapes instead. Or try tipping these in melted tempered chocolate for an even more amazing treat. And if you'd like these extra tart (think sour patch kids kind of tart), you can sift in a bit of citric acid with the sugar you use to coat them in.
It goes without saying that pate de fruit make a fantastic gift or favor; tuck a few into a small box and present tied with a ribbon for a gift that will impress. I haven't met a single person who didn't squeal with excitement upon opening a box of these (my dad included).
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Passion Fruit and Vanilla Bean Pate de Fruit
Most pastry chefs swear by Boiron, a high-quality, albeit expensive, brand of fruit puree available online and in various specialty markets. But I'll let you in on a little secret--you can find frozen fruit purees for just a couple dollars a pack in the freezer section of your grocery store or Latin market. I made this batch pictured here with Goya brand purees. For passion fruit, look out for packages labeled "maracuya" or "parcha."
900 grams frozen passion fruit puree, thawed (such as Goya)
1 whole vanilla bean
1/3 cup plus 2 teaspoons powdered apple or yellow pectin (do not use citrus pectin)
1 cup plus 4 cups granulated white sugar, divided
2/3 cup liquid glucose OR light corn syrup
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Special equipment: candy thermometer
Line a 12x17" sheet or jelly roll pan with parchment paper (do not use a flat plan; use one that has at least 1" sides on all 4 sides).
Combine the pectin and 1 cup of sugar in a bowl and whisk together thoroughly.
Attach a candy thermometer to a heavy bottomed and nonreactive pot (such as an enamel-coated dutch oven) and place over medium-high heat. Combine the passion fruit puree and vanilla bean in the pot, and bring to a simmer for 3 minutes. Remove the vanilla bean and use a knife to scrape in the vanilla seeds, discarding the pod.
Whisk the vanilla seeds into the puree along with the pectin and sugar mixture, followed by the rest of the sugar and glucose/corn syrup. Whisk continuously until mix reaches 226 degrees F (about 15-20 minutes).
Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice. Pour into your prepared mold and let set for 6 to 8 hours.
Once set, unmold, cut, and toss in granulated sugar before storing or serving.
Store pate de fruit at dry, room temperature or in the fridge in air tight containers separated with sheets of parchment. If you live in a humid climate you'll find that your candy will start to "sweat" a bit; this is OK and doesn't ruin it. Just dust with more sugar before serving.
These last for about 6 months if stored properly.