These colourful, translucent sugar-coated shapes are the candies of my childhood.
I recall walking the streets of my hometown of Orleans as a small child and stopping by the windows of confiseries (confectionary shops), mesmerised by hundreds of frosted squares displayed like precious jewels.
Occasionally on a Sunday, my father would take me inside and let me choose a dozen of the flavoursome treats known in France as pates de fruits. I would spend a good 10 minutes carefully picking which ravishing delicacies would make it to the small silk paper-lined golden box held by the white-gloved lady handling my precious cargo. The box would then be sealed by a red wax stamp and wrapped with silk ribbon before being handed over to a little girl drooling in anticipation.
We patiently had to wait until after dessert (dad’s epic Sunday lunches consisted of aperitif, entree, main, cheese with salad, desert and coffee) to finally reveal my selection to everyone. My sister and I then had to make the critical decision of electing two treats, three on a lucky day, from the fruity rainbow—which we would display in order of preference before slowly eating our way to the winner. I can still taste the crunch of the sugar beads combined with the soft and vibrant flesh followed by a long-lasting burst of fruity flavour. This ritual could easily take an hour.
Fruit jellies were referred to as “set jam” for a long time, and it is basically what they are. The process of cooking the fruits to a thick paste with sugar originated with the need to preserve seasonal fruits (initially apples and apricots) in the Middle Ages.
At first exclusively made by monks, production of these pastilles expanded to restaurants, pastry makers and eventually a wider commercial manufacture.
Each area of France has its own variation and specialty. Provence is known as the world capital of fruit pastes and the small town of Apt produces more than 15,000 tonnes each year (the “fleurons of Apt”).
Auvergne is believed to be where it all started with apricots and quinces. The technique there involves only using “noble fruit pulp” (all fruit except apple, which is often commercially used to bulk up production quantities and reduce cost). Their texture is allegedly softer and their aroma deeper, with a gorgeous flavour that lingers in the mouth.
Dijon exclusively uses currants enhanced with blackcurrant liquor for its cassissines. In Colmar, the raspberry fruit jellies have the shape of the fruit they are made from. Tarbes (Pyrenees) has a unique, fragrant chestnut-and-rum variety that melts in your mouth.
Even my hometown of Orleans has its own specialty, the “Cotignac”—a delicate quince paste set in small boxes made of spruce wood, stamped with a portrait of Joan of Arc.
The following recipe is inspired by the Master Gaston Lenôtre, undeniably one of the best reference for anything pastry for just about every chef around the world.
The Thermomix enables you to bring the jam at the crucial setting temperature of 105 degrees; all we needed to figure out was quantities and times to get there. Sounds easy? Well, “practice makes perfect” was without a doubt an accurate statement in this instance, but the end result was well worth the effort. Now we have a recipe for the Thermomix that is a true success for you to enjoy.