HYDE PARK, N.Y. - Showing affection can include searching for the perfect sweet treat for your loved one. Although a vow to eat more healthfully is often among our New Year resolutions, the temptations of being given a box of chocolates can wreak havoc on the best of intentions.
Fortunately, chocolates are not the only candy that can satisfy a sweet tooth. The homemade fruit gelees in the following recipe are prepared with your choice of frozen juice concentrates combined with fruit extracts or oils. These fat-free sugarcoated treats make a delicious, lower-calorie alternative to chocolate candies, and will keep most New Year's diet resolutions in check.
Reminiscent of jellied fruit slices and gum drops, fruit gelees made with fruit juices or purees have an unmistakable taste and texture. Their distinctive character comes from two unique ingredients: powdered fruit pectin and citric acid.
Pectin, a thickener derived from fruits such as tart apples or citrus, is used to make jams, jellies and a variety of candies. Pectin is available both as a powder and as a liquid, although the two forms are not interchangeable in recipes. Citric acid is the ingredient that gives sour candy its pucker. You can find it in drugstores (ask the pharmacist) or in stores that specialize in candy-making supplies.
In addition to the zing that citric acid provides, extracts and food-grade oils (found at many supermarkets and natural-food stores) give the tiny candies a boost of flavor. Many natural-food stores carry food-grade oils. If you aren't sure, ask if an oil or extract is meant to be eaten.
Peter Greweling, professor in baking and pastry arts at The Culinary Institute of America, suggests that you create your own blend of flavors when you make fruit gelees.
"Start by experimenting with white grape juice - its neutral flavor pairs well with many extracts," he says. Other good complementary juice-extract pairings would be apple with mint; cranberry-orange with cinnamon; limeade with lemon, and orange or cranberry with lime.
Fruit gelees are extra-special when cut into decorative shapes. Mini cookie cutters can give the jewel-toned candies a festive feel. One-inch cutter sets, available at specialty kitchen and craft stores, offer a variety of shapes including hearts, stars, diamonds, circles, triangles and flowers. Nestled in paper candy liners and wrapped in a decorative box, fruit gelees make a lasting impression.
The following recipe is in The Culinary Institute of America's "Baking At Home with The Culinary Institute of America" cookbook (Wiley, 2004, $40).
Flourless cooking spray for greasing
¾ cup frozen juice concentrate, thawed (sweetened or unsweetened)
¾ to 1¼ cups water
Two 1¾-ounce packets (8 teaspoons) powdered fruit pectin
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups sugar, plus extra for coating
1 and 1/3 cups light corn syrup
½ teaspoon fruit extract or oil
¼ to ¾ teaspoon citric acid, or as needed
Food coloring as needed (optional)
Lightly coat a 9-by-13-inch rectangle cake pan with cooking spray, line with parchment paper, and coat the parchment lightly with cooking spray.
Put the juice concentrate in a large saucepan. If using frozen cranberry juice cocktail, add three-quarters cup water; for other juices, add 1¼ cups water. Add the pectin and baking soda.
In a second large saucepan, combine the sugar and corn syrup.
Bring the contents of both saucepans to a boil over medium-high heat. The pectin mixture will foam up as it comes to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and stir both mixtures for 8 minutes. Gradually add the juice-pectin mixture to the sugar mixture, stirring constantly. Continue to boil for one minute more.
Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir, adding a few drops of fruit flavoring (extract or oil) and/or about ¼ teaspoon citric acid for tartness, and a few drops of food coloring, if desired. Spoon a little of the mixture onto a plate and taste it when it has cooled slightly. Adjust the flavor with a few more drops of flavoring or citric acid, if desired. Pour into the prepared pan. Set the pan on a level surface and let cool until the candy is firm enough to cut into pieces, about 2 hours at room temperature.
Scatter a thin layer of sugar on a jellyroll pan. Coat a pizza cutter, kitchen scissors or decorative cutters with cooking spray so the candies won't stick when cutting. Invert the slab of candy onto a work surface and cut into decorative shapes, or into strips about ¾-inch-wide, and cut strips into bite-size pieces. Place these individual candies on the sugarcoated pan. Turn the candies so that all sides are evenly coated, rubbing the sugar into the candy. Set the candies on a wire rack lined with wax paper and let air-dry for at least 8 hours.
To store, pack candies in an airtight container lined with waxed paper. Note: Fruit gelees are sensitive to humidity, which can cause them to become sticky.
Makes about 120 pieces.
Nutrition information per piece: 35 cal., 0 g pro., 9 g carbo., 0 g fat, 15 mg sodium, 0 mg chol., 0 g fiber.
This and other confectionary recipes are among the recipe selection in The Culinary Institute of America's "Baking At Home with The Culinary Institute of America" cookbook (Wiley, 2004, $40), available at bookstores nationwide or at: