Bring something for a tea party. We’re going for a romantic theme…
That was the brief, so what, oh what could I bring? Well, something that struck me as rather suitable would have been the rose creams that I recently sampled at Charbonnel et Walker in Mayfair just before the Jubilee. However, I didn’t have the time for a visit to central London, so it was going to have to be something home-made. So I thought: what the heck, I’ll just make rose creams. And…if they don’t work, it’s going to be a Victoria sponge…
My very unscientific research tells me that a lot of folk think of rose-flavoured sweets as rather old-fashioned. I think this is perhaps due, in part, to floral flavours usually being very strong, more like perfume, and often rather artificial. If you had Parma Violets as a child, you’ll understand. A rose has a fragile perfume, so if you are going to use it to flavour something, you want the retain its delicate character. While rose is undeniably very traditional, the flavour can also seem quite contemporary, at least to Western tastes. Rose water features in a lot of Middle Eastern desserts like baklava or lokum, so when used with a light touch, it can be quite heady and aromatic. It’s all about getting the right balance between the light, fresh notes of rose oil, but avoiding a flavouring that is too floral. Oh, and apparently rose creams are a favourite of HM The Queen.
We say we eat with our eyes too, and I think the colour of anything that contains rose has a lot to do with how it is received. A piece of Turkish delight that is bright pink suggests that it’s going to be rather strong in the flavour department, but if colourless, you’re not expecting the flavour to be too strong. So that was something that I took on board – my little creations were not going to be lurid neon pink!
However, when it came to making these sweets, I was faced with a bit of a quandary. What should the filling actually be made of? It is rather obvious that my rose creams were going to be very sweet. Lots of sugar would be unavoidable. However, there are still some variations.
An easy option is to combine icing sugar and egg whites. Personally, I try not to use uncooked egg white when possible, so that was a bit of a non-starter for me. Other recipes use double cream instead. This was more palatable for a picky chef, but I was also keen to have centres that were silky-smooth. I tested the icing sugar and cream mixture, but there was a perceptible graininess.
This process of elimination brought me face to face with one of my cooking demons. Fear of fondant. I was going to have to work with hot sugar syrup. Eek! I accept that some foods require a bit of science to understand them, but fondant is, for me, a huge step up. The thing with fondant is that you work the sugar syrup so that it forms very tiny crystals, so the resulting paste is very smooth when you bite into it, with no hint of graininess and thus a perfect melting texture. My fear comes from past attempts that ended up with a nasty, gritty mess, but this time I was determined to make sure that it worked.
First off, I tried adapting this recipe from Saveur for peppermint patties. I would just swap the peppermint oil for a little rose extract. However, I found the addition of cream and butter made the filling too rich, and the use of dairy meant that the base was not sufficiently “clean” for the rose flavour to work. Peppermint oil would probably have worked better here after all.
So I went back to the basic fondant recipe – sugar, water, glucose and a dash of cream of tartar. This time, it worked like a dream. The fondant turned out brilliantly white and once the rose was added, the flavour was just right. It could be subtle as there were no other flavours in there to compete with. For a moment, I wondered if I should add any pink colour at all – in the end, I added only the tiniest amount, but I think you could actually skip this quite happily, and keep them white for a more modern look.
With the fondant successfully made, I did what so many people do when they overcome a fear and made it again, just to be sure that the recipe did indeed work. I’m happy to report that it did. It’s amazing what happens when you finally learn that when glucose appears on an ingredients list, it is essential and not just an optional extra. That, and a candy thermometer makes life so much easier!
Finally, to dip or not to dip? I decided to dip these fondants in chocolate (2/3 dark, 1/3 milk). I felt the dark chocolate would work better with the rose flavour, but that pure milk would be a little to much – that sweetness needed something bitter to balance it.
Once the chocolates were made, I headed to the tea party. I turned up, presented my chocolates, and I think they were all gone in about five minutes. Nice to see hours of work in the kitchen appreciated like that.
And if you’re humming the tune, here is what I think is the best version of “La Vie en Rose” by Grace Jones (minus the hula-hoop).
To make rose creams (makes 20):
For the filling:
• 300g white sugar
• 1 teaspoon liquid glucose
• 2 pinches cream of tartar
• 75ml water
• 1/4 teaspoon rose extract
• 2-3 drops pink food colouring
To coat the chocolates:
• 200g chocolate (I used a 2:1 mixture of dark and milk)
1. Put the sugar, glucose, cream of tartar and water into a saucepan. Bring to the boil without stirring, and cook until the mixture reaches the soft ball stage (112°C / 235°F).
2. Pour the syrup sugar liquid onto a cold marble slab, and start to work with a spatula until the mixture becomes opaque. Be careful – this stuff starts of very, very hot! Eventually it will become firm and crumbly. When this happens, use your hands to work the fondant into a smooth paste. If it gets too dry, add a couple of drops of water.
4. Once the fondant is smooth, add the rose extract and food colouring (if using), and work until combined. Wrap tightly in cling film, and leave in a cool place (not the fridge) to cool completely.
5. To finish the chocolates, shape the fondant into pieces. Make them a little smaller than you expect, as they are larger once coated in chocolate. Let the fondant sit on a sheet of greaseproof paper while you melt the chocolate. To see how to temper chocolate (to get a shiny finish) see here or here.
6. To dip the fondant in the chocolate, balance a piece on a fork. Dip into the chocolate, then lift out. Tap on the side of the bowl, run the bottom of the fork over the rim of the bowl to remove excess chocolate, then place back on the sheet of greaseproof paper to set.
Worth making? Certainly! Very few ingredients, but a great result! Once you manage to make the fondant, the process is actually quite easy, so worth having a go at, and of course, you can change them with all manner of flavours.