Thursday, February 2, 2017

How to make a confection from pine-nut kernels

The Elixirs of Nostradamus: Nostradamus' original recipes for elixirs, scented water, beauty potions and sweetmeats.  Edited by Knut Boeser.  [1552]

Aaaarrghhh.  I am so done with candy for a while!  I kind of went on a candymaking spree recently, and now the very sight of these, lovely as they were, makes me want to heave.

How to make a confection from pine-nut kernels
Take as many well-cleaned and carefully shelled pine-nut kernels as you will, dry them or toast them a little.  

Or take them whole with their skins and shells and put them in a basket.  Hang this over the hearth near the fire and leave it there for three days.  Thus the heat from the fire wills lowly penetrate them and dry them.  Then take them out and clean them thoroughly.  Next take two and a half pounds of nuts, being careful to keep them close at hand.  Then take some of the most beautiful and best Madeira sugar, dissolve sufficient of it in rose-water and boil it until it attains the consistency of a jelly.  If it is winter or a time when there is a lot of moisture in the air, boil it a bit longer, but if it is summer, then let is just simmer.  This is when it does not boil over or bubble when it boils, which is a sign that the moisture had been evaporated; but to be brief, when it has boiled to the consistency of a jelly, as I have said, take the preserving pan off the fire and put it somewhere where the liquid can dry off and become firm.  Then give it a good stir with a piece of wood and beat it continuously until it turns white. When it begins to cool down a little, add the white of a whole or half an egg and beat it well again.  Next place it over the coals, in order to allow the moisture from the egg-white to stiffen, and when you see that it is properly white and like the first lot you boiled, take the dried, well-cleaned pine-nut kernels and put them into the sugar.  Stir them with the wood so that they are thoroughly mixed with the sugar--this should still be done over the coal fire, so that the mixture does not cool too quickly.  Then take a wide wooden knife, like the ones used by shoemakers, and cut the mixture into pieces, each weighing an ounce and a half, but not more than two, which would not be good, and spread them carefully on to some paper until they have properly cooled, at which stage put a little gold leaf on to them and your confection is ready.  If, however, it is not possible to obtain pine-nut kernels anywhere, use peeled almonds instead, dividing them either into two parts or three and mixing them with the sugar to make this confection.  And if there are too few pine-nut kernels, you can replace them with pieces of almonds, for the latter are not dissimilar to the former in taste and potency.  You can also use fennel which is flowering or in seed, which is kept in houses and used during the wine harvest.  When your sugar has almost completely boiled and is hot and white with everything mixed in it or scattered over it, it looks  like manna or snow and is so beautiful and lovely.  

This recipe took two tries.  The important parts are the ratio of the egg white and sugar, and the temperature it is cooked to.  My first attempt resulted in something like horribly sweet Italian meringue, kind of the consistency of marshmallow cream.  

Dang it, pine nuts aren't cheap!  Grrrr!  I baked them into macarons, which worked okay.  The flavor was good enough to make another attempt, but teeth-achingly sweet.  So very sweet.

For attempt #2, I used almonds, which are much cheaper than pine nuts, and modified a divinity recipe.  Which worked lovely!

Pine-Nut Confection
3 C. sugar
3/4 C. water
2 egg whites
1-2 t. rosewater
1 C. almonds or pinenuts
3 T. fennel seeds

Line a 9x13 pan with oiled parchment paper.  Toast your nuts lightly, and then toast the fennel seeds.  It doesn't take long, especially the fennel, don't let them burn!  Stir together the sugar and water in a pan, then turn on the heat to medium.  Do not stir once it is heating. When it comes to a boil, put the lid on for two minutes.  Take off the lid, and insert a candy thermometer.  Whip the egg whites to stiff peaks in your stand mixer, and then drop the rosewater in.

When the sugar syrup reaches hard ball (250-265 F.), start up your mixer again and slowly drizzle the syrup into the egg whites, trying to hit the side of the bowl on the way down instead of the egg whites directly.  Don't try and scrape out the last bit of syrup with a spoon, just put that pan down and get back to the mixer.  The mixture will look glossy.

Keep running the mixture until it loses the glossy look and looks a little thicker, around 5 minutes.  Fold in the nuts and seeds gently, and spread into the papered 9x13 pan.  You could also make little dollops on a flat papered pan or silicone.

Let cool and dry, and cut into squares.

Verdict:  Delightful!  They are light and fluffy.  I actually loathe divinity because of the sickly sweetness, but the fennel and nuts take the edge off just enough to make it enjoyable to me in small doses.  Divinity usually has corn syrup added for a smoother texture, so this is just a little gritty.  Similar recipes include honey or brown sugar, which would have the same effect as corn syrup.

If you just sub rosewater for vanilla and add pinenuts and fennel seed to a standard divinity recipe, I don't think there would be a big enough difference to be noticeable to most people.

And not a single crumblet was wasted.

Now I'm going to go eat some protein.

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