15 May 2012

Back to the future with French glacé cherries

You know these groups on facebook going like "You know you are born in the 80s when you were a Cat's Eyes fan when you were a kid, you ate Twix when they were still called Raiders..."

They could easily include "You know you are born in the 80s if you know nothing about glacé cherries".

"- Cherries what? 
 - Glacé cherries... You know, the candied red fruit you find on top of bakewell tarts and in fruitcakes. They used to be the ultimate cake decoration in the 70s.
 - Ohhh
 - Any idea where they come from? 
 - Nope. 
 - How are they made? 
 - Hum... (mouth opened, blank eyes, big fat silence)"

That was me until I got staffed on the ultimate funky baking product: French glacé cherries.(I work in a marketing agency for food and wine. Yes, my life could definitely be worse!)
In the last 2 years, I got to learn everything about glacé cherries, taste premium French glacé cherries, watch top chefs cooking amazing recipes with them. I even got to visit the main French glacé cherries producers in Provence…and I saw la vie en rose

Nostradamus is said to be the first to perfect the candying process, using sugar to preserve fruits. French cherry growers in Provence (where the weather and soil conditions are perfect for cherry trees) mastered the candying of many fruits and Napoleon Bigarreau cherries in particular. Once picked, cherries are de-stalked, blanched, stoned and then steeped in sugar syrup for 10 days until all the fruits’ water content has been completely replaced by sugar. Super cool, isn't it?

British bakers traditionally baking lots of fruitcakes (ie Christmas puddings) use much more glacé cherries than French bakers. This is why they have long been imported in the UK. Even though other countries are now producing glacé cherries (Italy, Greece, Spain) France is still considered as the reference for quality and traditional heritage. I know, I am such a glacé cherry buff now!

In my condition of passionate baker, I had to give glace cherries a go. So I started to put glacé cherries everywhere; galette des rois, whoopie pies, muffins…They actually taste really nice and are so easy to use. You can pretty much swap candied or fried fruit by glacé cherries in any recipe. As they keep their shape, texture and taste throughout the cooking process, they even almost work better than fresh fruits in some recipes. 
They are so much contemporary that one could think!

So when a friend threw a pink party for her birthday, I knew the score. I ran off to the local M&S, bought a Diamond Jubilee biscuit tin (I love everything that is related to the royal family), got rid of the shortbreads and replaced them by my favourite pink biscuits.

I got this cantucci recipe from http://provencecalling.com/. As the glace cherries caramelize when cooking, they give a wonderful twist to these biscotti!

Almond and French Glacé Cherries Cantucci

100g almonds in their skin
50g ground almonds
100g French glacé cherries
250g plain flour
125g caster sugar
a generous 1/4 tsp baking powder
2 large (extra-large) eggs
unsalted butter for the tray

1/ Heat the oven to 200/400 Gas mark 6. When it is hot put the almonds onto a tray and lightly toast for 5 minutes and remove from oven and let cool and do not turn down the oven.

2/ Sieve the flour, sugar, ground almonds and baking powder into a large bowl. Mix and make a well in the center. Lightly whisk the eggs and pour into the well. 

3/ Gradually mix the dry ingredients with the egg, adding the nuts and the French glacé cherries when everything is well mixed. Be careful not to smash the glacé cherries You should have a stiff dough. Your can use your ends at the end. 

4/ Flour your hands and divide the dough into two 30 cms long sausages and place on a buttered and floured tin (or a plain silicone baking mat) and bake in the oven for 15 – 18 mins.
5/ Take out of the oven and lower the heat to 150. Let the cantucci sausages cool for 10 minutes and then cut them diagonally into 1cm slices

6/ Lay the slices onto the tray and return to the cooled oven for a further 30-45 mins (depending on how crunchy you want them) or until golden round the edges. 

7/ Put them on a wire tray to cool completely and then put into a glass jar. They will keep for 2 – 3 months.

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