Feb 14, 2014

Capturing Valentines Day: Sweet and Bitter

Negroni Gummy Candy
I'm not a big proponent of Valentines day.  Traditionally, I've been much more of a fan of shopping for clearance candy on the 15th.  But this year, I was in the local grocery store, and found some $2.00 silicone ice cube trays that made small heart shaped ice cubes.  With the resulting cubes being the perfect gummy candy size, how could I resist?

Being hearts, and being Valentines day, I knew that I wanted to do something red.  Sazaracs make good hard candy, but I'm not quite as sold on them as gummy candy.  I wanted to try something new.  And I didn't want to use anything cranberry juice based, because I figured that finding a good balance of tart and sweet would be a pretty big challenge.  After wracking my brain for a naturally red cocktail, I picked the brains of some of my more, um, "alcoholically knowledgeable" friends.  Some of the recommendations I got were a sloe gin fizz, a Singapore sling, a negroni, and a few other obscure cocktails. The negroni is the favorite cocktails of one of my favorite bartenders, and I have found that bartenders tend to give free beverages when you bring them candy (especially homemade cocktail flavored candy).  Thus, I decided to try that.

Negroni cocktail.  Bitter in a glass.
The recipe for a negroni is as follows:

1.5 ounces gin
1.5 ounces campari
1.5 ounces sweet vermouth

Stir all 3 ingredients in a highball glass with ice.  Garnish with orange peel.

Here is a very important note about this cocktail.  It is bitter.  Seriously bitter.  I am under the impression that this is one of those cocktails where you either love it or hate it.  Personally, I am not a fan. But, feel free to substitute the negroni with your favorite cocktail.  I have had wonderful results with most other cocktails, including a 20th Century, margarita, dark and stormy, and mamie taylor.

To make the candy:

1 negroni (without ice)
6 packets gelatin
2 cups sugar (plus extra for dusting)

Special equipment: candy thermometer

Mix a negroni without the ice, and add enough water to make 1 cup of liquid.  Instead of the orange for this, I added a dash of orange bitters (and a couple of drops of red food coloring, for that extra bright red).  Sprinkle the 6 packets of gelatin over the liquid and set aside to bloom.  If using molds, have them out and ready.  Otherwise, grease a 9x9 pan.

In a saucepan, mix 2 cups of sugar with 1 1/4 cup of water.  Attach a candy thermometer, and heat the mixture to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.  Remove from heat, and mix in the now solid negroni gelatin mixture. As soon as the mixture is incorporated, pour into the molds to set.  I find a small disher works beautifully for this process.  If using a pan instead, pour all the mixture into the pan.

Negroni Gummy Heart Candy setting
Let the candies cool to room temperature.  If molds were used, pop the candies out of the mold.  They can sometimes be a little sticky, so just be a little patient, and pull slowly. Once removed from the mold, toss to coat in sugar.  The sugar will help keep the candies from sticking together, and will also help make them last longer.  If a pan was used, slice the candies into squares, or use small cookie cutters to make shapes.  Toss the pieces in sugar.

Final Analysis 

Financial Outlay: I'll be honest, buying gummy bears or acid jellies is a cheaper option. But this is why I'm always trying unusual flavors that don't really exist anywhere else.
Time: About 30 minutes of active work, plus time to let the candy set.  I may be guilty of making gummy candy as a last minute "bring something to a party" treat, throwing it together before hopping in the shower to get ready to go out.
Quality: In general, these are excellent.  In this specific case, with the negroni, I reserve judgement until I have someone who actually likes the cocktail taste the candy.  Although I do find the sweet/bitter balance a little interesting, as the bitter is all at the back end of the flavor.
Fun: As I have made gummy candy on multiple occasions now, it should be obvious that I like doing them.  While there are risks of crystallization any time you work with sugar (and burns whenever working with anything that hot), there is virtually nothing that can go drastically wrong, like seizing when working with chocolate.  I say try it! Just maybe not with a negroni...

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