Homemade candy is my favorite treat to have on hand for holiday giving. It’s almost always easier than it looks, and is sure to please just about everyone. My current candy of choice? Pâte de fruit.
These colorful sweets are often served at high-end restaurants as an after-dinner bite, but they’re not inherently fancy. In fact, they’re little more than extra-thick jam, coated in sugar. There are many different approaches to making them at home — some recipes read like chemistry experiments and yield crystal-clear jewels, while others call for canned fruit and result in rustic candies. I like to strike a middle ground with a little science and a little character.
I start with pectin-filled apples to form the base of the candies. Apples are full of pectin, so they help to set the candy. Their relatively mild flavor can form the base for just about any other fruit flavor. Peeled, chopped, and quickly steamed, they collapse into a smooth applesauce with a few swipes of a potato masher.
Next, I bring in color — and sweet-tart flavor — with pomegranate juice. You can mix it up and use your favorite fruit juice here, but be sure to pick 100% juice with no sugar added. We’ll be adding plenty of sugar later.
Combine the pomegranate juice and applesauce with a cup of sugar, a hearty squeeze of lemon juice, and a tablespoon of powdered pectin. The pectin will set the fruit mix into chewy candies. It’s the same stuff used in jelly recipes, and it is made from fruit, plus a little sugar and citric acid. I used Sure-Jell brand pectin in this recipe. Other “natural” or low-sugar brands will likely work in the recipe, but you may need to experiment with other amounts or cooking times.
Bring the fruit and sugar mixture up to a simmer in a large, high-sided pot. Once the first cup of sugar has dissolved, add another cup and stir until the mixture returns to a simmer. At first, the fruit mixture will emit a lot of steam, and will form large, fluffy white bubbles. As the mixture cooks (and the water evaporates), it will noticeably thicken and the bubbles will become wet and sticky. At this point, you will need to stir frequently to prevent any fruit from sticking to the bottom of the pot and burning. Continue to simmer until the mixture reads 220 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. This temperature indicates that enough water has evaporated out of the mixture for it to form chewy candies.
I like to give the mixture several stirs after I first get a 220-degree reading. Thick, sugar-filled mixtures tend to form hot pockets, so the temperature is not consistent throughout the pot. After stirring the first few times, I find that the mixture is almost never at 220 degrees, so I continue to cook it until I can get an even 220-degree reading throughout the mixture. The entire cooking process will take 20 to 30 minutes. Be patient.
Once you’re sure that the entire mixture has reached 220, remove the pot from the heat and stir in a little lemon zest to add brightness to the final candy. Pour the mixture into a square baking dish lined with parchment paper. Smooth the top and let the mixture sit until the candy has set. It’ll take an hour or two, depending on the temperature and humidity of the room.
At this point, the only thing left to do is to cut and coat the candies. I like to cut the candies into 1-inch squares, but if you have kids (or if you’re simply channeling one), you could go crazy with cookie cutters and make fun shapes. Cutting out the candy is much easier if you spray your knife or cookie cutters with nonstick oil spray to prevent sticking.
Turn the set candy out onto a cutting board that has been coated in sugar. Sprinkle more sugar over the top of the candy. Use the knife or cookie cutters to cut the candy into your desired shapes, and then roll the exposed edges in — you guessed it — more sugar.
With that, the pâte de fruit are ready to eat or wrap up for gift giving.
Recipe: Pomegranate-Apple Pâte de Fruit
Makes about 50 candies
Note: You can substitute a different fruit juice for the pomegranate juice. This recipe was tested using powdered Sure-Jell pectin (yellow box). You will need an instant-read or candy thermometer for this recipe. If you’re making the candies far in advance, you may need to roll them in a little more sugar before serving. The coating tends to dissolve over time.
- 1 1/2 pounds apples, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1/4 cup water
- 2 1/2 cups sugar, plus extra if needed for coating the candies
- 2/3 cup pomegranate juice
- 1 tablespoon powdered pectin
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
- Combine the apples and water in a small saucepan. Cover the pot and cook over medium heat until the apples are very tender, about 10 minutes. If all of the water evaporates before the apples are tender, add another 1/4 cup water and continue to cook. Remove from the heat.
- Use a potato masher to smash the apples until they form a smooth puree. Alternatively, use a blender or food processor to puree apples.
- Line an 8-inch square baking dish with parchment paper. Grease with nonstick oil spray.
- Combine applesauce, 1 cup sugar, pomegranate juice, pectin, and lemon juice in a large pot. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat. Stir in 1 more cup of sugar, and continue to simmer, stirring frequently, until mixture reads 220 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, about 20 minutes. Stir the mixture thoroughly and take the temperature again. If it still reads 220 degrees, remove from heat. If not, continue to cook for 5 to 10 more minutes, until the mixture comes to temperature.
- Stir in the lemon zest and transfer fruit mixture to the prepared baking pan. Use a spatula to smooth the top. Let the fruit mixture sit at room temperature until set, 1 to 2 hours.
- Once the fruit mixture has set, sprinkle 1/4 cup of the remaining sugar across a cutting board. Flip the pâte de fruit out onto the sugar. Sprinkle the remaining sugar over the top of the pâte de fruit. Use a sharp knife to cut the pâte into 1-inch squares. Coat the sides of the candies with the sugar remaining on the cutting board.
- Transfer the candies to an airtight storage container lined with parchment paper. The sugar coating will dissolve over time, so if you are not serving or gifting the candies right away, you will need to coat them with additional sugar.