I recently watched the first episode of the new season of Netflix’s excellent documentary series Chef’s Table. It focused on Grant Achatz, the highly acclaimed chef behind Chicago’s own Alinea, Next, The Aviary, and Roister.
It was a compelling episode, in part because it is so satisfying to watch a person doing what he so clearly should be doing. It’s rare to see someone so perfectly matched with his career and to have found critical and commercial success as well.
But what became apparent as I watched was that more than his talent or his palate or his incredible modernist techniques, it is Achatz’s drive, his ambition, and his relentless need for reinvention that sets him apart.
It was inspiring and also humbling in that “what-have-I-done-with-my-life” kind of way. It is pretty much exactly like me to compare myself to one of the best chef’s in the entire world and find myself lacking. It is also, of course, an exercise in futility. (So, uh, I might as well go back to dinking around on the internet…)
Ambition, for me, arrives in fits and starts. And inspiration is even more sporadic. I am not in the business of transforming the essence of tomato into the shape of a strawberry, using a table as a literal canvas, or handing off floating edible sugar balloons with a pair of tweezers.
And yet I feel best when I am able to harness some small piece of creative energy, when I am able to envision something that, to me at least, feels new and am able to figure out how to corral the various components into a coherent whole that resembles that vision, whether it’s in writing or in food.
I felt as though I brushed up against that feeling of satisfaction when I first tasted one of these Negroni pâte de fruit, which I developed for my friends’ wedding last fall. The Negroni with all its bitter and bright flavors is one of my favorite summer cocktails and one of my favorite templates to play around with when making drinks.
I’ll admit it’s not for everyone. Campari is one of those bracingly bitter flavors that you tend to hate and hate and hate until one day you love it and even crave it. I wanted to transform that flavor into something solid–a dessert with all of the bitter complexity of a Negroni. And I figured out how to do it with one of my favorite candies, the chewy pâte de fruit.
These bright pink pâte de fruit taste like the cocktail they’re named for, with an extra bit of sour edge from lemon. They get tossed in sugar scented with juniper berries to bring out the gin flavor and sprinkled with a little bit of citric acid for an extra boost of sour.
They are pretty much the perfect candy for Negroni fans. All of the addictive charm of the cocktail in a tiny, chewy, gem-like bite.
Negroni Pâte de Fruit
For the Coating Sugar
- 150 grams Sugar
- 20 grams Juniper Berries
- 30 grams Citric Acid
For the Candies
- 7.6 grams Apple Pectin
- 295 grams Sugar divided: 30 grams in one bowl, 265 grams in another
- 85 grams Campari
- 20 grams Sweet Vermouth
- 150 grams Lemon juice
- 54 grams liquid glucose
- 1.125 grams Cream of Tartar
- 1.125 grams Water
Make the coating sugar
- Combine the sugar and juniper berries in a jar, close the lid, and let infuse for at least 24 hours or until the sugar takes on a discernible juniper scent. Sift out the juniper berries and mix in the citric acid.
Make the candies
- Scale out all the ingredients in separate bowls. Line an 8×8-inch pan with parchment paper. In a small bowl, mix the cream of tartar with the water. Set aside.
- In another small bowl, mix the pectin with the 30 grams of sugar until thoroughly combined. In a tall, heavy bottomed saucepan (I use a 2 quart All-Clad, this bubbles up, and sugar burns are serious business, so don’t go smaller) add the Campari, sweet vermouth, lemon juice, and the pectin and sugar mixture and heat over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until it comes to a boil.
- Heat the glucose in the microwave for about 15 seconds or until it is a pourable consistency.
- Add the glucose and the remaining sugar to the saucepan and cook (keep stirring) to 106ºC/222°F. It will bubble up significantly, so be prepared. When it reaches temperature, remove from the heat. Stir in the cream of tartar solution and quickly pour the whole into the prepared pan. Let it set, undisturbed at room temperature, for several hours or overnight, until firm.
- Remove from the pan and cut with a sharp knife into 1-inch squares. Place the prepared juniper-scented coating sugar in a shallow bowl and roll each piece in the sugar. Store in an airtight container for up to two days. Wrap in candy wrappers if keeping for more than a couple of days.