I’m still working on the candied citrus – they’re very close to done and I think in another day or two will be ready to put into jars, except the kaffir lime which is 2-3 days behind the others. I reboiled all four syrups today, and made jasmine caramels to boot!
Every year I make these, following the basic recipe I came up with ten or fifteen years ago, and every year I marvel at how good they are. It’s pretty simple – 3 cups of heavy cream, 3 cups sugar, 2/3 cup orange blossom honey, 2 vanilla beans, half a stick of softened butter, and 2-4 tablespoons of the most fragrant jasmine tea you can find. You split the vanilla beans lengthwise, put them in the cream, and bring the cream to a boil. Then you turn the flame off, add the jasmine tea, and let it steep for 30-45 seconds ONLY. Immediately strain out the tea leaves. Find the four bits of vanilla bean, scrape any tea leaves off the vanilla bean pieces, and add the vanilla beans back into the cream. Add sugar and orange blossom honey, and cook the mix over medium heat (high heat if you have an electric stove) until it reaches 250 F. Remove from heat, add the softened butter and mix in until the butter is all melted and incorporated. Pour into a 9×12 rectangular pan (or something of about that size), pick out the 4 pieces of vanilla bean, and let cool.
The thing about this particular recipe is that it is only and exactly as good as your jasmine tea and your orange blossom honey. (I’m assuming you can find decent vanilla beans and heavy cream. If you aren’t interested in paying $8-10 for a single miserable-looking vanilla bean in the spice aisle of your supermarket, check out eBay! I bought 1.5 pounds of excellent-qualilty vanilla beans (a lifetime supply!) there for under $40.)
Anyway, I trialed six or seven jasmine teas over the years, and the hands-down winner is Peet’s Yin Hao Jasmine tea. Peet’s describes it thus:
Yin Hao Jasmine
The finest grade of jasmine tea, it’s scented five times with fresh jasmine blossoms. Sweet and perfumy.
Jasmine teas vary according to the quality of the tea base, and the skill and flower quality used for scenting. Yin Hao Jasmine has the best of all these elements. The tea base for Yin Hao Jasmine is completed in April during the Spring harvest, then tucked away until August when the finest jasmine blooms. The flowers are plucked at noontime and kept until nightfall. Then, as the evening’s temperature cools, the flowers open with a distinct popping sound. The flowers and tea are then blended together in layers, known as the “marrying” of the tea and jasmine. After several hours the jasmine petals are removed from the tea, and another round of flowers is applied. While ordinary grades are scented a couple of times, Yin Hao Jasmine tea is scented with fresh flowers from five to seven times.
The difference between Peet’s Yin Hao Jasmine and a grocery-store jasmine tea is like the difference between a home-grown, uber-fragrant heirloom rose and those scentless travesties you find in florist’s shops. As soon as you pop the lid, the jasmine scent bursts out of the tin and you find yourself inhaling, deeply, to get as much of that marvelous fragrance as possible. When mixed with Tahitian vanilla (which has a more floral fragrance than Madagascan or Mexican vanilla), and orange blossom honey – I’m talking a real orange blossom honey, not the supermarket stuff which is typically cut 50% with clover honey – the result is pure heaven. It’s too bad Peet’s is out of the Yin Hao Jasmine on their website right now, or I’d urge you to run out right now and buy some. Aside from being excellent in caramels, it’s also a great jasmine tea.
(The one thing to remember, though, is that jasmine fragrance is fugitive. After you open the tin, the jasmine flavor begins decaying exponentially…after two weeks, even Yin Hao Jasmine has lost its “punch”. I buy a new tin every year and open it about two seconds before I absolutely have to, to get the most intense scent possible.)
Getting good orange blossom honey can be a bit of a puzzler. I have the advantage of living in California, within a few hours’ drive of massive citrus orchards. So our farmer’s markets typically offer orange blossom honey – the pure stuff, not mixed with cheaper honeys as is common for supermarket honey. In a good year, the honey acquires the luscious scent of orange blossoms and is pure heaven. Unfortunately, not all years are good – if there is too much rain in the spring, the nectar becomes watery and the honey gets darker and thicker. So I taste the honey every spring and, if it’s good, I’ll buy 3-4 quarts of it at a time. That gets me through the “bad” years.
This year, though, my stores are down to only one last pint of orange blossom honey – the last two years have been “bad” years – so I sincerely hope that this coming spring brings a bumper crop of excellent honey! Meanwhile, I am rationing it, saving it solely for the caramels, since it’s so hard to find.
I’ll make another batch of caramel tomorrow – I bribe my textiles photographer into shooting my work by sending him a big box of these once a year – and will start dipping caramels (and other stuff!) into chocolate on Saturday.
What a sweet, sweet season!