By and by, shops in Singapore started selling date and walnut soft candy, so everyone could have as much as they wanted, whenever they wanted.
Being so easily obtainable made them less desirable, I think, and they sort of went out of fashion.
When I came across a recipe for the candy in a cookbook, it was like bumping into a long lost friend. 'Hey, I know you!' There was no photo and it had a mysterious name – Chinese Delight – but the description and ingredients told me this was the old friend I loved so much. Of course, we had to catch up with each other!
Making the soft candy is surprisingly straight forward with only three main ingredients: walnuts, dates and maltose (malt sugar). If you want it less sweet, reduce the amount of dates, which are sweeter than maltose. The only tricky part is deciding when the candy's done, but the authors' guide of simmering for 15 minutes is quite good.
There are also visual cues on when to stop cooking the mixture. When it's almost ready, the colour darkens as the water in the mixture evaporates. I drop a small dollop of it into a bowl of water, give it a few seconds to cool down, then check the consistency. If it's too soft, I cook the candy for another few seconds. When the mixture's getting overcooked and hitting the hard crack stage, the colour turns lighter. That's right, maltose is not like sugar which darkens all the way. Other than this, it's really quite easy. Homemade candy in 15 minutes.
Source: The Sweet Spot: Asian - Inspired Desserts, Pichet Ong and Genevieve Ko
(Makes 36 pieces)
2 tbsp vegetable oil, plus more for greasing
200 g walnuts
200 g dried dates, Medjool or Barhi, pitted
¾ tsp salt
630 g maltose
1 tsp ground cinnamon
Preheat oven to 150°C. Lightly grease 9 x 4 inch loaf pan. Line with plastic wrap. Grease the plastic wrap.
Put walnuts on rimmed baking sheet and toast in the oven until fragrant, about 10 minutes. Remove from oven and cool completely.
Bring 4 cups water to boil in a medium saucepan. Add dates and ½ teaspoon of salt, and cook for 10 minutes. Drain and spread dates in a single layer on a cooling rack to dry.
Microwave maltose on high heat until softened, about 40 seconds. Put maltose, walnuts, dates, cinnamon, oil and remaining ¼ teaspoon salt in a medium saucepan and set over medium heat. Cook, stirring vigorously, until the mixture is thick, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and cool slightly in the pan, then transfer to the cake pan. Spread in an even layer and let cool completely and harden at room temperature.
To unmold, invert the candy onto a cutting board and peel off the plastic wrap. Cut into 1-inch cubes with a greased knife. The candies can be individually wrapped in plastic wrap and stored at room temperature for up to 1 week.