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.
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Source: The Sweet Spot: Asian - Inspired Desserts, Pichet Ong and Genevieve Ko
(Makes 36 pieces)
2 tbsp vegetable oil, plus more for greasing the pan
3 cups (314 g) walnuts (I used 209 g)
200 g dried dates, preferably Medjool or Barhi, pitted
¾ tsp salt
2 cups (632 g) maltose
1 tsp ground cinnamon
Preheat oven to 150°C (300°F). Lightly grease a 9x4-inch loaf pan, line with plastic wrap, and grease the plastic wrap. Set aside.
Put walnuts on a rimmed baking sheet and toast in the oven until golden brown and fragrant, about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool completely.
Bring 4 cups of 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 the 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 the 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.