Friday, May 22, 2015

Best Fudgy-Wudgy Browies, Plus Bittersweet Memories on Memorial Day

I'm baking these fudgiest-ever brownies for Memorial Day. Partly, it's because everybody loves them, and they are perfect for an informal family gathering. But it's also partly because because they are an all-American dessert, and they just seem fitting for this holiday of patriotic remembrance and pride. The recipe here is adapted to make a larger batch from one in my popular All-American Cookie Cookbook, which has lots of other tidbits of American culinary history and lore throughout.

Though many of our popular sweet treats, like pies, puddings and cakes, actually originated in Europe, brownies are a wholly American invention. The first known recipe for these sumptuous chocolatey bars appeared in the 1906 edition of the classic Boston Cooking-School Cookbook, by Fannie Merritt Farmer.

Unfortunately, cookbooks didn't contain recipe introductions in her era, so we have no idea whether Mrs. Farmer collected the recipe from someone in her school or created it herself. A similar brownie recipe turned up in Lowney's Cook Book, which was published by a Boston chocolate manufacturer the following year. (This suggests that brownies were already circulating among home cooks in the region; experts say it takes five to ten years before new recipes actually make it into published cookbooks.)

In case you're completely focused on the weekend trip to the beach, or pool party, or backyard barbeque, and have forgotten, Memorial Day was established to remember those in the United States who died while serving in the country's armed forces. It's always a bittersweet holiday for me, because I especially honor the memory of my father, who died during his service in World War II, a week before I was born. He was posthumously awarded the Silver Star Medal for his bravery.

Since I never knew him or got to see my parents together, I particularly treasure this remarkably telling photograph. It is heart-wrenchingly clear what a happy couple they were, and how his sudden loss while still a young man shattered a young family.

Even if you personally don't have a loved one who died while serving our country to revere this Memorial Day, perhaps you can take a moment to reflect on the losses that other families have endured. Better yet, why not thank those you know who have served and celebrate that they have come back safe and sound. And, oh yes, if they have a sweet tooth, you could serve them these very memorable brownies!



Super Fudgy-Wudgy Brownies

This  recipe has been very popular with tasters—a number of peeps have pronounced these dense, moist really fudge-like brownies the best they ever ate! 

Tip: The baking time depends greatly on the pan used, so check frequently for signs of doneness. In a heavy, dull metal pan that absorbs and holds heat readily, the brownies may be done in only about 20 minutes. But a glass or shiny metal pan they may take a few minutes longer. 

1 2/3 cups all-purpose white flour

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into chunks   
                               
2 cups granulated sugar

1/3 cup brewed coffee, or plain water

11 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) or 

semisweet chocolate, broken up or coarsely chopped

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

4 large eggs

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9- by 13-inch baking pan with heavy duty aluminum foil, allowing it to slightly overhang narrow ends. Grease or coat the foil with nonstick spray or cooking oil. In a medium bowl, thoroughly stir together the flour, cocoa powder and salt; set aside. In a very large saucepan over medium-high stir together the butter, sugar and coffee or water. Heat, stirring, until the butter melts and the mixture is hot but not boiling; don’t worry if it looks curdled or oily. 

Remove from the heat. Add the chocolate, stirring until completely melted. Set aside until cooled to warm (if the mixture is hot, the eggs may curdle when added). Stir the vanilla into the pan. Vigorously whisk in the eggs one at a time. Stir the dry ingredients into the pan just until the batter is evenly blended. Turn out the batter into the baking pan, spreading to the edges. 

Bake in the middle third of the oven for 20 minutes, then frequently test for doneness until the center top is barely firm when tapped and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean except for the bottom 1/8-inch, which should look wet. Transfer the pan to a wire rack. Let stand until cooled to warm, about 20 minutes, then, for easiest cutting, refrigerate until chilled.

Using the foil as handles, carefully transfer the brownie slab to a cutting board. If desired, trim away the uneven edges using a large, sharp knife. Cutting through the foil, cut the slab in half crosswise. Carefully peel off and discard the foil from the bottoms. Cut each brownie slab into bars; remember they are very rich. Wipe the knife clean with damp paper towels between cuts. Stored airtight, the brownies will keep well for 2 or 3 days. They also freeze well for up to a month. If freezing, leave the brownie slab whole, then cut into squares when partially thawed.  Makes 32  2 1/8- by 2 1/4-inch bars.      

You also might like the heirloom recipe for Lowney's Brownies here.  Shown below left, they are in the classic style--very chocolately but not as fudge-like as the ones featured in this post.  Another possibility--the gluten-free peanut butter brownies, shown right, are here.
 



 





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Friday, May 8, 2015

Supremely Good Lemon Pots de Crème—Maybe the Best Dessert Ever

Over several decades of writing mainly baking books, I’ve created countless dessert recipes. Cakes, pies, ice creams, cookies …. oh yes, loads of cookies for three different cookie books! But never, until recently, did I think to come up with a recipe for Lemon Pots de Crème.  This, it turns out, was a terrible oversight, as IMHO these to-die-for little puddings rank right up there with the most sublime treats ever devised. Think tart-sweet, intensely lemony, and as rich, smooth, and luxurious on the tongue as a couture satin shirt is on the skin.

I don’t know why lemon pots de crème were missing from my repertoire. I’d created a deeply chocolatey Chocolate Pots de Crème recipe for my 1991 International Chocolate Cookbook that has been a favorite ever since. And lemon meringue pie and lemon shortbread bars are two of the sweets I remember most vividly from childhood and still often crave.
Despite the chi-chi name, lemon pots de crème call for no fancy French patisserie techniques other than baking the individual custards in a bain marie, a warm water bath. Etymologists say the phrase, translated as “Marie’s bath,” comes from Medieval Latin. Some scholars think the Marie mentioned may have been Maria, Prophetissa, an early alchemist who lived between the first and third centuries AD.  
Baking the cups in a water bath is a simple step and requires no skill whatsoever, but never skip it.  The water partly shields the yolks—all seven of them!—from curdling due to harsh oven heat. Which means they cook gently and slowly and thicken the custards (without any assistance from flour or cornstarch) to a lush, silken state that is the mark of all well-made flans and baked custards and puddings.


Supremely Good Lemon Pots de Crème

Make and serve these little gems, and your reputation as a dessert maker will be assured. No gluten, no artificial flavors or colors, nothing but the freshest, creamiest most  lemon taste  imaginable.  (Note that I don't throw superlatives like supreme around lightly!)

You will need 6 to 8 ramekins, pot de crème cups, or custard cups; remekins that are 2 1/2- to 3-inches in diameter and hold around 2/3 cup are ideal. The classic tempered glass custard cups are on the large side but will do fine, if that’s what you have; set them on teacup saucers to dress them up a bit.
2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup clover honey
3 to 4 tablespoons granulated sugar, to taste
1 tablespoon lemon zest (yellow part of the peel)
Pinch of salt
7 large egg yolks
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
Lemon peel curls, coarsely grated lemon zest, a few perfect raspberries or whipped cream dollops for garnish

In a medium non-reactive saucepan, bring the cream, honey, lemon zest, and salt just to a boil, stirring until honey and sugar are dissolved. Turn the heat off and let the mixture steep for at least 30 minutes and preferably 1 hour. For a more intense flavor or convenience, make ahead, then cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours.
 When ready to complete preparations, position a rack in the middle third of the oven; preheat to 325 degrees F. Lay a tea towel in a deep roasting pan or flat baking dish large enough to hold the ramekins. Set 6 to 8 oven-proof ramekins or cups, spaced slightly apart, in the pan. Reheat the steeped cream mixture to very warm, stirring; set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks until very frothy and smooth. Gradually pouring in a thin stream, whisk the cream mixture into the egg yolks, continuing until all the cream is incorporated. Whisk in the lemon juice until evenly incorporated.  Strain the custard mixture through a fine sieve into a 2 cup glass measure, stirring and pressing down on the zest. Pour the mixture into the ramekins, dividing equally.

Pour hot water into the roasting pan, until it comes at least halfway up the sides of the dishes.
Bake for 20 minutes. Begin testing by jiggling a custard cup; as soon as the crème is set except for the about center 1-inch, the custards are done. Carefully remove the pan to a cooling rack and let stand until the custards are cooled, then cover and refrigerate them for up to 4 days. Let warm up just slightly before serving. Makes 6 medium-sized and 8 small desserts.

You may also like my Chocolate Pots de Creme recipe here.  My favorite "crackless" NY-style cheesecake also bakes in a warm water bath; check it out here.
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Friday, April 24, 2015

Berry Trifle Puddings with Violets, Plus Collection of Violets Pics


Okay, I admit it. I get excited over simple seasonal garden happenings that some peeps might consider mundane: Like the native wild violets, or viola, that  are now popping up everywhere in the woods and my neighborhood and shady backyard. A little video here shows me harvesting and using some local native violets.

Common Blue Violet, Viola sororia
These plants are small, but gorgeous and completely edible perennial flowers that reappear--some in amazing abundance--every spring, without my having to water, prune or tend them at all. (Some detractors say that plants that just volunteer and require no effort are weeds, but how could anybody call flowers this beautiful weeds?)
Reid's Crimson Carpet, Viola oderata


  Well, actually, not all of the woodland violets in my yard are wild or even native species. Last year I bought a few scented "viola oderta" varieties to supplement the pretty purple, blue and white, yellow, and cream-colored unscented ones that just seed themselves and come up here in central Maryland.

The commonplace native viola sororia blooms shown in the basket above and many other kinds have a mild, indistinct taste and virtually no aroma. In contrast my purchased oderata violets at left and below right and left have a light but noticeable floral smell and taste.

Clive Groves, Viola oderata
Despite their name, both scented and unscented violets actually come in all sorts of non-purple colors. The beautiful fuchsia kind (at left above) called Reid's Crimson Carpet is from the nursery here. I'm certainly hoping they will eventually form a carpet--this would look spectacular on a slpe in my shade garden! At the same time, I bought a scented violet with a double ruffled bloom (below left) called Duchess de Parma. Though it's beautiful and elegant, it just doesn't look like a violet, does it?

Another stunning scented variety (at right) I'm growing now is called "Clive Groves." It's named for the noted English violet expert who developed it; he's featured in this video showing how to plant his violets. Fortunately, I didn't need to look as far as Britain for my specimens; they came (in excellent condition btw) from Sequim Rare Plants in Washington State. 

I'm planning to use both the Clive Groves and Reid's Crimson Carpet in cooking when I have enough blooms. If  the idea of actually consuming violets seems novel to you, keep in mind that the flowers have long been used in France and several other European countries by home cooks and companies to create enticing violet syrups, liqueurs, violet-flavored hard candies, medicinals, and more.

Duchess de Parma Viola oderrata


A pleasant "Sirup de Violettes" is available in the U.S. on Amazon from the French firm, Monin.  But if you wish you can make your own using native purple violets following my recipe posted here. Violet syrup can add a unique touch of color and flavor to tea or a lemon-lime soda, or to create eye-catching fruit cups or sundaes, or to macerate berries for a charming and delectable spring dessert like the violet-berry creme pudding recipe featured in this post.


Blue & White Violet, V. sororia f priceana
 An Austrian liqueur, Creme de Violette, that's favored by bartenders is also distributed in the the U.S.; for details go here. It is possible to create your own  liqueur at home; do check back for a recipe soon.

Most of the common blue and purple woodland violets that brighten the American countryside each spring work well for making a violet syrup, though because they are much less fragrant than the viola oderata types, the syrup will add mostly color and only a muted flavor. Of course, the most vibrant-hued flowers will yield the brightest colored syrup. So, if you come upon the native blue and white (left), or yellow ones (below right), or pale mauve ones (below left) pictured use them for salads, plate accents, or bouquets.
Downy Yellow Violet, Viola pubescens

Bright-colored blooms can also be candied to garnish cakes, cupcakes, and other sweet treats
(recipe is here). And the purple ones can be quickly turned into a naturally beautiful purple  garnishing sugar following the directions here. You can see a quick video of a glorious field of native violets being harvested and put to use in the kitchen here.

Marsh Blue Violet, Viola cucullata
Please note that all violet recipes must be prepared with only true woodland viola like those pictured in this post. The popular tropical African violets raised as houseplants are an entirely different species and are not edible.







Spring Violet-Berry Creme Puddings (or Trifles) with Violet Syrup and Fresh Violet Blooms

These fetching desserts make a fine finale for any fancy occasion, whether Mother's Day party, bridal shower, or special graduation fete. You can create either individual trifles or puddings; the only difference is that the trifles require adding a few cubes of pound cake into the bottoms of the bowls. If you omit the cake (or choose a gluten-free cake), the desserts are gluten-free.


The pudding component, an unfussy pastry cream, can be readied several days ahead. Its flavor is reminiscent of sauce Anglaise, but since it can be brought to a full boil and cooked without any risk of curdling, it is much more straightforward and quick to make.

The cake can likewise be baked ahead. Or, to minimize prep time, buy a quality pound cake, trim off the crust, and cut it into cubes. The berries can also be prepped in advance; combine them with a little violet syrup at serving time.

Tip: It's nice to provide a cruet or little pitcher of additional syrup on the table, so diners can drizzle on more, if desired.

Tip: A mix of equal quantities of fresh raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries (as shown here) is both visually appealing and tasty, but feel free to vary the fruits depending on what you have on hand. Keep them separated until serving time so the colors don't bleed together.

Pastry Cream
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon zest(yellow part of the skin)
3 tablespoons violet syrup, dessert sherry, or orange juice
4 large egg yolks
1 cup whole or reduced-fat milk
3/4 cup heavy cream
Scant 1/8 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 to 1 1/2 cups crustless 1-inch pound cake cubes (needed if readying trifles)
About 2 to 3 cups mixed berries, as desired
2 tablespoons purchased or homemade violet syrup, plus more for serving
Fresh violet blooms for garnish
Dollops of lightly sweetened whipped cream for optional garnish

In a heavy, medium saucepan stir together cornstarch, sugar, and lemon zest until well blended. Whisk in the sherry and egg yolks until very smoothly combined. Whisk in the milk, cream, and salt. 

Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring. Boil gently, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes; don’t undercook or the pastry cream may thin out later. Remove from the heat, then stir in the vanilla. Let stand to cool slightly. Strain the pastry cream through a very fine sieve into a non-reactive storage container. Press down firmly to extract all the liquid. Lay a sheet of plastic wrap directly on the pastry cream. Cover the container and refrigerate at least 1 1/2 hours and up to 3 days before using. Stir before using.

At serving time, if making trifles, put a few cake cubes in the bottom of 4 to 6 stemmed glass dishes. Divide the pastry cream among the dishes. Stir together the berries with 2 tablespoons violet syrup. Spoon the berries over the pastry cream. Garnish the dishes with fresh violet blooms and small dollops of whipped cream, if desired.

Makes 4 very generous and 6 medium-sized servings.

Several other violet recipes you may be interested in:  
Violet lemonade is here.  Violet vinaigrette and salad are here.

Or check out the violet vinegar recipe here.



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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Homemade Violet Syrup--Made with Violets from Spring Gardens & Woods



  
Each spring I take a page from traditionalist European and some American cooks and herbalists and harvest native woodland violets for culinary use. The ones featured here are the  "plain" blue violet, viola sororia, which appears in abundance all across the eastern U. S. When I have enough--and as you can see below I certainly do this year!--I  make a batch of violet syrup. When the pickings are slim, I use the flowers as garnishes for desserts and fruit dishes, and to brighten salads and vinaigrettes. A quick YouTube video showing me out harvesting and using violets in the kitchen is here.

Common Blue Violet, Viola sororia
The practice of cooking with violets is not too common in the U.S., but is well known in France and other central European countries. An Internet search on "sirop de violettes" turns up literally dozens of recipes for home cooks on French sites. In their recipes Europeans usually employ a slightly darker purple scented and more flavorful native violet called viola oderata.

This variety has been imported into the U. S. and has naturalized readily, so it can sometimes be found "growing wild" in American woodlands. I've never come upon a patch of scented violets locally, but  have been growing a purchased English variety called "Clive Groves" in my yard for several years with great success.


Chamomile tea sweetened with violet syrup
In past centuries violet syrups and tinctures were widely used as medicinals and tonics. The blooms are in fact rich in antioxidants and a source of vitamins A and C, so were beneficial in preventing vitamin deficiencies. In medieval times pharmacists and healers  provided assorted violet concoctions to help insomnia, soothe sore throats, and ease headaches. Even further back, Macer's Herbal (first written in Latin in the 10th century) mentions the violet as one of the herbs considered powerful against 'wykked sperytis.'

I don't really worry about warding off either evil spirits or headaches with my violet syrup, but I do find a little splash of it a pleasant way to sweeten a cup of chamomile tea or a dish of seasonal berries. Along with a few fresh violet blooms for garnishes, the syrup likewise makes a pleasing  topper for a plain or berry ice cream sundae. The syrup is mild and just faintly floral; it's color is what lends the large share of its appeal.

Homemade Violet Syrup

As the photo at the very top shows, the basic ingredients in violet syrup are quite simple--sugar, water, and violets. And the preparation is easy, too. The only catch is that a batch requires a significant quantity of purple violets. If you have the good fortune of access to a huge patch of them as I do, feel free to double the recipe.

Note that only unsprayed organic viola varieties should be used. The tropical houseplants called African violets are not in the viola family at all and are not edible.

Remember that the deeper the hue of the violets, the more intense the color of your finished syrup will be. An inky bluish shade (see pic above right) naturally results when the common purple woodland violets shown throughout are employed. However, if you prefer a slightly warmer purple color--like the hue at left below--stir in just a few drops of lemon juice. Keep adding in drops of juice for an even lighter, brighter magenta.

The remarkable color change occurs because the anthocyanin pigments (also responsible for the color in various plants including red cabbage and beets) are affected by the presence of acid in the juice. Commercial violet syrups, on the other hand, have been tinted with synthetic dyes; these will not change color when combined with acid.

Tip: Store your syrup in very clean bottles or jars, preferably ones that have been well scrubbed, then rinsed in boiling water. To keep the syrup sterile, once it has been boiled, don’t add any more ingredients or stir it further. If you put it in a measure for pouring that should be rinsed in boiling water, too. Always store in the refrigerator; it will keep up to 4 or 5 weeks.


2 1/4 to 2 1/2 cups loosely packed fresh purple violet blooms, all stems removed before measuring
4 to 5 strips (1-inch by 1/2-inch) lemon zest (no white pith)
3/4 cup boiling water
3/4 cup granulated sugar

Gently but thoroughly wash the violets in a colander under barely warm water. Shake, then let stand to drain thoroughly. Put the violets in a 4-cup measure or similar-sized heat-proof non-reactive bowl. Pour the boiling water over them. Stir them down into the water, then cover and let stand for at least 1 1/2 hours and up to several hours, if preferred.

Pour the violet-infused water mixture through a fine sieve into a non-reactive 1- to 2-quart saucepan (preferably one with a lip for pouring; discard the sieved violets and lemon strips. Stir the sugar into the violet water. Bring to a boil, stirring, over medium heat. Adjust the heat so the mixture boils gently. Cook without stirring for 4 minutes. Check the syrup color, and if you desire a warmer purple shade stir in 2 or 3 drops of fresh lemon juice; for a brighter magenta shade, a drop at a time, thoroughly stir in more lemon juice until the desired shade is obtained. Bring the mixture back to a boil and cook 1 minute longer.

Let cool slightly. Then pour the syrup into a clean sterilized bottle or jar. Cool to room temperature, then store, refrigerated, for up to 2 months. Makes about 1 cup.

For how to use violets in salads and vinaigrette dressings, go here. To turn them into an all-natural purple decorating sugar, go here. For how to use them fresh and candied as pastry decorations,  go here.

 



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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Pretty Spring Edible Flower Lollipops-Sweet, Charming and Easier Than You Think



 
I love how after a long dreary cold spell the snow fades away, the days lengthen, and finally, the early perennial flowers like snowdrops and violets start to poke through the earth and bloom again.  They are an early sign that what some societies still call “the starving time,” due to empty larders is past. The first blooms are my favorite harbingers of spring, reminding me that we’ll soon be reveling in fresh bountiful crops like strawberries and rhubarb and rejuvenating in warm, sunny days.

Because I’ve marked the retreat of winter by watching the garden my whole life, I can’t think of a more appropriate way to celebrate the changing of the seasons than with homemade lollipops decorated with  edible garden flowers. To stay in tune with the natural world, I always like to come up with pastry decorating ideas that rely on only edible flowers and natural botanical colors and that avoid all the risks of artificial food dyes. Often, I make dye-free decorated bunny-shaped cookies or marshmallows to give my grandkids. But I decided to try for something more unusual this year—I’m pleased with the results, so will definitely be making these again.

The clear, free-form candy pops instantly form paperweight-like cases that capture and show off the shades and graceful shapes of the petals and flowers. For the lollipops here I featured organically grown dainty-faced pansies and Johnny-jump-ups and bits of dried rose petals saved from last summer’s garden. My next batch of lollipops will spotlight woodland violets, which are also edible and which in another week or so will be popping up in my shade garden. These wildflowers also appear in the woods all over America in April and May. 

 I prepped the pansies by placing them between triple thicknesses of paper towels, then weighting them down and flattening them under a heavy book for several days until completely dry. This step is particularly important for making the flowers lie flat enough to be completely covered with the candy “glass.” If you look closely you’ll notice that the lollipop “glass” is faintly tinted with a pale purple; the color is botanically based and completely natural. I used the Color Garden brand of botanical food dye, which is available online and at Whole Foods. Use whatever tinting color you like and also consider this touch completely optional; the clear, uncolored lollipops are very pretty, too.

In case you are wondering, the flowers have very little taste and most people eat the flecks without even noticing. Others like to deliberately bite off and munch the petals. And still others prefer to carefully break off the pieces with the flowers and discard them.

Spring Edible Flower  Lollipops

You’ll  need a candy thermometer for this recipe. The other special items required are the lollipop sticks.  And, of course, you do need the edible, organically grown  flowers, which can include  pansies, roses, pinks, and wild woodland violets. (Note that African violet houseplants are not the same as wild violets and are not edible.)

Lollipop sticks are usually stocked in the cake and pastry decorating sections of discount department stores and in some craft stores or kitchen shops. In a pinch, use wooden Popsicle sticks instead—the lollipops won’t look quite as elegant, but kids never care! 

Also, expect the pops to come out in natural free-form shapes rather than perfectly round. Even on a tray with a perfectly flat surface, the molten syrup tends to run out unevenly. But the randomness just contributes to the charming homemade look. 

There is one important caveat to always remember when making these lollipops or any other hard candy: The boiling sugar mixture is extremely hot. Never try to touch it or taste it while cooking or pouring. And take care never to splash it on your skin. If it drips on the counter top or stove, wipe it off with a wet, warm cloth, never your hand.

If you have it, use a heavy cooking pot with a lip for pouring. This will facilitate pouring the molten candy from the pot. 

Assorted small edible flowers and petals, such as organic pansies, roses, or woodland violets
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
1/3 cup light corn syrup
1/3 cup warm water
1/4 teaspoon raspberry extract, rose extract, or lemon extract
Drops of botanical food dye, optional
Ready the flowers or petals by gently but thoroughly washing and patting them dry. Flatten by placing them between triple thicknesses of paper towels, then weighting them down under a heavy book or stack of books overnight or longer. Very gently peel them from the paper before using.

Set out a 2-cup heat-proof glass measure. Set out a very large flat tray or baking sheet (or 2 smaller sheets) and line with heavy-duty foil.  Place 12 to 15 lollipop sticks on the foil, spacing to allow for the candy to spread out to at least 2 1/2 inches in diameter and preferably more. Place the flowers or petals attractively around the top end of the sticks. Set out a heat-proof bowl of ice water.

In a heavy medium-sized saucepan thoroughly stir together the sugar, corn syrup, and water. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring. Cover the pot and let the trapped steam wash any sugar crystals from the pot sides for 2 minutes; lift up the pot from the heat and swirl the mixture several times. Remove the lid. With a wet pastry brush or damp paper towel, wipe away any sugar crystals clinging to the pan sides.

Continue cooking, never stirring, but lifting and swirling the pan to redistribute the syrup every minute or so. When the syrup has boiled down about 5 minutes, start checking with the candy thermometer. As soon as the syrup register 305 degrees F, immediately remove the pot from the heat. Quickly add the extract and drops of botanical dye (if using) and swirl the pan until blended in fairly well. Immediately set the pan in the bowl of ice water to stop the cooking and lower the temperature; let stand for 5 minutes, lifting and swirling the pan several times. Carefully turn out the cooling syrup  into the 2-cup measure.

Start forming the lollipops by pouring the syrup over the center tops of the lollipop sticks;  sure not to touch the mixture. Continue at a steady pace until all the pops are formed. If at any point the syrup cools and stiffens too much to pour, place the measure in the microwave oven and reheat the mixture for 5 to 10 seconds, or until it is just fluid again. Don't try to scrap out any left in the cup, as it may turn gritty and cloudy. When all the pops are done, slide the baking sheet into a refrigerator and let the candies cool and chill thoroughly.Then, gently peel each one from the foil as needed. Wrap them individually in non-stick clear plastic wrap or special hard candy wrappers. Stored in a cool dry spot, they will keep for several months.

Makes 12 to 15 2 1/4 to 2 1/2-inch lollipops.

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