Naturally gluten-free chocolate sweets with candied violets for Valentine’s Day: the candied flower from Parma to give a sweet scent to the palate.
Candied flowers and chocolate
Violets are the symbol of spring when their unmistakable colour begins to paint the still cold earth with purple and white brush strokes. This little flower, delicate in form and colour, bursts forth with its powerful scent to announce the magic of nature’s reawakening, which repeats itself every year like a rebirth.
Violets arrived in Parma thanks to Marie Louise of Austria, the second wife of Napoleon Bonaparte, who was Duchess of the Duchy of Parma, Piacenza and Guastalla between 1814 and 1847. The Duchess’s passion for this flower meant that many violet cultivations were planted in the area , which the monks of the Convento dell’Annunciata used to obtain the essence through steam distillation of flowers and leaves for the Duchess’s exclusive use. The fragrance created using the precious essential oil soon became famous throughout Europe under the name of Parma Violet.
Even today, at Marie Louise’s behest, her tomb in Vienna is always adorned with violets.
If the use of the violet in perfumery is no surprise, its use in cooking is certainly less well known, especially in the form of a candied sweet, made with painstaking care, artistry and charm by a few skilled hands.
The production of candied violets is closely linked to nature because, as we all know if we like to pick these fragrant flowers, their appearance along the paths and in the meadows varies according to the temperature, so the few companies dedicated to their processing have their binoculars aimed at spotting the mauve-coloured dots popping up on the horizon.
To be candied, the flowers must be quite large – as the process will reduce their size – and perfectly intact. Once carefully gathered into bunches, the violets are sprayed with fresh water to gently wash them, the stems are removed one by one, then the petals are brushed by hand with glucose syrup before being coated with caster sugar. Covered with sugar, violets are placed in tanks containing glucose and sugar, called Brillantiere, where they crystallise, taking on the appearance that characterises the finished product.
The most striking thing when eating a violet is the scent: a truly unusual experience. Personally, I only discovered in adulthood that these sweets on sale in Parma’s traditional pastry shops were real flowers treated with such passion and not sugar souvenirs for tourists!
In the month of love, a flower to eat.
I wanted to take the opportunity of Valentine’s Day, which I love celebrating in the Anglo-Saxon way (i.e. celebrating love in all its forms and not just between married couples or fiancés), to share with you this traditional preparation from my hometown because I thought you might find it nice to give a ‘bouquet’ of violets to use to make deliciously beautiful and fragrant, mouth-watering treats, to be consumed sparingly when approaching rich and precious things… like a chocolate treat! If you prefer to bake a cake, use candied violets to decorate the Lovers’ Sacher.
Where to find candied violets
In most confectioner’s shops in Parma, especially during the first months of the year, pretty packages of candied violets will pop up, ideal for having a little piece of tradition in a sweet. To be on the safe side, you can enter the realm of confectionery enthusiasts (both physical and online), the shop Dalla A allo Zucchero in the city centre, where you will find any ingredient or equipment to make your cakes, including these beautiful violets.
Chocolate sweets with candied violets
carbohydrates of shortbread bases 53.38g per 100g
carbohydrates of chocolate mousse 22.12g per 100g
Ingredients for the shortbread for 12 sweets
- 110g wholemeal rice flour*
- 65g butter
- 65g brown or coconut sugar
- 35g almond flour*
- 25g potato starch*
- 25g tapioca starch*
- 10g bitter cocoa powder*
- 1 egg
- grated orange peel or orange paste*
- 1 pinch of salt
Ingredients for the chocolate mousse
- 200g fresh cream
- 100g dark chocolate*
- 50g milk
- 30g egg white (about 1)
- 30g sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice;
- grated coconut*
- candied violets*
*Ingredients whose labels must read “gluten-free” (or, in Italy, present on Prontuario AIC)
Preparation of shortbread and mousse
- Prepare the shortbread by putting all the ingredients in the bowl of the planetary mixer; mix for a few minutes until the mixture is blended. Form a ball, cover it with cling film and place it in the refrigerator for the time needed to prepare the chocolate mousse
- Chop the dark chocolate finely; bring the milk to the boil and pour it over the dark chocolate, stirring with a whisk so that the chocolate melts completely.
- Whip the egg whites until stiff and add the sugar, mixing it in. Add this meringue to the melted chocolate, which will still be warm.
- Whip the cream until it has the texture of a Greek yoghurt (semi-whipped), then add this to the chocolate and egg white mixture. Place the mixture in the bowl of the planetary mixer and whip it for about 2 minutes with the whisk so that it is creamy, but soft. Allow to rest in the refrigerator for the time needed to prepare the shortbread bases.
Assembly of chocolate sweets
- Roll out the shortbread to a thickness of about 5mm with a rolling pin and cut out discs of the diameter corresponding to the tartlet mould (I use the non-stick mould for 12 muffins by Le Creusetit is very convenient because it doesn’t need to be greased), make them fit well in the hole, pierce the bottom with a fork and bake in a static oven preheated to 180°C for 10-13 minutes.
- If you have some shortbread left, cut some heart-shaped biscuits that you can use to decorate the sweets.
- Take the tartlets out of the oven and allow them to cool completely.
- Take a pastry bag and choose the tip you want: I chose the smooth 1.5cm diameter tip. Remove the mousse from the refrigerator, fill a pastry bag and top the tartlets as desired. Sprinkle with grated coconut and complete with a candied violet and a small biscuit.
Version with gluten of Chocolate sweets with candied violets
The recipe contains only naturally gluten free ingredients, so no adaptation is necessary for its version with gluten. If you want to use wheat flour, replace rice flour, potato starch and tapioca starch with equal amounts of wheat flour.