Success in making this unusual delicacy (which is named after a nightclub singer of my close acquaintance) depends on using only the fattest and juiciest of stems and taking things slowly. I have always been a fan of the candying process; it is one with a forgiving nature, well suited to the more absent-minded cook. Replacing most of the water contained within fruits or stems with sugar is a slow matter and if you suddenly rediscover a dish of half-glacéd cherries or half-candied Alexanders after a week or two’s neglect the process can be continued without detriment. Should some Sea Holly roots legitimately come into your possession, you can use this recipe to make the candied eryngoes mentioned here.
The flavour of Alexanders is quite fugitive, which is why I suggest reinvigoration with some of the pungent seeds if you have them. The Alexanders turn a beautiful shade of palest, translucent amber and make a delicious addition to cakes and pastries… or you can eat them just as a sweetmeat. Candy would have loved them.
- Yield: 20 Sticks
- 500 g fat Alexanders stems
- 500 g caster sugar
- 1 tbsp Alexanders seeds (if available)
- Trim the Alexanders stems to about 10 cm in length and put them into a saucepan with enough water to cover by 2 cm. Simmer until tender, about 10 minutes. Remove from the pan, reserving the water, and peel away any tough fibres.
- Weigh the stems, then add the same weight of sugar to the pan of cooking water. If you have them, add the Alexanders seeds (preferably tied up in a little muslin bag) and bring the syrup to the boil. Lay the Alexanders stems in a flat-bottomed dish and pour over the syrup. Cover and leave for a day.
- Pour the syrup and any seeds (or use fresh seeds) into a saucepan and bring to the boil. Simmer for a few minutes to reduce slightly. Pour back over the Alexanders and leave another day.
- Repeat this process for another 2 days, then drain off the remaining syrup and lay the Alexanders stems on wire racks. Either dry them in a low oven at 40–50°C for 4 hours or on a sunny windowsill over several days. Do make sure they are completely dry before you store them, to prevent them going mouldy.