Bing Tanghulu Candied Hawthorn Stick 冰糖葫蘆
By Ellen L. Published: 2017-02-03
Gosh darn-namit...I'm super excited about these! For up to a thousand dusty long years, on any street corner in China might be found a street vendor holding a wood pole spiked with these traditional candy fruit skewers for children. And since they are a lovely lucky red color and a beautifully rounded symbol of happiness and family reunion, they are especially popular during the Chinese New Year celebrations when all children would get one of these as an extra special treat! Besides being super cool and fun to eat and super yummilicious to boot, these lovely traditional Chinese hard caramel coated fruit skewers also have the coolest name: Bing Tanghulu Candied Hawthorn Stick or 冰糖葫蘆.
A lot of these traditional street snacks are harder and harder to find in Hong Kong, thanks in most part to the dedicated efforts of the Hong Kong government to eradicate all signs of street life (thanks a lot HK Gov't.) It's just embarrassing when folks ask me about street food in Hong Kong and I kinda have to just mumble and avert my eyes.
|Display for Bing Tanghulu food stall|
It was good, then, to discover that there where a lot of Bing Tanghulu Candied Hawthorn Stick food stalls this year at the Chinese New Year Flower Market! This annual market is held during the week leading up to the Chinese New Year and is crammed with stalls selling everything you never thought you needed for celebrating the new year. And lots of food too, naturally, this being a Chinese festival.
Anyways this was the first time I have ever seen these Bing Tanghulu for sale in Hong Kong! I was super excited because we were making it at home as well. And the great news is that lots of folks at the Flower Market were buying and enjoying the Bing Tanghulu. Which is because... drumrrrrroll ...they are delicious! And made of fruit!
The traditional Bing Tanghulu are made with the Chinese hawthorn, or 山楂, which are rather like crab apples, tart, small and kinda sweet. For more on hawthorns see our post on the Chinese Hawthorn. These little fruits are really hard to find in Hong Kong, usually I only find dried hawthorn which is delectable in all kinds of healthy teas. So that is why when I found this batch of fresh hawthorns I knew right away that I had to try to make Bing Tanghulu with them.
But don't worry if you can't find hawthorns, I figured a tasty way out of this problem (to be explained in a bit.)
The trick to this seriously yummy fruit stick is the coat of caramel. The caramel coat must be thin and hard and completely covering the fruit. If you can't get this right you'll end up with a very, very sticky mess. Which, incidentally, is what happened to my first Bing Tanghulu sticks. Boo-hoo...I'm afraid I teared up a bit cuz I ruined my lovely fruit candy sticks. And then...arrgh...I couldn't for the life of me find any more hawthorns tho' we searched high and low.
But first let me go over what went wrong. Two things. First of all the sugar. I have been at war with sugar recently, having failed miserably at a couple of big sugar projects that I attempted, and am determined to conquer this business of transforming sugar in all kinds of delightful ways. For the Bing Tanghulu the sugar had to be transformed into the 'hard crack' sugar stage which is a stage where the sugar is caramelized and heated to the point where it will instantaneously harden upon hitting cooler temperatures. For Bing Tanghulu it means that a hard non-sticky caramel shell will form around the fruit. On my first try I did not heat to proper temperature and thus my caramel did not harden. Thus sticky icky mess...
Solution, duh, use a food thermometer that works. (I got myself a new thermometer that I can use from the lowest temps to the highest that I'm loving.)
The second thing was pretty stupid of me, I have to admit. I spooned the caramel onto my fruit skewer as you can see from the photo above. Doing this took too long and I ended up cooking some of the fruit too much and juices were extruded as a result. Watery and sticky, icky mess...ugh. I think the lesson here is to arrange the hot caramel so that your fruit sticks will be able to dip in and out of the caramel quite quickly. And...umm...be careful, I learned the hard way that while caramel is really pretty to look at it is really, really, really hot to touch. (Did you know that soy sauce is soothing on burns?)
And because I could not find anymore of those darn hawthorns, I decided to use strawberries as a substitute. Which actually is what a lot of hawkers do nowadays anyways. And boy am I glad that I got to do this cuz while hawthorns are good in Bing Tanghulu, strawberries are phenomenal! And you don't have to eat around the seeds like with the hawthorn.
I bought strawberries that looked ripe but disappointingly tasted kinda 'meh.' But what do ya know, when the strawberries are dipped in and out the heat of the caramel cooks the fruit just a wee bit. And that, along with the thin crunchy caramel shell (yeah, I did it!) made the taste of the strawberry Bing Tanghulu so yummilicious it was out of this world! Tasted like, I don't know, ripe to bursting strawberries picked from the field still warm from the afternoon sun. Or something wonderful like that. It was real good.
This time I made shorter fruit sticks that I was able to dip in and out of my caramel quite quickly. I used a thermometer to gauge the 'hard crack' stage of the caramelizing sugar. And it worked like a charm. The caramel formed a clear hard non sticky shell all around my Bing Tanghulu Candied Hawthorn Stick. A lovely shell that cracked open with a delightful crunch when bitten, releasing sweet juices and a shattering of crunchy toffee bits into my mouth. Bing Tanghulu really is quite a remarkable traditional Chinese snack, as wonderful and unique as it ever was and even better, if I may say, than a lot of snack foods invented nowadays. Hope you all enjoy your own Bing Tanghulus!
Bing Tanghulu Candied Hawthorn Stick Recipe 冰糖葫蘆Prep time: Cook time: (adapted from the epicurious recipe here)
30 hawthorns or strawberries4 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup water
1/3 cup corn syrup or golden syrup
Prepare 2 baking sheets covered with parchment paper or with silicone mat.
If using strawberries use a sharp paring knife to first hull the leafy bits. Wash fruit and dry thoroughly until completely dry. Skewer three fruits on each skewer, taking care not to twist them or move them too much so as not to loosen the fruit's grip on the skewer. If loosened the fruit will swing around when being dipped in caramel, making it hard to evenly coat all sides.
In a medium saucepan heat the sugar and water. Stir until the sugar dissolves and then add the corn syrup. Bring to a boil, do not stir anymore. Keep at a low boil, swirling the pot occasionally, until it reaches 340°F (171°C) and a golden amber color, about 15-20 mins. Remove from heat. Angle your pan so that the caramel is more accessible and then dip your skewered fruit quickly in and out of the caramel, twisting to get the coating to completely cover the fruit. Be careful of touching the caramel, it's hot! Place dipped skewers onto parchment paper to cool. If your caramel cools too much while working just reheat over low heat to proper temperature, remove from heat and continue.
Eat immediately for tastiest results. Can keep at room temp for around 6 hours.
Tip: You can use other kinds of fruits too: cranberries, orange segments (membranes on), grapes, cherry tomatoes, etc.
More Traditional Chinese Snacks at The Hong Kong Cookery: