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The triomph of candies

25 February 2021
Ever since Antiquity, confectionary was an answer to the love of good food. Its history is paved with some major revolutions: usage of cane sugar, then of beetroot, followed by industrialisation. Each step leaving its mark with new shapes and ideas…

As soon as you mention the word "confectionary", one immediately thinks of "sweets". This is a very restrictive attitude indeed, which grants candies a statute they do not really deserve. Confectionary may appear in many shapes not restricted to the "small candy made with flavoured sugar, often coloured, and usually rather hard" definition of dictionaries. Common language sometimes uses the word incorrectly, forgetting to mention other delicacies such as fruit pastes, marshmallow, nougat, Turkish delights or Rouen's apple sugar… and many more.

The first confectionaries ever created probably were fruits candied in honey. The idea was to preserve the fruit, but the result often became better than the fruit itself and it did not take long before it was produced for its own sake. Sugar only came late in the production process, which did not prevent the art from becoming more sophisticated, still using honey, and many of the candies of today date back to these days, nougat being an example. Nougat, still considered a spice at the time, only became commonplace after the crusades, even though prices were high. 

Sugar became more readily available during the Renaissance, which opened the way to candies made out of cooked sugar and to the art that goes with it, such as the coating of almonds and walnuts, an art inspired by the achievements of Venetian glass-blowers. Praline and sugar-coated almonds scored a huge success in the eighteenth century. Confectionary then started to use the flavours of fruits, of spices and of perfumes. Chocolate became solid and joined the dance. The development of beet sugar and its industrial derivatives allowed the new industry to grow considerably and made available to the public specialties so far reserved to the aristocracy. In response, the most renowned pastry chefs and confectioners today focus on these popular or industrial products, spreads, marshmallow or caramels, giving them their own touch. Luxury products? Certainly; but handmade, produced with quality ingredients and with the grandeur of traditional products.

Benedict Beaugé

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