The first time I made a mushroom dessert was a porcini ice cream made from fresh-frozen porcini, which the pastry chef where I worked at the time pronounced an abomination and refused to use. Candy caps are another story though.
I can still remember how excited I got reading about candy caps a number of years ago in Eugenia Bone’s book Mycophilia. Nature created a mushroom that reeks of maple so strongly you can smell it through clothes, plastic, paper, even your skin after you eat it? Shut up. It’s true though, and even touching dried ones will make your hands smell sickly sweet for hours.
Species of Candy Caps
Like porcini, there’s a number of different candy cap species, generally people speak of three: Lactarius fragilis, rubidus, and rufulus, but from my experience (they don’t grow in the Midwest) mostly lactarius rubidus is what’s available, and most of the time I’ve purchased them they’re been excellent. Since they’re tiny little buggers, the price should reflect their quality. 18-20$/ounce retail is common, and upwards of 200+wholesale is fair.
Like I said, the traditional candy cap species doesn’t grow in the Midwest, but a friend of mine turned me on to the fact that we do have a species of Lactarius that’s supposedly in our area: Lactarius camphoratus. I haven’t found any of those yet, but If you’re in possession of some dried ones, and would like to donate them to me, err, science, my email is in the about portion of this website.
As for cooking the real candy caps though, they’re fantastic in just about any dessert where you can imagine them, and an easy way to spread their punchy maple flavor is traditionally to use cream or a dairy base.
Since they’re dried mushrooms, you’ll can re-hydrate them in water, swish them around to remove any grit, strain the liquid and separate or recombine the two depending on what you’re doing with them. I’ve also had good results just buzzing up the dried mushrooms I purchase in a spice grinder too since they’re generally pretty clean, which is a great way to release their aroma too. There’s plenty of possibilities for using them.
If you re-hydrate them for a dessert, you might wonder what to do with the physical mushrooms themselves since the liquid is where most of the flavor goes after dehydrating. You have a couple options, you can always puree them with their strained re-hydrating juice or the warmed liquid base of whatever you’re using in a blender or food processor, (make sure to warm cream slightly so you don’t make butter) which gives a deeper caramel or speckled look to creamy desserts. Another option is to save the mushrooms to simmer in syrup and candy to use as a great garnish, which is fun since they’re generally small.
The only other thing really worth mentioning I’ve found is that you really don’t want to add to much of them to something, since things will get bitter, fast. If you start out small and taste as you go, you really shouldn’t have too many problems. For starters, here’s a basic ice cream.
Are you a lucky mushroom hunter who gets to pick their own candy caps or have a favorite way to use these? I’d love to hear about it.
Candy Cap Mushroom Ice Cream
It has a flavor like pure maple syrup, and will blow the mind of most adventurous diners who’ve never heard of candy caps.
- 1.5 cups heavy cream
- 1/2 cup milk
- 6 large egg yolks
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 2 teaspoons ground candy cap mushrooms
- Mix all ingredients together and allow to sit overnight to infuse with the mushroom flavor. Process the ice cream for 15 minutes in the machine, then check on it. The ice cream should be smooth and thick, doubled in size, with the consistency of sour cream. If needed, process for 5 minutes more, or until the desired consistency is reached.
- Keep a hairy eyeball on it to make sure the ice cream doesn’t get hard on the bottom, which will make it chalky and turn its color dark. When the ice cream is done, transfer it to a container and freeze until needed. The ice cream will firm up as it freezes.