Candy Cap mushroom, also known as Curry Milk Cap mushroom is a peculiar mushroom variant that is often used as a natural sweetener and flavor enhancer in various desserts. Yes, you’ve read that right, desserts. While this saccharine fungus hasn’t gained much traction in the culinary world, it has definitely stirred up a lot of interest in recent years.
Candy Cap is a member of the large milk-cap genus Lactarius that secrete a milky discharge when they are bruised or cut. Scientifically known as Lactarius rubidus, Candy Caps are small to medium-size mushrooms that are usually burnt orange in color. Its cap shape ranges from broadly convex to slightly concave as it ages.
Candy Cap mushrooms are highly distinguishable by their scent, which has been likened to that of maple syrup or butterscotch. It's signature sweet scent may be quite faint in fresh mushrooms but becomes stronger as it dries. As a matter of fact, drying it indoors can produce an aroma strong enough to perfume an enclosed space for days and even months.
Candy Caps can be found growing in moss or rotting matter underneath cone-bearing trees and hardwoods such as pine, spruce, and oak. They can be widely scattered or in groups, but never in clusters. The ideal time to forage these fungi is during late autumn or early winter. As there are a number of mushrooms similar to Candy Caps, it’s crucial to know its distinct features, especially if you’re a novice collector.
Candy Caps catapulted to mushroom-stardom for it's signature maple syrup-like scent and flavor. It’s quite strange for a mushroom to exhibit such characteristic, which is why it wasn’t surprising that it drew a lot of attention among foodies and culinary experts alike.
Freshly-picked Candy Caps doesn’t exactly smell like maple syrup; it’s really more like a faint sweet scent. Candy Cap mushrooms contain amino acids that when combined together produces a chemical called quabalactone III. When this chemical is combined with water, it produces sotolon, which is basically the substance responsible for giving it that distinctive maple syrup scent as it dries. Sotolon is actually the same chemical that food manufacturers add to their sugar-based products such as maple-flavored syrups, aka “fake” maple syrups. Isn’t it amazing how Candy Caps are capable of making “fake” maple syrups through natural processes? How ironic, isn’t it?
Dehydrated Candy Caps are exclusively sold in specialty food shops. Just be prepared to shell out a bit more than you might for a mushroom, as they tend to be expensive.
While it is believed that anything sweet is not good for the health, Candy Cap mushrooms could be an exception to the rule. Candy Caps are rich in B vitamins such as thiamine, riboflavin, and folate. These sweet mushrooms are also low in calories and a great source of protein and fiber — perfect for those on a vegetarian, flexitarian or ecotarian diets.
Candy Caps are typically used in their dried form — either powdered or dehydrated. They are popularly used as an alternative to sugar or as a flavor enhancer for bread, pancakes, and desserts. Apart from confections, they can also be used to sweeten relishes and chutneys to accompany savory dishes. Candy Caps are a bit on the pricey side, but the amount that you usually need for recipes is very minimal. It’s very potent and can overpower other flavors in your dish if you’re not careful.
Steeping, grinding, and rehydrating are three ways to extract flavor from Candy Caps. Each method yields different flavors and textures, so you’ll want to choose the best form that is appropriate for your recipe. Here’s a simple recipe that you can try:
Chocolate Chip Cookies, Photo by Emery Ouyang
This crumbly and buttery chocolate chip shortbread recipe is made even better with the addition of Candy Cap mushrooms.
Yields: 1 dozen 2-inch cookies
· 1/2 cup softened unsalted butter
·1/4 cup granulated white sugar
·3 tbsp brown sugar
·2 tsp powdered dried candy cap mushrooms
·1/4 tsp vanilla extract
·1/4 tsp salt
·1 cup and 1 tbsp all-purpose flour
·1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1. Preheat your oven to 325F.
2. Mix the softened butter, sugars, candy cap mushroom powder, vanilla extract, and salt until creamy and fully combined.
3. Gradually add in the flour and mix. Be careful not to overbeat the mixture. Scrape down the sides of the bowl from time to time to make sure that everything is well incorporated. Once fully combined, gently fold in the chocolate chips.
4. Transfer the mixture to a cling film wrap and form into a log, approximately 1 1/2 inches thick. Apply ample pressure as you form the log to prevent air pockets from forming.
5. Chill the dough for at least an hour. Once it’s firm, slowly unwrap and cut into 1/4 inch cookies using a sharp, cold knife.
6. Arrange the cookies in a Silpat or parchment paper-lined tray and bake for approximately 20 minutes, or until the edges turn golden brown in color.
Shortbread cookies tend to be fragile when they’re fresh out of the oven, so allow the cookies to cool for a couple of minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack.
This recipe is still delicious even if you leave out the candy cap mushroom powder, but adding it adds a different flavor dimension that makes it even more delectable.
You may store the cookies in an air-tight container for up to a week. Freezing It can extend its shelf life for up to a month.
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