Finnish Delights: Berry and Fruit Marmalade Confections

Marmalade confections are very popular in Finland around Christmas, and they’re naturally vegan – what could beat that as Christmas gifts for friends and family. My family isn’t religious at all, but Christmas is my favorite holiday, traditionally celebrated in Finland at the time of year when the darkest day of the year had passed. For me, it means getting together with family and eating well, and I have always loved giving small gifts to the important people in my life. Since Christmas went by already, I’m sure these confections will make people with a sweet tooth happy on any occasion.

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I read many Finnish recipes for these confections, and most of them recommended boiling agar for 30-45 minutes, even when using the powdered kind. This seems contrary to the Asian style agar recipes that recommend only a minute or two of boiling. In Finland, agar is only sold in pharmacies and Asian groceries, and I’ve never bought it from the pharmacy – maybe their powder is coarser than the Asian one.

Anyway, these easy and quick recipes are designed for the Asian type agar powder, which is also considerably more economical than the one sold in pharmacies. Some advance planning is still required, since the confections need to dry up in room temperature for at least a few days before wrapping.

Lingonberry Confections:

Lingonberries are small, deep red in color, aromatic, and a little tarter in flavor than cranberries, and as such are perfect for marmalade.

  • 1/2 dl lingonberry juice
  • 200 g frozen lingonberries
  • 2 tablespoons dry sherry
  • 1 dl water
  • 2 and 1/2 dl granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon agar agar powder
  • extra fine granulated sugar for coating

First, I cooked the frozen lingonberries in the berry juice until they were soft, which took about 5 minutes. Then I placed a fine sieve over a mixing bowl, poured the lingonberries in the sieve, and pressed them with a tablespoon to get all the juice in the bowl.

Then I heated the sugar and water on medium heat until they were bubbling and the sugar granules had dissolved. Now, I sprinkled the agar over the sugary mixture and whisked, letting it bubble, until all the agar had dissoved, and the mixture started to thicken. After about a minute and a half, I took the pan off heat, and let it cool down a few seconds.

Now, I poured the agar mixture in the lingonberry bowl, and whisked until everything was combined. Then I poured the mixture in a bread pan covered with plastic wrap, trying to level the surface as well as I could. Now, I let the marmalade cool down in the room temperature until it was settled, and then refrigerated it for 15 minutes to make sure it would settle. I covered two cutting boards with baking parchment, and then turned the marmalade dish upside down over one of the cutting boards, so that the block dropped.

I cut the marmalade in pieces with a sharp knife, and separated the pieces from each other. Now, the marmalade has to dry up before it’s coated with fine sugar, because otherwise the sugar will get soggy from the moisture.

I dried my marmalade confections for about two days, flipping them over a few times to let each side dry up. The second cutting board was needed for the flipping; I just placed it over the confections, turned the whole thing upside down, and removed the first clipping board and the parchment paper carefully. The marmalade is dry enough when it feels sticky, not moist, when touched with a fingertip. The time required for drying depends on the amount of sugar used in the recipe.

After two days, we coated the marmalade confections with fine granulated sugar. Then we let them dry up in room temperature a few more days just to make sure the sugar wouldn’t melt, and then packed them in small zip lock bags.

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Sea buckthorn and lingonberry confections dry up, and then get coated with sugar.

Blueberry Confections:

I just recently learnt that Finnish blueberries aren’t actually blueberries, and they should instead be called bilberries. They are smaller and darker in color than North American blueberries, and are also more acidic and aromatic. The two berries are still almost identical, so I think it’s just easiest for everyone to call them both blueberries.

  • 1/2 dl cranberry juice
  • 200 g frozen blueberries
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 dl granulated sugar
  • 1 dl water
  • 1 tablespoon agar agar powder

I made the blueberry confections almost exactly like the lingonberry marmalade, with only three minor alterations. I didn’t add sherry when I boiled the berries, and reduced the amount of sugar while adding some lemon juice, because blueberries are sweeter and not as acidic as lingonberries.

Sea Buckthorn Berry Confections:

Sea buckthorn berries are also pretty tart, but are mostly available in sugary jam form – I can’t remember ever eating a fresh sea buckthorn berry.

  • 160 g sea buckthorn berry jam
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla sugar
  • 1 dl water
  • 1/2 dl granulated sugar
  • 1 dl confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 tablespoon agar agar powder

Since I used store bought sea buckthorn jam, I just prepared the water-sugar-agar -mixture like in the previous recipes, and then added the jam, lemon juice, and vanilla sugar in the agar agar pan.

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Sea buckthorn marmalade block before and after cutting.

Pear Confections:

  • 1 can (400 g) of pears in juice
  • 1 and 1/2 dl of the pear juice from the can
  • 2 tablespoons dry sherry
  • a pinch of green food coloring
  • 3 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 and 1/2 dl granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon agar agar powder

First, I cooked the pear sauce. I drained the pears, and saved the pear juice. Then I cut the pears in small pieces and placed them in a small sauce pan, measured 1/2 dl of the pear juice, and added that to the pan with the sherry. Now, I simmered the pears for about 15 minutes, until they were all mushy, and then puréed them with a hand held mixer. Then I poured the pear sauce in a mixing bowl to cool a little. Then I added 2 teaspoons of the lemon juice and the food coloring in the pear sauce bowl and mixed to combine. Food coloring is completely optional of course, but without it the marmalade will have a light grey color.

Now, I measured 1 dl of the pear juice from the can to the cooking pot, added the sugar, and then brought the mixture to boil. I whisked the mixture while it was simmering to avoid the burning of any of the sugar granules, and let it bubble up until all the sugar had dissolved. Now, I sprinkled the agar over the sugary mixture and whisked it, letting it bubble, until all the agar had dissolved, and the mixture started to thicken. After about a minute, I took the pan off heat, and let it cool down a few seconds.

I poured the agar mixture in the pear sauce bowl, and whisked until everything was combined. Now, I tasted the mixture to adjust the lemon-sugar balance, adding 1 more teaspoon of lemon juice. More or less might be needed, depending on the acidity of the pears themselves. Now, I proceeded as with the berry confections.

Mango Confections:

  • 2 dl mango pulp (unsweetened, from the Asian grocery)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla sugar
  • 1 teaspoon lime juice
  • (a pinch of yellow food coloring)
  • 2 dl granulated sugar
  • 1 dl water
  • 1 tablespoon agar agar powder

I made these mango confections exactly like the pear marmalade, but since I used storebought mango purée, the fruit didn’t need to be boiled. I just mixed the mango, vanilla sugar, lime juice, and yellow food coloring in a mixing bowl, and poured the agar mixture in the bowl. I also used water instead of pear juice for the agar- sugar solution.

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10 THINGS TO REMEMBER WHEN MAKING PERFECT MARMALADE CONFECTIONS:

  1. Planning ahead is required: the marmalade confections need to dry up for one to three days before packing – first without the sugar coating, and preferably also after coating.
  2. These recipes are designated for agar agar in powdered form. Agar flakes and sticks have different properties, and thus need different recipes.
  3. Use the finest granulated sugar available for coating (not confectioner’s sugar though), this makes the confections more pleasant to eat.
  4. Any fruit or berry can be used to make these confections, but the proportions should be approximately 2 dl of fruit for 1 tablespoon agar, 1 dl water, and 2 dl sugar. Adjust the amount of sugar according to the acidity of the fruit or berry.
  5. When making gifts, it’s best to choose a few differently colored fruits or berries; a yellow fruit and a red berry for example. Similar colors with different flavors should never be packed in the same package.
  6. Thick fruit purées make the most aromatic confetions, but using fruit juice results in a pretty transparent appeareance. When using juice, it should be as strong and flavorful as possible.
  7. It’s best to check the acidity of the agar mixture before it’s thickened. Even one teaspoon of lemon or lime juice deepens the flavors.
  8. After pouring the marmalade mixture in a rectangular dish to thicken, do not move the dish during the thickening process, until the mixture had cooled down to room temperature. Agar sets at 32-40 degrees Celsius.
  9. The marmalade confections get very tacky when they dry up, and need to be separated from each other at all times to avoid them sticking to each other. After drying, they get insulated by the sugar coating.
  10. Marmalade confections are good for you, and home-made gifts are good for the whole universe.

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5 Comments

  1. Posted January 2, 2008 at 00:08 | Permalink

    those are so colourful and gorgeous! and I love the fruits you used to make them. I think I need to find some agar!

  2. Anni
    Posted January 2, 2008 at 18:10 | Permalink

    Thanks Liz – these were so delicious that I’m a little sad we didn’t save any for ourselves!

  3. Posted August 3, 2008 at 20:49 | Permalink

    Very nice!!

  4. Posted September 20, 2008 at 22:47 | Permalink

    Just stumbled upon your blog and I can’t stop reading! This post grabbed me in particular. My boyfriend loves gummy sort of candies (I know he misses the old gelatin-laden ones, but not the gelatin.) I will have to try these out on him :) THANKS!

  5. Anni
    Posted September 22, 2008 at 22:29 | Permalink

    Hi Christina – I’m glad you enjoy our blog! These are really nice, and easy to make too, at least if you’re not trying to make them for the whole family a week before Christmas… These are more like marmalade than gummy candy though, not quite as chewy I think.

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