Basil is one of my favorite herbs. I grow several varieties in the house, and I love tending to the plants and finding new uses for their scrumptious leaves. Some basil varieties are sweet (Genovese, Globe and Red Rubin aka “purple” basil), some are lemony (Lemon basil), and some have a distinct licorice note (Napolitano and Thai). I actually prefer using a combination of these types when I cook because it lends a more complex, yet pleasantly balanced basil flavor.
Because I grow several types at my house, I often find myself with excess basil leaves. One day, I decided to candy some of them, and the result was delightfully basily! Candying brings out some of basil’s sweeter, more floral notes, and it perfectly bridges the gap between savory and sweet. But devour with caution–when eaten straight, candied basil is anything but subtle–it’s crisp, crunchy and packs an intense punch of flavor!
For those without taste buds of steel, I recommend using candied basil as a garnish or topper. It brought my Strawberry Basil Ice Cream to a whole new level, and it’s positively delightful on ice cream, cupcakes or floated on a cocktail (recipe below!) or iced tea. And don’t be afraid to crush some of these babies up and use them in the place of sugar. Do I smell a revolution in snickerdoodles coming??
Handful (or however many you want) medium or small size fresh basil leaves
1 egg white, lightly beaten
Sugar, superfine or caster (regular granulated will work too)
1. Rinse your basil leaves and allow them to dry completely before beginning. You can use a salad spinner or pat them dry to speed this along. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place your egg white and sugar in separate small bowls.
2. Dip each individual leaf into the egg white and shake, scrape, or otherwise remove all excess. You want to moisten the entire surface of the leaf, without leaving so much on that it might form a pool on the leaf as it sits. Otherwise, it’ll take forever to dry.
3. Dredge the moistened leaf in the sugar on both sides, then place on the parchment paper to dry. Repeat this process for all remaining leaves. Store them in a warm, dry place for 12-24 hours, or until they have completely hardened.
I recommend air-drying because when I tried oven-drying (at the lowest temp setting on my oven, which is 190F) I found that it caused the sugar/egg mixture to ooze off the leaf somewhat, which defeats the purpose. If you can get your oven cooler than that, then by all means try it for yourself. Just remember to leave your oven door cracked for ventilation if you’re using an electric oven. Because my oven is gas, it has a built-in vent spews hot air onto the stove top. If I wanted to fast track the drying process, I’d probably leave them in that hot spot or on a sunny windowsill, rather than putting them directly in the oven again.
The difference between using superfine (aka caster) sugar and granulated sugar is the finished look and feel you get. In the first and third photos, I used superfine sugar (Domino brand is usually the easiest to find). Superfine sugar gives your leaves more of a “snowy” look and hardens a bit faster and into more of a uniform crust. Granulated sugar can look a little lumpier and take a bit longer to harden. It’s also a bit less cohesive, since it has a harder time dissolving into the egg wash. However, it’s crunchier and a bit more interesting texture-wise. Plus, it’s a bit easier to see the leaf color and detail through a granulated sugar coating because you don’t get as much of a “snowy” effect. I used granulated sugar on the batch of candied basil I made for my Strawberry Basil Ice Cream, pictured directly above. You can see how it looks different from the superfine sugar in the photos at the top of the post. Both versions are delicious! Happy candying!
BONUS COCKTAIL RECIPE!!!!
The Gingerberry Basil
2 oz gold rum
1 oz Canton ginger liqueur
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tsp honey (or to taste)
One or more candied basil leaves
Muddle all ingredients together in a cocktail shaker. Add 2-3 ice cubes and shake until shaker is frosted. Pour unstrained into a martini glass (remove ice with slotted spoon if necessary). Garnish with a candied basil leaf or two. Watch it slowly sink and enjoy!
For even more basil flavor, crush up your candied basil and use it to create a sugared rim on the glass!