There are a few brands of this kind of sweet, all made in Cumbria, and some are covered in chocolate or made with brown sugar. This, however, is the good auld traditional way.
- 8 ounces (225 grammes) caster sugar
- About 4 or 6 tablespoons (60 to 90 millilitres) water, for dissolving
- 1/4 teaspoon of white vinegar, lemon juice, or cream of tartar
- 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of natural peppermint essence, depending on how strong you want it
- In the saucepan, add the water, sugar, and vinegar (or lemon juice or cream of tartar). Over a low heat, gently stir and dissolve all the sugar in the water until it's a clear liquid. Make sure that no little grains of sugar stick to the sides of the pan.
- When every little grain of sugar has dissolved, increase the heat and bring the syrup to a rough simmer, just about boiling. If you have a sugar thermometer, attach it to your pan now, and cook to 115ºC/240ºF. If you do not have a thermometer, you will need to do traditional cold water testing.
- After 5 minutes of cooking, you can begin to test the syrup in cold water. Take a teaspoon of the syrup and drop it into the cold water: if the syrup sets enough to pick up and roll into a little squishy ball, the syrup is read. If it's still to runny, cook for another minute or two and test again. Keep cooking and testing until the texture is right.
- Once you have got the right texture, remove the saucepan from the heat and leave to cool until the syrup forms a skin and the pan is cool enough to touch.
- Add in your peppermint essence, and then stir the mixture with a spoon quite vigorously until it turns cloudy and thickens a little. Working quickly, pour the mixture into the tin, scraping the edges of the pan as little as possible; if you don't work quickly enough, the mixture could seize up into a big, solid lump.
- Allow the mixture to cool and set up completely, about 1 or 2 hours. Take out of the tin and break into pieces.
If you plan on making mint cake often, I would recommend buying the organic peppermint essence from the health food shop, which comes in 100ml bottles and is about €8. It will last for ages, and is made using natural essential oil of peppermint, mixed with a flavourless carrier oil. However, the peppermint essence in little bottles from the supermarket will do if you're making this recipe once off, but I prefer not to use it because it's artificial and the flavour fades over time into a nasty plastic taste.
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