This is Lactarius rubidus, commonly known as the candy cap. These amazing fungi, when dried, are very strongly fragrant, hinting of maple syrup, butterscotch, and butter pecan ice cream. Don't believe me? Visit the folks at MykoWeb and see what they've written. Better yet, do like I did and buy some from Oregon Mushrooms.
Candy caps are rather small mushrooms, but don't let the small size fool you. They pack a powerful aromatic punch similar in strength to a fresh truffle. When my packet of 'shrooms arrived, I could smell them through the plastic bag they were sealed into, and the aroma lingered on my hands.
I purchased them to make gelato as the challenge ingredient for my annual ice cream class. But the first time I actually used them was in one of my favorite vegetable dishes, carrot purée.
Candy Cap Carrot Purée
1 quart water
¼ ounce dried candy cap mushrooms
8 medium carrots
½ teaspoon kosher or sea salt
½ cup diced pineapple
¼-½ cup crème fraîche (optional)
fleur de sel and white pepper to taste
Bring the water and mushrooms to a boil. If you are concerned about grittiness from the dried mushrooms, let the mushrooms infuse the hot water for at least 30 minutes, then strain. I wanted the mushrooms in the purée, so I proceeded without waiting.
This is not a refined dish, so I left the carrots unpeeled; you can peel them if you want a lighter texture and color, and don't mind losing a significant portion of the nutrient value. Add the carrots to the water and simmer for about twenty minutes. Then add the pineapple and continue simmering until the carrots are done.
Once the carrots are done, carefully transfer everything to the work bowl of a food processor and purée. Adjust the seasoning, and add some crème fraîche to smooth out the rough edges of the flavor. I suspect some silken tofu would do nicely in place of the dairy, but I haven't tried it.
I could easily have used maple syrup to achieve approximately the same flavor, but by using candy caps, I got maple flavor without the added sugars and calories in the syrup. Now that I've tasted them, I can hardly wait for butternut squash soup perfumed with candy caps for Thanksgiving or Christmas!