(What I'm about to describe may sound like a depressing trip, but I promise I had fun! And I still consider Disney to be magical, just consider the below a brutal reconciling of dreams vs. reality.)
You know when you plan a vacation in such minute detail, that you begin to feel as if you’ve already lived it before it happens? And in your mind, it will be just the most epic, fantastic, most financially worth-it travel experience of your life? Then, when you are actually experiencing the blessed event, and you are having fun, and making memories, and overall succeeding at living that imagined fabulousness, but it was so built up in your mind that reality just seems, well, disappointing? I think we’ve all been there.
That pretty much describes the trip I took with Claire for our 30th birthday a couple years ago. We planned for months exactly what we were going to do to make this trip the most epic, fun, and indulgent trip to Disney World and Harry Potter World that two adults embarking on their 4th decade ever took! We planned out everything. It probably didn't help that we were both in depressing jobs at the time, and the Disney trip was fast becoming that little sliver of light at the end of the tunnel, as we picked out restaurants and rides, and wondered how many giraffes we would see from our hotel window.
I woke up early a few months before the trip to plan out our Fast Passes (Disney is hardcore, yo). We were going to drink around the world at Epcot and ride everything we wanted, be chosen by our wands and experience Hogwarts. And while we did do a lot of that, it was just, somehow less than expected. Service at Ollivander's was terrible, and the locker system at Universal Studios is laughably inefficient in a way that can really make you hate life. In Epcot, Claire remembered that she gets motion sickness and had a harrowing trip to Mars. And that was all before you consider the food.
We abandoned our plans of drinking around the world when we discovered that most drinks at Disney are shockingly sweet, and those places that might be good have long lines (as tends to happen when word gets out you can drink good tequila without a cup of sugary lime water added to it). The quaint French bakery I imagined where we would be starting our day at Epcot with hot chocolate and croissants turned out to be a grubby cafeteria with terrible pastries. The photo op was admittedly great, but still, bubble burst.
The shave ice I bought in Japan was refreshingly cold, but otherwise flavorless and somehow frozen solid, so that I couldn’t even chip away at icy bites of relief with my fragile, plastic spoon. The curry in the nearby restaurant was serviceable, but marred by the fact that Claire didn’t want to stop for it at all, and I felt rushed eating it. I repaid the impatience favor in Germany, when she stopped for a pretzel and I stood fuming in the gift shop while she ate it outside, because there was no shade to be found.
Because, did I mention the heat? My god. I thought I could handle the Florida heat and humidity in May. I was so, so wrong. I, spoiled by my California climate, sweltered in the unshaded lines, sticky and uncomfortably sweaty, while Claire stood seemingly unaffected by the wet blanket of air around us that not even a cup of Dole Whip could cut through. Claire’s long-planned-for Mickey ice cream bar melted faster than she could eat it, and we drank vats of iced tea to cope. I was crabby and thirsty, and the line for Splash Mountain was an unacceptable 2-hour trade for 5 seconds of relief. We bickered, then fought, then recovered enough to head to the next planned stop, where our tempers again rose with the heat.
Which is all to say, that by day two of this trip, I was pretty much despairing of the heat and resigned to disappointment, at least where the food was concerned. So, when we realized we were visiting Epcot during the flower show, and saw they were serving something called Beijing Street Style Strawberries, we both figured at that point that they couldn’t really mess up fruit too badly. We bought an order, and I was handed a little cardboard boat filled with three strawberries on a skewer, coated in a hard candy shell and topped with sesame seeds. That part had been advertised, but what I had not known before I bought them was that they would be cold. They had been chilled thoroughly, and somehow through Disney magic the strawberries hadn’t melted the candy shell. I crunched into one, sweet and nutty with sesame, and so refreshing. And, well. My day improved so much in that moment I literally felt myself unwilting. Claire wasn’t that into them, but I sat on a bench and happily polished them off, dreading adding to my sugar high but so grateful for the cold fruit in that moment I thought I might cry.
Fast forward two years, and when I saw these street treats featured in Ugly Delicious, it confirmed for me that these were a real thing, and I knew it was time to recreate them. A quick Google search proves I was not the only Epcot visitor to be charmed by these candied strawberries, and there were several recipes out there. I mashed several together, figuring that at its most basic I was dealing with sugar boiled to the hard-crack stage, and poured over fruit. I didn't remember any other flavors other than strawberry, sugar, and sesame, so I kept it simple. And in the end, I came pretty close to what I remember. I'm still not sure how Disney keeps their candied strawberries cold without melting the sugar, but I'm very sure I probably don't want to know.
These candied strawberries, or Tanghulu, are perfect if you want a little trip to Disney without leaving your kitchen or climate control. But you know, it's been a couple years now since I've been to a Disney park, I think I really want to go...
Tanghulu Candied Strawberries
Adapted from all over the internet.
- 1/4 cup corn syrup
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 3/4 water
- at least 12 strawberries, just under fully ripe or even a little less.
- 1 tbs sesame seeds (optional)
- Clip a candy thermometer to the side of a pot and add the corn syrup, granulated sugar, and water over medium-medium high heat. Do not stir the mixture, and cook until boiling and reaches 290 degrees, or the hard-crack stage.
- While the sugar boils, prepare remaining ingredients. Hull strawberries and skewer strawberries onto wooden skewers, three stacked at the end of each skewer and set aside. Pat dry with paper towels.
- Toast sesame seeds, if using. Heat a skillet over medium heat and add sesame seeds. Heat until fragrant and golden, then set aside to cool.
- When sugar has reached the right stage, remove pot from heat and immediately begin dipping strawberries. This is easiest to do by carefully tilting the pot and swirling in the strawberries to coat. Set on wax-paper lined baking sheet and immediately sprinkle with some of the sesame seeds. Repeat with remaining skewers. The candy should set pretty quickly.
- BE CAREFUL. I hope this goes without saying, but you are boiling sugar here, and if you spill it on yourself it isn't fun.
- Use slightly underripe strawberries, as the hot candy with start to cook the fruit a bit, and the mess can be contained if your strawberries aren't as juicy. The sugar in the candy coating will more than make up for any loss of sweetness from riper berries.
- The candy coating sets quickly, so if you are using the sesame seeds, make sure you sprinkle them on right away.
- You can store skewers in the fridge, but these are best eaten right away. After a few hours the juice from the strawberries will start to dissolve the sugar, leaving soft strawberries sitting in a puddle of sweetened strawberry juice. Delicious, actually, but maybe not what you are going for.