Multicolor nonpareil balls coating the top of a chocolate nonpareil
|Alternative name(s)||sprinkle chips (US)|
|Main ingredient(s)||Sugar, starch, food coloring|
Nonpareils are a decorative confectionery of tiny balls made with sugar and starch, traditionally an opaque white but now available in many colors. Their origin is uncertain, but they may have evolved out of the pharmaceutical use of sugar, as they were a miniature version of comfits. The French name has been interpreted to mean they were "without equal" for intricate decoration of cakes, desserts, and other sweets, and the elaborate pièces montées constructed as table ornaments.
An 18th-century American recipe for a frosted wedding cake calls for nonpareils as decoration. By the early 19th century, colored nonpareils seem to have been available in the U.S. The popular cookbook author Eliza Leslie suggests the use of red and green nonpareils for decorating a Queen cake, but strongly suggests white nonpareils are most suitable for pink icing on a pound cake in her 1828 Seventy-five Receipts for Pastries, Cakes and Sweetmeats.
In 1844, Eleanor Parkinson, of a well-known Philadelphia family of professional confectioners, first published her book The Complete Confectioner, in which she described how to make nonpareils following her comfit-making procedure. It was not for the faint-hearted, as it involved multiple hot pots, hot syrup, a steady hand, and a good deal of patience.
In the United States, traditional nonpareils gave way for most purposes by the mid 20th century to "sprinkles" (known in some parts as "jimmies"), confections nearly as small but usually oblong rather than round and soft rather than brittle. Like nonpareils, their function is more decorative than gustatory as their actual taste is indistinct, and the products they are applied to are usually themselves very high in sugar. Candy-covered anise seeds called muisjes, sometimes mistaken for traditional nonpareils, are sometimes offered at breakfast in the Netherlands to be served on bread and butter. They are, however usually served on rusk to celebrate the birth of a child. This is known as "beschuit met muisjes".
In the UK, Australia and New Zealand, nonpareils are known as "hundreds-and-thousands", and are almost always eaten on top of patty cakes or on buttered bread as fairy bread, as festive items at children's birthday parties.
The term "nonpareils" can also refer to a specific confection: a round flat chocolate drop with the upper surface coated with nonpareils. This confection is also referred to as "chocolate nonpareils". Nestlé makes a variety marketed as Sno-Caps. In Australia, these confections are commonly known as "chocolate freckles", or simply "freckles". Nonpareils are also sold in the United Kingdom as "Jazzles", "Jazzies", "jazz drops", "Snowies" (the white ones).
- Richardson, Tim (2002). Sweets: A History of Candy. Bloomsbury. ISBN 1-58234-307-1.
- Larousse Gastronomique. Clarkson Potter. 2001. ISBN 0-609-60971-8.
- Leslie, Eliza. "Seventy-five Recepts for Pastry, Cakes, and Sweetmeats". Feeding America: The Historic American Cookbook Project. Retrieved 2009-11-19.
- Parkinson, Eleanor. "The Complete Confectioner". Feeding America: The Historic American Cookbook Project. Retrieved 2009-11-19.
- "Sweeties Online". Archived from the original on 2007-11-21. Retrieved 2010-02-10.