I know I’m courting controversy and might even lose some of you immediately with the next statement, but here we go. Candied peel is absolutely delicious.
I can hear the howls of horror in my head. I’ve come to conclude that it must be one of the pantry’s most divisive common ingredients. At Christmas, people want fruit mince tarts sans peel. At Easter they want hot cross buns sans peel. A lot of people really, really seem to dislike it. But have they tasted handmade, seasonally produced peel, or have they only ever come across the nasty supermarket packet version?
Candying fruit has a long and proud European tradition. The Italians are stars at it, as are the French. They don’t stop at candying the peel from a few pieces of citrus, they preserve whole fruits as shimmering versions of themselves that last far longer than the original, corruptible specimen.
Winter is the perfect time to head into the kitchen, throw caution to the wind and see if it really is as detestable as many people make out. Citrus fruits are at their absolute best at this time of year. Blood oranges, navel oranges, grapefruits and lemons are all providing much needed colour and vitamin C as the winter, and head cold season, drags on and on. And there is nothing better, in my mind, than spending cold winter days tucked in a warm kitchen making beautiful things.
The process is very simple: cut the peel from the fruit, blanch it many times to remove the bitterness, cook in a sugar syrup until translucent and then dry. The peel can then be kept as such, or tossed in sugar. It can also be dipped in dark chocolate to make a delicious gift. The recipe below gives instructions on making mixed peel. But the primary reason for the recipe – what you do with the flesh of the fruit – is not discussed. I might cut slices or segment the fruits for a citrus salad or to use in a dessert. If you are somebody who squeezes a lot of citrus for juice, there is another method I have had a great deal of success with, albeit giving a more jelly, lolly-like result. Instead of peeling the fruit, take the juiced fruit halves and place them in a saucepan of cold water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Repeat this five times then drain and cool. When the fruit is cool enough to handle, scrape all the membrane and some of the pith out with a metal spoon. Cut the fruit into strips. Make a sugar syrup from two parts sugar to one part water, bring to boil and add the fruit. Because the fruit strips are thicker you may need to boil this version for an hour or so until the fruit is translucent. Then proceed with the drying and coating instructions below. Doing it this way means you get to use your juice skins, minimising waste.
Once made it can be added to scones, cakes, festive treats, cannoli, ice-cream, the list goes on and on.
And I’ll say it just once more. Candied peel is absolutely delicious.
– 3 oranges
– 4 lemons
– 1 ruby grapefruit
– 1 yellow grapefruit
– granulated sugar
Use a sharp paring knife or a sturdy peeler to peel strips of skin from all the fruit, leaving a good amount of pith attached.
Put the peel in a pan and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil, then simmer for five minutes. Drain, return to the pan and cover with fresh water. Bring to the boil again, then simmer for another five minutes. Repeat this process five times to remove the bitterness from the peel.
Set a sieve over a bowl and drain the peel, reserving the cooking water. Add 100 grams of sugar for each 100 millilitres of water that remains. Place the sugar and reserved citrus water into a saucepan and gently heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
Cut the blanched peel into strips about four millimetres thick. Add the peel to the sugar syrup and simmer for 30 minutes until the peel is translucent and soft. Leave to cool in the syrup, then remove with a slotted spoon and arrange in a layer on a stainless-steel rack set over a tray to catch the drips. Put in the oven at the lowest setting for 30 minutes to dry, or leave overnight in a dry space.
Sprinkle a layer of sugar over a sheet of baking paper. Toss the strips of peel in the sugar, a few at a time, then spread out and leave for one hour or so to air-dry.
Pack the peel into an airtight jar or container lined with baking paper.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Aug 11, 2018 as "Candied crush". Subscribe here.