Friday, April 10, 2009

Peelin' Good

Candied citrus peel. If you've ever had it store-bought, chances are you hate it.
Well don't be hating.
Candied peel brings together two of the most delicious things on earth: citrus and sugar. And, while making it at home does require the better part of a day, it is totally worth it. You'll see.

But why, you may be asking your computer screens (I can't actually hear you after all), would I suddenly bring up candied peel? Well, it's a key ingredient in lots of different baking recipes, especially at this Easter-y time of year. It also keeps for a really long time, so any time is candying time!

We were looking forward to making hot cross buns (post to follow) for Good Friday, and therefore needed a stash of peel. It's actually pretty hard to find in Montreal, and the stuff you can find does not look as though it has ever been a part of food. So I set about making it.

This is one of those things that you can find a bazillion recipes for on the internet, and none of them agree, so what I propose below is a sort of synthesis of internet recipes and my own experience. What I ended up with was absolutely delicious, even on it's own. So find a good book or epic movie for while you're waiting, and get ready to candy!

Candied Citrus Peel
2 oranges
2 blood oranges
2 lemons
1 grapefruit
(The actual kinds of fruits you choose are not really important, as long as you have a good variety, and you end up with about the same amount of peel. One recipe I saw called for a "pomelo", but I couldn't find one, and I thought the blood oranges would add a nice colour)
300 ml water
600 g white sugar (≈ 3 cups)
(I do have a scale, and measuring by weight is more precise, so I prefer it to volume. You'll find we use a variety of metric, imperial and British practices in our recipes, but, hey, that's how we roll in Canada.)

  • Wash the fruit thoroughly.
  • Peel the fruit (see below). Try and leave as much of the white pith on as possible. Some people will try and tell you that doing so will make your peel bitter. Don't listen to them, they are lying. I read one recipe that said that it actually makes it "more succulent". I don't know about that, but the most important thing for a poor university student is that it gives you at least twice the volume of end product, and far less waste. It's also a lot less effort to just peel the fruit with your hands than to use a vegetable peeler. So just leave the pith on!
This is how I peeled it, to make sure that I got nice evenly sized strips of peel: cut the top and bottom off of each fruit. Then carefully cut strips vertically, at a reasonable width (i.e. not so thin that they will break when you are stirring them, but not so thick that they look ugly). My strips ended up being about a centimeter (half an inch?) wide in the middle, although the grapefruit ones were wider than the lemon ones.
  • Put each type of peel in its own pot and cover it with cold water.
  • Bring them to the boil (this is why most people can only have a max of four types of fruits!), and cook until softened. I found that the grapefruit took the shortest amount of time (around 45 minutes?) and the lemon the longest (more like an hour and a half?). If you try and bend them with your stirring utensil, you should be able to see if they are soft or not.
  • Drain the peel and place it all in one pot. Cover with cold water, bring to the boil and simmer again for about 20 minutes
  • Towards the end of this time, dissolve the sugar in the water in a large, thick-bottomed saucepan. (You can put the burner on medium-low heat to speed the process along.)
  • Bring the syrup to the boil and, once drained, carefully add the peel. Stir it in well, trying not to break the peel up, because the bigger the pieces are, the more citrus flavour they will retain.
  • Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally (and carefully!), until the peel has absorbed almost all of the syrup. This took me about 2 or 2.5 hours, but could apparently take up to 3.
  • Arrange a drying rack in/on a baking tray, and cover with parchment paper (you might actually need two of these contraptions). Once the peel is ready, arrange it in a single layer on the parchment, trying to keep the individual pieces separate if at all possible (this is A LOT easier said than done! It is VERY hot and sticky, and took up a lot more room than I anticipated...but persevere, it will make it dry faster).
  • Place the peel in a warm-ish location, with a bit of a draught, to dry for 3-4 days. Turn it over once or twice during this time, breaking the individual pieces apart. I put a piece of parchment paper on top of mine, to prevent dust from falling on it, and cleared off a bit of space on a bookshelf by my bedroom door (space is at a bit of a premium in my apartment), but putting it in a cupboard or on an unused piece of desk or table would also work.
  • When it is dry, put it into an air tight jar(s). It will keep for a long time, but it keeps its flavour longer if it is kept in those large pieces, so don't chop it up before storing it! (It is also a lot less sticky...)
  • Use in whatever recipe you like (like maybe for hot cross buns or something...), or as a tasty snack when you could use a hit of citric deliciousness.

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