This is something I would never have envisaged doing but it was the research into the history of Shortbread which started me on this culinary experience. It is an experience I don’t regret at all.
Once this was an ingredient which was a staple of every cook’s pantry. Large sugary lumps of orange, lemon and citron peel lay in covered containers just waiting to be removed, sliced thinly for adding to biscuits, or chopped finely for sweet breads, buns or fruit cakes, or to be used as they were to simply adorn uncut, in shining splendour, the top of the traditional Madeira Cake.
However this delicacy was used, it imparted a sharp, sweet tang of citrus to whatever dish it was found in. Now be warned these culinary delights are a far cry from the rather hard ubiquitous small dice of the modern-day candied peel bought from the supermarket. I am not decrying this modern convenience product; I still use it myself and it does have a place in today’s world but. . . . . . you can’t beat the Real Mackie!
Here I must issue a warning to all those who have been fired up to have a go at making their own . . . . it is a time consuming activity. But in my opinion, worth it as it can be used, sparingly, to enhance special dishes or treats.
Before I go into the mechanics of making this and giving recipes for you to think about trying; it is worth a quick look back through time to explore the history behind this ‘sweetmeat’.
The tradition of preserving fruits in sugar or honey is an old one. There is much evidence which shows this type of product was widely used in Ancient China and then much later in Mesopotamia in the 14th century. So the actual process to make this has been refined over several centuries. Candied peel as we know it today came to us via the Arab culture in the 16th century. Travellers reported that chefs there served candied fruits at lavish banquets and sometimes just the peel was used in imaginative ways within dishes to give a small but intense flavour of orange or lemon. When this reached Europe, it started to be added to many sweet dishes, in particular, breads like the Italian Pantone!
So now to the recipes themselves. There are two. The first one is modern and perhaps lends itself to having the ends of the strips of peel being dipped in chocolate! This is the quickest recipe, it does work and it was the first method that I tried.
The second one is a much older recipe and takes much longer to prepare and is of course the traditional method. From start to finish it takes 3 days, but there is no need to worry, 2 of these days the peel is sitting very quietly steeping in a light sugar syrup, so it isn’’t as time consuming as one initially thinks.
Read the recipes through carefully and then continue reading for a little longer as at the end I have included a number of suggestions and observations which may be useful to those of you who want to have a go at the ‘Taste of History’.
Crystallized Peel – Modern Recipe
- 2 oranges
- 2 lemons
- Granulated sugar
- Cut each piece of fruit into 8 wedges (does depend on size). Cut out the flesh from each leaving about a 5mm rim. Cut each wedge into 3 or 4 strips (depends on size)
- Put peel into a pan, cover with cold water, bring to the boil, simmer 5 minutes. Drain. Return peel to pan, cover with fresh water, bring to the boil and simmer 30 minutes
- Drain peel but reserve cooking liquid. Measure this liquid and for every 100ml weigh out 100g sugar. Pour the cooking liquid into a pan, add the sugar and gently heat to dissolve. Add peel and simmer for 30 minutes until peel is translucent and soft. Leave to cool completely in the syrup.
- When cold remove peel using a slotted spoon and put onto a cooling tray over a baking tray lined with paper. Put the peel into a low oven, approx 50 – 100C for 30 minutes to dry.
- Sprinkle a thick layer of sugar over sheet of baking parchment. Toss strips of dried peel in sugar to coat thoroughly. Spread on separate paper to air dry for approx 1 hour then pack into airtight cntainer lined with parchment. The peel will keep for 6 – 8 weeks.
Crystallized Peel – Traditional Recipe
- 3 oranges
- 2 lemons
- ½ oz bicarbonate of soda
- 1 ½ lb granulated sugar
- Wash fruit. Cut oranges in half through the equator and the lemons down their length. Scoop out the flesh/pulp
- Put the halved fruit peel into a bowl
- Dissolve the bicarbonate of soda in ¼ pt hot water and pour this over the fruit peel and allow all this to soak for 30 minutes
- Drain the peel and wash well
- Put the peel into a saucepan, cover with cold water, bring to the boil and simmer until the peel is tender. Test gently with a skewer
- In a separate pan put 1lb sugar, add ¾ pt of cold water, bring to the boil and make a light syrup
- When the peel is soft, drain well and put this back into a bowl and pour over the hot sugar syrup. Cover with a cloth and leave to stand for 2 days in a cool place
- Strain the syrup back into a pan, add the rest of the sugar and boil
- Add the drained peel and cook in the syrup intil the peel becomes transparent
- Lift out the peel, draining it well and put this on a lined baking tray. Dry in a slow oven 100/110C fan
- Boil up the syrup again. Dip in the pieces of peel and return these to the oven to dry again
- Simmer the syrup until it becomes thick and cloudy
- Pour a little of this cloudy syrup into each of the peel ‘cups’ and leave to dry completely
- Store the peel in large pieces in an airtight container until needed
- Citrus fruits, particularly oranges have a much thinner peel today than they did in Victorian times. There are many different varieties of all the fruits and the ones readily available now have been specifically bred for certain characteristics which match the requirements of the modern market. Take care, some of the cooking times may be surprisingly short! You really will have to use your own judgement on this – sorry!
- Candied peel – home made – keeps better in large pieces. So wherever possible aim for pieces no smaller than ¼ of an orange.
- Citron is a large citrus fruit with a thick rind. It was one of the original citrus fruits from which all other types were developed. It looks like a big bumpy lemon and is rarely found in supermarkets today.
- A mix of fruits can be used to make candied peel. Lemon and Grapefruit are obvious choices and it is good to have a mix of flavours. However, the peel of both of these can be much thicker than those of the oranges and so to cook these to tender will take longer than for the orange. It might be an idea to cook them separately initially.
- The use of bicarbonate of soda in hot water seems a strange process. However research seems to indicate that it was used to help to tenderise the peel. I know that some people use salt as an alternative. It possibly is a stage which could be omitted given the modern fruit types and certainly the modern recipe uses the method of blanching first, draining off the liquid, adding more water and then completing the cooking.
- In order to make sure I have a ready supply of citrus peel whenever I need to make a new batch for candying, I save the peel from the oranges used in a fruit salad. I open freeze them and then store the frozen peel in a container until needed. I use them straight from frozen and I have never found a problem doing this. The only thing you have to be careful with is getting the flesh and the peel separated so that the peel remains in one piece. Lemons I treat in a similar way. Only this time I squeeze the juice and store this in the freezer until needed. Fresh lemon juice is so much nicer than the type bought in a bottle, particularly on pancakes.
- Unfortunately, because of the different varieties of fruit available it is impossible to give exact cooking times. Cooking the peel to tender I test with a skewer and it is a good idea to cook only pieces of peel which are roughly the same thickness.
- When using the traditional method a light syrup needs to be created. This can be done by a cooks thermometer. It should register about 80C. But to test by eye if you don’t have one of these – do the following, once the sugar has dissolved, bring to the boil and when a little of the water has boiled off this should be at the light syrup stage. You will soon get used to judging the correct consistency.
And finally there is actually a Candied Orange Peel Day. It is held on 4th May each year, mark it down in your diary for next year!
So, if there is anyone interested in celebrating this annual event they may well want to know what activities need to carried out. Well, from extensive research the only traditional act I can find that one has to do to mark this day is to . . . . . . Actually make some Candied Orange Peel!