Confit Citrus peel – enrobed in Chocolate or Sugar-dredged.
Utterly gorgeous, addictive, un-put-downable. I used to live in London and would sometimes go to Harrods just to buy a few strands of candied orange peel in dark chocolate. I’d come out with a tiny bag that had cost £5 and wonder how it got to be so expensive, then I’d be back again in a couple of weeks for more. Now I know why it’s expensive, it’s only peel that normally would be thrown away, but oh, the faff of making it. It really is a labour of love and you have to be a fan of marmalade to truly appreciate the bitter citrus tangy-sweetness. But for those who are such fans, there is hardly anything nicer. It makes wonderful and very impressive presents, but it doesn’t keep extremely well, so you have to make a batch each week before Christmas if you are making bags for different groups of friends. Beware, once you’ve made some one year as gifts, people will hint next year to try to ask for more!
I had planned to publish this recipe next week, but on special request of my brother and from my wonderful friend next door (to whom I gave a bag this week), here it is now, in time for you to make your own batches of loveliness.
I can’t give exact quantities, as it depends on your consumption of citrus fruits and the thickness of the peels for which I cannot legislate.
For a week, save your citrus peels – oranges, grapefruits, tangerines, satsumas. I haven’t tried it with lemons but I don’t see why you couldn’t. Try to get the peels off in sections and put them in a plastic bag in the fridge to keep their juiciness until you have enough. I’d do a batch of about 12 fruit, about half grapefruit skins and half a mix of the orange ones.
Make your syrup with equal weights water and sugar – I used 400g sugar to 400ml water for a 12-fruit peel collection. Put the water and sugar in a pan with a piece of cinnamon stick or cassia bark and 4 cloves – count them in, as you’ll want to count them out again later. Heat up, stir, boil for about 10 minutes to thicken the syrup and then leave to cool with the aromatics in. When cool, take out the cinnamon, cassia and cloves.
While the syrup is boiling and cooling, prepare your peels. Taking a small serrated knife, cut pith away from the very thick pithy pieces. Just lay the peel down on a cutting board and run the knife through the pith. No need to be too aggressive, and you might not need to cut any pith from the tangerine skins, for instance, but you probably need to take quite a bit off the grapefruit peels. Cut the peel into strips - ideal is about 3cm long by 1cm wide but you have to go with the shape of the peel you have got off the real fruit, it’s never perfect and you can use the tiny pieces for candy-sugaring rather than chocolate coating.
Put all the peels in a pan with cold water and bring to the boil. Boil for 1 minute then drain and then do it again, twice more. This is to fully clean the peel (citrus fruits are sprayed with all sorts of vile chemicals) and to remove some of the bitterness.
By this time your syrup is probably ready. Dump the peels into the syrup and boil for about an hour, until the peel is translucent and slippery. Leave to cool in the syrup and then fish the pieces of peel out and lay them on a rack over a tray. I use my fingers for this, as the pieces are quite fiddly and they fall through the bars of the rack and make you swear. There will be some syrup left over, and it is now fully infused with orange flavour. Keep it in a jar in the fridge and use it for fruit salad, for drizzling over baked breads such as Chelsea Buns, or for making more candied peels.
Leave the rack out in the kitchen at least overnight for the pieces to dry out a bit and harden a bit. I can’t give exact timings for this as it depends on the thickness of the peel and the temperature and humidity of the kitchen. I have also left the rack in a cool oven for an hour. But if you leave them too long you will have to put them back in the syrup again to re-plump, so keep an eye on them. When some of the syrup has dripped off them and the pieces look shiny and sticky but not runny anymore, probably next day, go to the next stage.
If you just want sugared candied peel, put caster sugar on a plate and tumble your pieces of peel to cover. The sugar will stick. I like to cut the peels up into diamonds or pieces about 1cm square. Put in a box or into transparent gift bags and eat within a few days.
For the chocolate dipped ones, take the best shaped pieces. Melt good chocolate (Bournville or Dairy Milk or something of that quality - I use organic dark chocolate buttons from Artisan Nutrition in Didsbury) over hot water and just dip one end of each peel into the chocolate, and use a spoon to even out the coating. Leave on a rack to set – about an hour. You can then dredge the non-chocolate ends in caster sugar to make them less sticky to handle. Put into a box or gift bags and eat within a few days.
A gift bag with some pieces of each, sugar-dredged and chocolate-dipped, looks wonderful and is a superb Christmas gift for a special and deserving friend. They have to be only your best friends as even a small bag represents quite a lot of your time and effort.
Enjoy, and Merry Christmas-Present-Making!
A Hug from the Kitchen
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