Candied peel is an essential ingredient in some cakes, cookies, buns, puddings and especially mincemeat. Nothing else can replace it. But luckily, if you cannot find it for sale in your locality, you will most likely be able to make it from scratch.
What is Candied Peel?
It is the peel from citrus fruit, which has been washed, cut and then boiled in sugar syrup until it becomes translucent. Dried and stored, it lasts for a very long time in your pantry. It's worth the time and effort involved in making it, as you can produce a batch that may last a whole year.
The best time to make it is, of course, when citrus fruit is in season1. Depending on the variety, this will usually be in the winter months in the northern hemisphere. This is when you'll find the freshest oranges and lemons. As you'll only be using the peel, you'll have some quality fruit to use for other recipes or freshly squeezed juice.
You need to select the best fruit you can find. Choose those with unblemished skin if you can, and try to buy fruit that has not been sprayed with wax. (If you can only obtain the waxed variety, scrub each fruit firmly under running hot water to remove the wax.) Unwaxed citrus fruit is much more preferable.
Once you've bought your fruit you'll need to check you have enough sugar and then you can begin. You will need:
- 4 oranges
- 2 lemons
- 125g white sugar
- 200ml water
Remove the peel from the oranges. The simplest way to do this is to chop a small section off the top and bottom of the orange; you'll not be using these bits of peel anyway. Then cut down the sides of the orange in segments as shown in the photo.
The alternative way is to use the peel after you've juiced the fruit, eg for lemon juice. The peel is harder to deal with this way, as you need to strip out all the inner bits from round the actual fruit. You need to end up with just the outer zest and the white pith.
Then, cut the peel into strips and blanch it three times. Place the cut peel into a pan of cold water and bring it to a boil. Throw this water away and repeat twice more. This blanching removes the bitterness from the pith. Drain the peel well in a colander.
Put the sugar and the water into the pan and bring to the boil, stirring carefully. Be warned, boiling syrup is very hot!
Add the drained peel and gently bring back to a simmer. Once you've ensured that the pan can be safely left, simmering gently, put your timer on for 30 mins.
Check after 30 mins to ensure your pan is not boiling dry, and stir the fruit carefully.
Keep cooking the fruit, checking every ten minutes or so until the pith becomes translucent. You may find that unwaxed fruit cooks a lot faster than peel that had been sprayed.
Once the peel is soft and the pith translucent, remove the pan from the heat and prepare a few plates, or non-stick baking paper, to spread your peel onto. Drain the peel but retain the syrup. The syrup can be stored in a clean glass jar for future use in puddings or drinks. It will be nicely scented with the oranges.
Allow the peel to dry in a clean place, which may take a day or so depending on the atmospheric humidity. You may also find it dries quite well in an oven on a very low setting. Do not use too hot an oven or else this will discolour the fruit.
An alternative option is to dredge some of the peel in more sugar and allow to dry. This will give you a crystallised effect and an option for some of the peel to be used as sweetmeats or as decoration. You could even dip some in chocolate for homemade treats.
Finally, either chop the peel into small cubes for use in buns or puddings, or leave it in strips to use as garnish and decoration. Store the peel in a cool dark place, in a tub or storage jar. Use as required.