I don’t do a lot of baking for Christmas, but if I do, it’s likely I’m going to make plum puddings (which, technically speaking, are steamed, not baked), or maybe a fruit cake of some kind. I haven’t decided yet. But the time to make either of these has already passed: Stir-up Sunday, which falls on November 22nd this year, is the last Sunday before the beginning of Advent, and is traditionally the day when puddings are made. A cake rich with fruit and nuts would ideally be made even earlier than this. So I need to get going, since both cakes and puddings benefit from an aging or ripening period before they are eaten. And both cakes and puddings have several ingredients in common, one of which is candied peel.
Now, you can buy candied peel in any supermarket, or even at your local bulk store. And through it looks colourful, and sticky-sweet, I find the bought versions to be almost devoid of anything resembling the flavour of the fruit the peel came from. So, I make my own. It’s not at all difficult, and it tastes WAY better. After all, if I’m going to go to the trouble and expense of making puddings or cakes, I want them to be amazing. You can even set some of the finished product aside and sprinkled with sugar or dipped in chocolate … a nice treat to have with coffee at the end of a meal.
One other reason I make my own is that I can choose what kind of fruit goes into my baking. I have family members and friends who take statins, drugs intended to help control blood cholesterol levels. People who take statins cannot eat grapefruit; the side effects can be extremely serious. Grapefruit peel is a common ingredient in store-bought versions of mixed peel. By using only orange, lemon or, (if I can find it), citron peel, I can ensure that I’m not going to cause anybody problems.
Anyway, here’s how it’s done:
- Take several oranges, lemons or grapefruit, or any combination thereof, and wash them well.
- Score the skin of the fruit from stem-end to flower-end into equal sections, then carefully peel the sections of skin off. I separate the skins to prevent flavour transfer … I’m not sure if this is really a problem, but this way, I’m can be sure it won’t be:
- Cover the peels with salted water (1 tablespoon salt for every quart of water), and let it stand overnight.
- Drain the peels and rinse well. Then, transfer them to a saucepan, and cover with cold water.
- Bring the water and peels to a boil, then drain and cover again with cold water. Repeat this 2 more times. After the 3rd water change, simmer them until the peels have softened and lost their bitter taste.
- While the peels are simmering, make a sugar syrup with 2 cups of sugar, 1 cup of water and ⅓ cup of light/white corn syrup. (The corn syrup helps to prevent the sugar from re-crystallizing when the peels are finally cooked). Bring the mixture to the boil, swirling the contents of the pan (carefully – it’s hot!) to wash down any sugar crystals on the side of the pan. When the sugar is completely dissolved, turn the heat down to low.
- When the peels are done simmering, drain them, and run cold water over them so you can handle them.
- Now, this step is optional. If the peels had a lot of white pith on them after pulling them off the fruit, you can use a knife to slice this off:
I do this because the pith is still pretty nasty tasting. When you cook it in the syrup, it will become sweeter, but it’s still sweet-tasting nastiness.
- Next, slice the peel into thin strips:
- Add the strips to the sugar syrup, return the syrup to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the strips of peel are transparent. This can take an hour or more, depending on the fruit you’re using.
- When the peel is done, remove it from from the heat, and let it cool until the mixture is just warm.
- At this point, you can strain the peel out of the syrup and arrange it on a wire rack to dry, or you can pour the peel AND the syrup into a jar and cover it tightly until you are ready to use it.