Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Just Add Sugar

My friend Angela says that I should blog about food and cooking on here, since it is creative. And, I'm inclined to agree! Food writing is really fun. And, in that food involves trial and error, reaching out of your comfort zone, and creating beauty, it definitely qualifies.

Whenever a seasonal food is about to go out of season, all of a sudden I am obsessed. I need to make 5 thousand dishes with this one food, before it is GONE. FOREVER! Or, until next year, which still seems like a really long time. Clementines won't be in the stores for much longer, and I love love love love LOVE them. Last year I discovered a recipe for clementine cake. I don't think I need to tell you that this dessert was a revelation, and was made, let's just say, more than once, that winter. I also made orange clementine self-saucing pudding. And I tried making marmalade (my love of this condiment knows no bounds) with some kumquats I bought on impulse. Unfortunately, it didn't set. (Not that this setback stopped me from pouring the oozy concoction over pancakes a few weekends in a row, awesometown).

The marmalade is for a future post, since I'm still getting up the courage to try it again. I might have to ask my expert-marmalade-maker nana for advice. But this week, I checked something else off my never-did-this-must-must-must-do-it list: candied citrus peel. The first night, I started with clementines (Did I mention that I LOVE them?), and became ambitious the second night, making orange, grapefruit, lemon, and lime peel. I'm crazy, right?

Turns out? It's not at all hard. Basically, you:

1. Cut off the ends of the fruit, if needed. Score the peel in quarters, peel off, cut into little strips.

2. Cover with cold water, bring to the boil, drain. Repeat twice. This is to get the bitterness out.
3. Mix together enough water to cover the peel, and equal parts sugar. Melt sugar, bring to a boil, and simmer for an hour or so.
4. Drain, let dry on baking racks.
5. You can coat them with sugar, or dip in chocolate. I didn't do the chocolate, mostly because I was lazy, but also because they were just so damn good on their own.

It all went fairly smoothly. I decided that coating the peel with sugar wasn't really necessary, and didn't do it after the clementine batch. Number one, it kind of dried in clumps. I might try pulsing some sugar in a food processor to make it superfine next time, but honestly (and this is number two): it's already sweet enough. I love the strident citrus flavor with a background of sweet.

There's a little rule in cooking that I am always relearning: a recipe is not the gospel - use common sense. The recipe I used for the clementines called for 4 cups of water and 4 cups of sugar. For 6 clementines. 4 cups of sugar? OMFG. But I followed the instructions blindly, learning my lesson later. The leftover citrus-y syrup is pretty delicious, so no big deal. I've put it in the freezer until I can think of something to use it for. And sugar is definitely on the shopping list.

Nectar of the gods?
For the orange, grapefruit, lemon, and lime peel, I looked at a lot of other recipes, to get a consensus. Which was: use just enough water to cover the peel, and equal parts sugar.

The limes were lovely and tart, and dried nice and firm. Although they lost their vibrant green color once they hit the boiling water.

I used two grapefruits, one of which was more pink in color, the other more yellow, so there was a striking variation. (You can see this particularly in the drying rack photo, bottom.)

The prettiest.
Some recipes stridently instructed me to resist the temptation to stir the peel, because sugar crystals might form on the edge. Sugar crystals, gasp! Oh no, we can have that!

You know what? I stirred it a few times. Horrors! And no one died. Also, no sugar crystals. Wonders never cease.

Lemons, nice and strong and sweet.
At some point I ran out of drying racks. This, people, is why you don't try to make 4 different kinds of candied citrus peel all in one weekday evening. (This is also why you count how many drying racks you have. Math is hard.) I stayed up pretty late doing this, probably fueled by all the citrus-y sugar water that I drank in spoonfuls licked off the wooden spoon once or twice because my middle name is Restraint.

Oranges were the only fruit where I trimmed the pith - there was just so much of it. I could have done that with the grapefruit too, but I'm glad I didn't -  the pith has great texture. So next time, I'm throwing caution to the wind and leaving it all on. Living life on the wild side, right here!

Now, what do I do with all this peeled fruit?


Turk said...

I ate the left over fruit when I made citrus peels.

CFG said...

"They dried nice and firm." Dirty!

I can attest that these were delish, and Jack liked them too. And! I had a vodka tonic the other day, but we were out of limes, so we added some lemon juice and some candied lime peel. YUM. (Only problem: one of the lime peels was still stuck to the glass when I took it out of the dishwasher.)

SKFitz said...

The grapefruit, oranges, and clementines got gobbled up in a few days, and a few lemons have been squeezed over fish. I've been thinking about lime bars (same as lemon bars but I'm sure I could do it with limes?)

I might need to make a vodka tonic tonight, that's a great idea!