I love love love candied peel. I used to run to the baking cupboard and cram spoonfuls of it in my mouth when my mum wasn’t looking. It was my favourite bit of any fruitcake or barmbrack. This is especially odd since I don’t like oranges as a fruit, juice or flavouring, and generally eschew citrus fruits of all kinds. But mellow those citrus rinds in vats of sugar and it’s hypnotic to me.
An inability to read recipes a few weeks ago meant I ended up with an overabundance of grapefruits when making marmalade for cake and found myself wondering what to do with them all. A casual Twitter conversation about Christmas preparations brought about a massive lightbulb moment. I would make my own candied peel. Never mind if it was incredibly faffy and complicated: I could rise to the challenge!
Imagine my glee when this Waitrose recipe popped up and I realised candying my own peel was actually easier than pie. Radio on, sleeves rolled up, I set about peeling and de-pithing my citrus fruit. I had a mix of pomelo, ruby grapefruit, lemons and orange, but avoided limes as I thought it might be too overwhelming, like cordial.
Get four pans going on your hob and simmer the peels separately in hot water for about 20 minutes to soften them up. Then split the peels into two pots to simmer in the syrup. I actually made two batches of candied peel and found it easier to keep the peels bigger and cram less peel into the pans as they bubble and soak up the sugar. I just did two batches of the syrup to be sure nothing caught or burned. Keep the heat down low as you can, you only want the merest blip in the syrup to stop it getting bitter or caramelising. Then go off and do stuff while your house smells truly amazing…
I came back to my peel when there was still a tiny bit of syrup left, and lifted the biggest pieces out with tongs, laying them on baking trays. The smaller bits went into a sieve to drip any excess syrup off, as you don’t want so much syrup on the pieces: they dry crunchy and I didn’t fancy trying to boil my pan dry and win the challenge. I then left the trayfuls of peel in the living room to dry as it was the only place I had room, but the airing cupboard or anywhere the cat can’t walk on them will do.
About three days later, I turned the peel with tongs and left for another two or three days or until I remembered about it. I popped it in a ziplock bag, with a tablespoon or so of icing sugar, and shook it up to coat it and stop it sticking together. Some went into the Christmas mincemeat. Some went into cellophane bags to give as gifts. The rest was stored in a jar to be used for various festive recipes closer to the time and the leftover syrup stored for a drizzle cake or put on porridge or ice cream.
So if you didn’t do a cake on Stir-Up Sunday, impress people with homemade candied peel instead. You will never buy one of those tiny tubs again after you’ve tasted the citrus sensation of making your own. It tastes as good as it looks!