It may seem a bit early to be preparing for Christmas but actually, many traditional British recipes were historically prepared months in advance, and doing so really helps the flavors to develop over time (especially when you add more brandy to them every 2 weeks!) It’s also really nice to get a few things out of the way early, because there’s always so much to do nearer the time.
This weekend I’ll be making my Christmas cake and Christmas puddings, both of which need candied peel as a key ingredient. I’ll also be needing candied peel to make mince pies in a few weeks. Candied peel is one of those things you can sometimes find in stores in America (in San Francisco at least) but not reliably and not usually until later in the year. It is a bit of a pain to make though, so if you can find it ready to buy, I recommend doing so, although the stuff I’ve seen in Safeway doesn’t look like the best and I couldn’t find any list of which fruits were in there.
I’ve been making my own for a couple of years now and the homemade peel can actually make a nice gift if you package it prettily. It’s essentially candy but for a slightly more refined palate, although there is fruit in there I’m not going to go making any claims that it’s any healthier than candy though!
Start by choosing your fruit. Oranges and lemons are definitely the best and there’s no real need to use any others. I tried with grapefruit one year and it worked out really well, and the long strips you get from it would be better suited to gifting. This year I tried with lime for some color variation but I don’t think I’ll bother next time.
Slice the fruit and remove the actual fruit part from the middle (or don’t if you just want pretty candy for gifting) and then slice into thin strips. If you just want it as a cooking ingredient you probably want to chop each strip into a few smaller pieces because it’s much easier to cut at this stage than later on. Put the pieces into a pan and cover with boiling water. Allow them to stand for 10 minutes and then drain off the water. Now add about 1 cup of sugar for every cup of fruit you have and about twice the amount of water. Bring the water to the boil and then turn down the heat till it’s just simmering. You’ll want to let it simmer for about 2 hours, until most of the water has evaporated. Be careful not to let it go too far, if the mixture starts to turn a caramel brown (instead of a honey yellow), drain it immediately or you’ll be left with a sticky mess.
If you’re cooking with the peel you can use the drained fruit straight away or keep it in an airtight container for a few days. If you want it to be suitable for eating on its own, you’ll need to do another step. Lay the peels out on a baking sheet and stick them in the oven at a really low temperature (no higher than 200F). They’ll need to dry out in the oven for several hours, even overnight. Ideally you’ll turn them over half way. If the temperature is too high they’ll start to caramelize and they’ll end up crunchy, which could be tasty but isn’t what we’re going for. Once they’ve dried out so they’re not really sticky anymore, put them in a jar with a couple of spoons of sugar and shake to coat each piece. As long as it’s in an airtight environment, it’ll keep for at least a year.