The Other Confit
Candied citrus with a twist
Candy has a funny way of triggering joy and nostalgia in even the most world-weary adults. The sight, smell, taste, and even the package crinkle can be a reminder of childhood days past.
As I have watched my kiddo carefully ration her Halloween candy over the last few weeks I have caught myself mentally sorting it as well, organizing it by which I would be enjoying first. And despite my love for all things chocolate and peanutty (I’m looking at you, peanut butter cups), my true love is sour candy.
Sour is one of the fundamental tastes, along with sweet, bitter, salty, and umami. Sour denotes the presence of acid and the correct use of acid is one of the basic skills in a cook’s repertoire. Acid comes in the obvious forms like citrus and vinegar, but anything with a pH less than 7 is an acid and can function as such in a recipe.
The key ingredient in sour candy is unlikely to be something you have in your kitchen, but you might just fall in love when you try it. Citric acid, the ingredient that gives sour candy its mouthwatering pucker, is the same acid that gives lemons their distinctive sour, but without the lemon flavour. And unlike juice or vinegar it doesn’t add liquid to your recipe so you can add sourness without changing consistency. You can add it by the pinch to all kinds of dishes that just need a little “something”. Citric acid is available at most bulk bin stores (or from your favourite online retailers) and keeps a long time if kept sealed and dry.
One of the best ways to experiment with citric acid is to combine it with sugar for a sour/sweet experience. And combined with citrus confit you can have a fun and unique candy experience made from the peels you usually toss in the compost.
Confit, you will recall from a few weeks back, was the slow simmering method we used to make the ever-delicious garlic confit. And while fat-based confits like duck and garlic are well-known, pastry chefs also get in on the technique with sugar syrup. Citrus is a natural for the confit technique and it’s a much easier technique than you might imagine.
Ready to make some candy?
Measuring cups and spoons
Fine mesh strainer
Fork or whisk
Parchment or waxed paper
3-5 citrus fruits (orange, lemon, lime, or grapefruit)
Water for blanching
1 1/2 cups (300 grams) white sugar, divided
1 cup water
1 tablespoon (10 grams) citric acid
Peel your citrus fruit and slice peel into thin strips. Eat some fruit or save for another use. If the pith is REALLY thick (like with some grapefruit), you can trim some away to cut down the bitterness.
Add peel to pot full of water and bring to a boil. Boil for approximately 5-6 minutes, then drain. This blanching process will help to remove the bitter flavour of the citrus pith.
Repeat blanching process twice more (three times total) starting with fresh cold water each time. Thicker peels can have a fourth blanching. Set peel aside to drain completely after final blanching.
Bring 1 cup of water and 1 cup of sugar to a boil. Add peels and cook for approximately 35-40 minutes. Thin peels like lime will need about 25-30 minutes and thicker peels like grapefruit as much as 50 minutes. Peels should be bright and the pith translucent.
Strain peels onto cooling rack over sheet pan using slotted spoon. Spread out so they are not settling into clumps. Allow to cool to room temperature.
In a clean bowl combine 1/2 cup sugar with 1 tablespoon citric acid. Whisk to combine and remove lumps. Give it a taste to make sure - citric acid is powerful stuff, so add a little more sugar if it’s too sour for you!
Toss cooled peels with sugar mixture and spread on parchment to cool and set (overnight or at least 5 hours).
Store in a sealed container at room temperature for a up to a month.
If the citric acid isn’t your thing you can use plain sugar and they will still taste great.
But what to do with these little strips of sweet/sour/bitter awesomeness? They make an interesting garnish on fruit and dessert plates and platters, can top sorbet or ice cream, or even garnish a cocktail (old fashioned, anyone?) I have my peel under lock and key to keep the snackers out of it - some of it may even survive until Christmas.
The technique of confit, whether fat or sugar, doesn’t require fancy tools or complicated ingredients. Candy-making is well within your reach with a little patience and a little technique.