Last Valentine’s Day, I tried to show y’all my love via candy, but it ended up being kind of creepy and flesh-colored with an unpleasant texture. This year, taking no chances, I enlisted the help of actually having all the proper ingredients and a Bob, who is better at candy making because he reads directions carefully and does not always consider “just wing it” to be a valid approach to kitchen shenanigans.
If I were a dragon I would probably sit on a horde of candied fruit.
Among all the shiny, sugary candies out there, none are quite so opulent as candied fruits. They look like enormous, shining jewels. But you can eat them! The best of all worlds! When fruits are boiled in a concentrated syrup (read: sugar in water), the boiling softens them and they become infused with the dissolved sugar. This results in a softer texture and a very sweet taste, but it also preserves the fruit. Much like the high salt concentrations in cured meats, the high sugar concentrations in candied fruits discourage spoilage by microbes via osmosis which keeps the interior of the fruit too dry for food-ruining microbes to thrive in. And that’s not the only mechanism by which sugar acts as a preservative. It can also interrupt microbes’ enzyme activity, break down their DNA, or indirectly support other preserving processes like fermentation.
Whole fruits can take entire days, or even months to preserve with sugar, but thin pieces (scientifically put: those with a higher surface area to mass ratio), can be done in a matter of hours. Which brings me to today’s sweet experiment: candied orange peels. They’re a little bit time-consuming, even with 2 hours of unattended boiling in the middle, but they are otherwise incredibly simple to make, and they look oh-so-pretty when you’re done.
Other bonuses include making your house smell amazing, and the orange syrup they leave behind (quite possibly even more delicious than the candies themselves) has all kinds of tasty uses.
I used a recipe from my trusty Sweet Temptations cookbook, which is also where I got my Turkish delight recipe, but I’m pretty sure that fiasco was not the book’s fault. I liked this recipe because it called for a lot less sugar than most recipes I found online which use as much (or more) sugar as they do water and that seems like a waste of sugar.
Step one, obtain orange peels, was perhaps the biggest chore. Getting the peel off in large, even pieces is not hard if you first roll the orange between your hands or on a counter top to separate the pith from the fruit (like a very firm massage, but not hard enough to break the peel). But separating the pith from the peel was a little tedious. The thickest part of the pith could be sliced off each 1/8th of a peel with a sharp knife, but the rest had to be scraped off, which took up to a minute per piece, and that adds up.
They look like orange leeches at this stage, but they don’t taste like leeches. I assume.
Step two was much, much less effort: boil peels in syrup for 2 hours. The important (and sciency) part of step two is that one should not stir the syrup while the orange peels are boiling. As the water in the syrup boils away, the sugar solution becomes more and more concentrated. Eventually, the solution will become supersaturated, which means that there is now more sugar dissolved in the water than would otherwise be possible. This makes the solution very unstable- not in an explosions! sort of way (probably for the best), but in a “might spontaneously crystallize” sort of way. Disturbing the solution, especially by suddenly changing the temperature gradient as stirring would, can make the excess sugar begin to crystallize, which ruins the syrup and can change the texture of the candy.
The finishing step (three, if you’re counting), simply called for draining the syrup (and saving it for later!) from the peels, and rolling them in sugar before drying in a not-very-hot oven or overnight. Dipping them in dark chocolate later was optional, so I dipped some and not others. Though unless you hate chocolate, dark chocolate, I would not call it optional at all. The taste is complex but elegant, if you don’t mind my waxing eloquent about fruit: subtle, sweet, and soft with touches of tartness with a smooth bitterness from the chocolate and a light crunch from the sugar. This has probably been the most successful candy venture of my life. Although since Bob helped, I can’t be sure the peels wouldn’t have come out as limp and chewy tentacles had I done this on my own.
The finished product. So pretty! So tasty!