A Glacé Act

Virgil Evetts

At the risk of startling more than a few of you, I feel it timely to point out that Christmas is coming, (at an alarming rate of knots), and the goose is getting positively obese.  I’m not telling you this to induce the cold sweats of Christmas-shopping-yet-to-be-done, but from a purely practical point of view.  If, like me, you’re of the ‘everything from scratch’ persuasion, you really need to be getting on with your Christmas cakes, mince and puddings.  But in terms of offering recipes for those old chestnuts, I’m not about to enter the fray.  Way too subjective.  No, this week I’m campaigning in defence of a much-maligned ingredient, and one that is quite indispensible to myriad festive classics – glacé peel.

I’m well aware that peel is not to everyone’s taste – I myself grew up hating the stuff with an inflexible passion, but over time have come to realise that there is peel, and then there is PEEL, if you follow.

Thanks to the laziness and general beige-ification of mass-produced foods, most of us today only know glacé (or candied) peel as that finely diced, insipid and implacably nasty stuff found in sweaty little packs on supermarket shelves. We tend to associate it with foods we eat out of habit, but possibly hate (in my case, Christmas cake).  It’s become a real going-though-the-motions type of ingredient.

Like so many previously esteemed culinary crafts -and candying fruit surely was esteemed-, the process has been bastardised by time, mechanisation and a less than discriminating market, (or perhaps in fairness one that doesn’t know any better).

In its original form glacé peel – be it made from citron (cedro), lemon or orange – is a succulent, jube-like pleasure, headily fragrant and glowingly pretty.  During the slow process of candying, natural citrus oils are drawn deep into the skin from the outer layer of zest, along with brine and sugar syrup, saturating the peel and imparting a gorgeously glassy – i.e glacé – appearance.  In France and Italy, this luscious sweet-meat is not merely the obligatory addition to heavy festive baking, but a relished and costly treat to be savoured au natural.

Candying fruit is a true artisan craft, requiring great skill and patience. In years gone by, European candy makers would flaunt their talents through displays of whole pineapples and great hands of bananas – all perfectly preserved in this manner, luminously lovely as if they were carved from glass. Like so many traditional crafts, even in its home-lands, it is a dying art.  Little has ever been written about it – especially in English – and it’s a skill many years in the making.

Well I wasn’t about to let that get in my way.  When it comes to clever food – and candied peel is quite the cleverest – I have a child-like need to understand, to know how it works.  And bit by bit, like many foods before it, the baffling mechanics of glacé peel consumed my every thought. So I spent untold hours reading, bought a sack of sugar, purloined a load of lemons, suffered some nasty burns in unlikely places, and in an around-about sort of way, taught myself to candy.

The following recipe, the fruit of my labours if you will, produces something akin to a true Italian or French-style glacé peel. The finished goods should be translucent, delicately flavoured and fairly dry to the touch, and if stored correctly will last for several years.

But this isn’t one of those quick-fix, boiled-in-syrup and rolled-in-castor-sugar affairs so often presented as glacé peel.  This is a recipe for people who take their kitchen projects seriously, and for people who find happiness in geeky authenticity. People like me.

Technically, it’s possible to candy any sort of fruit, but so far my own ability and inclination has not extended beyond citrus peel.  That said, if you can manage it with a watermelon (why does that sound so indecent?) I just might want to marry you – gender irrespective.

At any rate, this recipe works swimmingly with oranges and lemons, but for some reason limes just don’t play nicely with the process – instead becoming leathery and ruddy.

All-up, the whole hullabaloo takes 2-3weeks; whether you’re working with 200 kilos or 200 grams of peel. Don’t let that put you off though – for most of that time the peel will be sitting in a bucket of syrup or brine, quietly minding its own business. The process relies on very little actual cooking, (which would impart a marmaldey-bitterness to the peel and damage its lovely svelte texture), instead employing the process of osmosis to draw tasteless, treacherous water from the tissue, and replace it with sweet, preservative sugar.

Glacé peel

This recipe is designed for roughly 1 kilo of peel, but you can safely multiply without risk of incident.

Ingredients:

1 kg organic citrus peel

1 kg+ sugar

1 kg salt

2 cups+ glucose/dextrose powder (available at the supermarket or a home-brew shop) 

 

1.    Use only organic citrus peel -the thicker the better. (The skin of conventionally grown citrus is not intended for human consumption, and is therefore doused repeatedly with some very nasty things indeed. Organic fruit is not spray-free by any means, but the chemicals used are considerably less life-threatening.) Peel the fruit into two or three large sections (this is purely an aesthetic thing), and take care to remove all fruit pulp.

2.    Make a brine solution from a kilo of non-iodised sea salt stirred into to about 8 litres of cold water.  Add the peel and use a weighted plastic colander or sieve to keep it completely submerged.  It’s important that nothing metallic is left in contact with the brine; the slightest hint of rust will taint an entire batch of peel.  Keep in a cool dark place and drape with a tea towel to keep out flies.   

3.    Check the peel each day and carefully remove any scum or mould that forms on the surface.  The peel will require approximately 1 week in the brine. 

4.    After 1 week, drain and rinse the peel in fresh water. 

5.    Make a syrup from 4 cups of water, 1 cup of sugar and 2 cups glucose powder.  Bring to the boil and simmer until sugar and glucose are dissolved.  Remove from the heat and add peel. 

6.    The next day, remove peel from syrup, add 1 cup of sugar and re-boil. Remove from heat and return peel to hot syrup. 

7.    Repeat daily for five days. 

8.    At the end of five days the peel should look quite translucent and the syrup will be very thick.  Remove peel from syrup and carefully wipe away any excess.  (The left-over syrup can be used as a sauce for desserts/cakes.) 

9.    Dry the peel in a very low oven (well below 100° Celsius) or a dehydrator, until the pith no longer exudes syrup when gently squeezed.  Take great care not to over-dry or burn the peel.  

10. Once dried, allow peel to cool completely. Rub with a very small amount of olive oil (to prevent desiccation and crystallisation). Keep in an airtight container in the fridge. 

Use your peel (roughly chopped) in Christmas cake, fruit mince, Christmas puddings, hot-cross buns, Panettone, Pandoro, Cassata, sliced very thinly and served as part of a cheese platter, or dipped in good quality dark chocolate. 

So forget all you think you know about glacé peel, because believe me – this is not just any old peel. 

 

Have you started your Christmas baking yet?

What do you have planned?

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18 thoughts on “A Glacé Act

  1. Would this brining then glaceeing work with other things: whole figs? Chestnuts? What, Virgil, do you think the brining does? Is it alchemy? The peel I remember from childhood (like little boats) was full of frosty glassy lumps of sugar, too hard to crack with our teeth although we tried.

  2. The brining- I think- does two things: It opens up and relaxes the cells, making them better able to absorb the sugar and it allows for a very controlled anaerobic fermentation to occur, which helps to mellow the flavour and remove bitterness. Well that’s my guess anyway having given it quite a bit of thought. The same could be achieved by boiling the peel, but at the expense of flavour and texture.
    This stuff should not contain any crystallised sugar at all.
    It might work with green figs- I haven’t tried and ditto for chestnuts. They would certainly be easier than soft fruits like strawberries and plums.
    I just remembered that I have applied the method to pumpkin, which is (in glacé form) a popular ingredient in some Italian baking. It worked very well and produced a surprisingly fragrant, quite fudgy result.

  3. Hmmm
    Interesting point and you might have just have found a clue to the origin of the recipe. The use of citrus in candy making is generally attributed to Moorish influence in Europe (especially Spain) and preserved lemons are about as Moorish as you can get. However, I suspect the presence of the juice and pulp would cause trouble here. The acid in the juice would probably damage the peel and affects its absorbency. You could try!

  4. I did imagine removing the pulp and using the peel only – but then again the whole process from scratch sounds like my kind of fun, and there are an obscene amount of lemons dropping to the ground in my neck of the woods, this appeals to the geek in me too – plus I hate paying the amount I do in Sabato each year when I make panforte. I am also going for Pfeffernüsse this year for my German sister-in-law – honey spicey peppernut biscuits

  5. I feel a complete ignoramus on this topic! I think I will have to try some quality glace fruit to see what it is like – it will have to be purchased though as I doubt I will make my own……… I love and buy good dried fruit but have only ever had supermarket type glace fruit I think.

  6. Cheese Lover, look for some glacé citron or cedro in a good deli. It looks like a big green lemon. It’s very pricey, but a couple of thin slices will give you an idea on what you have been missing!

  7. Hi Lota
    Sorry to confuse you-
    It’s all the same syrup. Each day you remove the peel from the syrup, add another cup of sugar to the syrup, re-boil it (the syrup), remove from the heat and return the peel (to the syrup!). The point is you don’t want to damage the peel by boiling it with the syrup, as doing so changes the flavour and texture, so you remove it each time.
    Hope that clears things up!
    Virgil

  8. Wonderful idea & article! Thankyou for sharing your inspiration. I’m also a ‘would be’ of the ‘everything from scratch’ persuasion. hehe.

    • I made this for Christmas gifts back in 2009 & plan to make it again this year. It really was sensational – especially dipped in 70% dark chocolate.

  9. Hi Virgil
    Love your articles – especially when you do all the research on topics which have intrigued me but I’ve been too lazy to pursue. Have been (every Christmas) remembering the lemon my mother used in the 40’s and 50’s(described very well by Stephanie T) when she was doing her baking – as children we used to suck the big lump of sugar which nestled inside the lemon halves – was straight sugar and not particularly tasty but it was part of the Christmas ritual and therefore memorable.

  10. Hi Virgil

    I love the idea of making glace peel from scratch. I have just finished my first batch of lemon peel using the recipe you published in the NZ Gardener recently. I notice that you didn’t put the brining process in that recipe. I presume that it will still work without it – mine seems delicious without it.

    One other question, is it possible to reuse the syrup in the next batch? I realise that this will be changing the original recipe dramatically, but wonder if you have figured out how this could be done.

    Thanks, Helen

    • Well spotted Helen
      I’ve since discovered the brining stage can be replaced by freezing the fruit, thus the improved version in Gardener. It actually works better as the brine can causes a lot of scum to form in the syrup and patches of white within the fruit. The left over syrup is a dilemma- I don’t think you could reuse it because the gradual increase in syrup concentration is the key part of the process. It could possibly be used to make some sort of sweet chilli sauce… with pureed tomatoes, garlic, chilli and rice vinegar. Now that might just work…

  11. Dear Helen thank you for your recipe for glacé lemon. I have tried this process with my home grown orange and grapefruit peel and it works quite well. The result is a transparent, fragrant and tasty candy with good texture. The was a distinct saltiness as well, so next time I’ll try soaking the peel in water for a few days changing the water each day to ensure the removal of the salt. This is the closest to the traditional Italian glacé cedro I remember from home as it preserves that delicate perfume. Thanks again and good cooking