Contrary to what most think, citron is not the plural of all citrus fruit. Citron is actually it’s own breed and is said to be the oldest form of citrus that originated in Southeast Asia. Although citron is now grown in many more countries around the world, it’s rarely found fresh in the US and, when it is, it’s usually only available in specialty food shops and high-end grocery stores like Whole Foods. Having said this, if you ever see it, I suggest you hoard it since, when freshly candied, citron tastes unbelivably floral and has a dense, chewy texture that translates into an overall exquisite eating experience. Oh–and just in case you think you’ve tried citron and don’t like it because the only kind you’ve had is store-bought–There is NO comparison between homemade candied citron (as well as candied orange and lemon rind) and the small, hard, placid squares found in the supermarket (or even on the web)! Trust me, it’s like comparing a gorgeous palace with a bowling alley.
Now that I’ve hopefully peaked your curiosity, here’s what a fresh citron looks like…
They can grow to be ridiculously large–but are most often sold like above, the size of a very large pebbley looking lemon that’s the size of a grapefruit–This (above) or a bit smaller is the size I’m talking about and is what you should use to make candied citron.
The interior of citron is not at all the prize–the flesh is dry (like an over-the-hill orange) and a bit leathery–It’s the outer rind that you want. Fresh citron has a hard, thick outer rind and the fruit looks like this when cut open. (The “rind” is considered everything above the interior fruit-flesh.)
See how thick the rind is?? After a series of blanching, draining and then long, slow cooking in a thick sugar syrup, the thick, initially intensly bitter layer of white pith is rendered much less bossy– retaining just enough bite to spar playfully with the candy.
See how little fruit there is in comparison to the rind?
After cutting citron into wedges, you need to remove the inner fruit. You can use a grapefruit spoon. I just use my fingers to pry it out.
Boil the peel 2 times (uncovered), over high heat, in two separate batches of rapidly boiling water, for 10 minutes each time. (8 minutes each for thick-skinned oranges, lemons and grapefruit). As a time saver, I bring two pots to a boil, then after blanching the first time, I just drain the peel and then dump the pieces into the second pot. If you use one pot, rinse the interior after draining and fill with fresh water–bring to a boil and proceed.
Here (below) is the citron after the first blanching. Although initially very rigid, the rind starts to soften.
Here is what they look like after the second blanching. Much more bendable.
For 1 or 2 citron (or 2 oranges and 2 lemons and 1 grapefruit): After draining the blanched citron strips, I make a sugar syrup in a 12-inch, deep-sided skillet with 3 cups water, 3 1/2 cups granulated sugar and 1/2 cup light corn syrup. The syrup is important to keep the citron supple, after cooking.
After whisking together the syrup ingredients, bring the mixture to a boil. Add the blanched citron to the boiling syrup.
Place a sheet of parchment paper directly over the top (actually sitting on the fruit and syrup).
Place a heat-proof bowl on top of the paper, to help weight it down.
This set up (above) helps to prevent excess condensation from forming and diluting the syrup. The goal is to reduce the syrup slowly–keeping the peel submerged.
Turn the heat to low and simmer the citron rind at a slow but bouncy bubble for between 1 3/4 to 2 hours (about 1 hour for oranges, lemons and grapefruit). After each 30 minutes, lift the paper and check how things are doing.
The point is to simmer until the syrup completely penetrates (permiates) the white pith. Once very tender, remove the paper and raise the heat, only to medium.—Now you’ll cook the liquid a bit more briskly in order to evaporate some of the water in the already reduced syrup. The syrup will seem very foamy on top and will bubble quite furiously.
As the liquid reduces, lower the heat. At this point, let your nose be your guide. Don’t allow the liquid to color beyond a very light amber. You will smell the syrup turn–this is when it becomes candy–if you let this go too far, the syrup will be too flavorful and will overwhelm the citron with an overly cooked taste.
Here is how the citron should look when you remove it from the syrup. It should be perfectly tender and the syrup should hug the rind.
Spray a wire cooling rack with flavorless vegetable spray and lay the candied citron on the rack in a single layer. If planning to sugar-coat the pieces, only allow them to settle until just warm. If allowed to sit too long, the outside will lose it’s sticky quality, which is what the sugar needs to adhere to.
After rolling in sugar, place back on the rack and allow them to dry for a few hours. Cover and store at room temperature.
Below is a combination of candied and sugared orange and lemon rind.
(Be forwarned, all types of sugared-candied citrus rind are, for me, a real weakness. When it’s in the house, it haunts me until every last strip is gone!)
If not planning to sugar-coat, then allow the pieces to dry on the rack for a few hours or overnight. Use an oiled chef’s knife to cut into small pieces …
Chopped candied citron…
Chopped candied orange and lemon rind…
Isn’t it amazing how you can almost experience the vibrancy of flavor just by looking? Just delicious!!
Oh–and if wondering what you might do with the candied chopped up citron, lemon and orange rind. How about some Panettone!
And how about…
Hot cross buns! (Recipe coming…)
The Point: Although, because of lack of availablity (and or timing constraints) we will, at times, need to use store-bought candied citron as well as other kinds of rind. But, since oranges, lemons and grapefruits are always available and since the eating experience with the homemade version is so elevated, I wanted to show you how do it yourself. I promise–the taste and texture is worth every second!