Introduction: Candied Buddha's Hand Citron
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If you have never seen a Buddha's Hand Citron before you probably are thinking Monsanto has genetically engineered a cross between calamari and a lemon. Well, they probably have, but the mutant fruit you are looking at is actually a centuries old variety from Asia. They are strange and wonderful! Buddha's Hand Citron has an amazing floral fragrance but contains no juice at all. In fact they are solid pith - the white stuff inside more normal citrus skin constitutes the entire interior. Even more oddly, the pith is not bitter, unlike other citrus, and can even be eaten raw. Sadly it's not truly delicious...until you candy it! Candied Buddha's Hand Citron can be eaten by the fistful or you could add it to a loaf of Pannetone, Christmas Pudding, Fruit Cake or any other baked good that needs a fragrant chewy bite in it.
1 Buddha's Hand Citron
3 cups sugar
3 cups water
glass of ice water
strainer or colander
Step 1: Chop It Up
If you feel like the Buddha's Hand is looking at you, ignore it. It has no feelings. Put it on the cutting board and slice it in half deftly. Now you may put each half on it's flat side and slice it into half inch wide strips. Then slice the strips into sticks. Now dice them into 1/2 inch cubes.
Step 2: Syrup!
Put the chopped Buddha's Hand into the saucepot and add the 3 cups of water and 3 cups of sugar. Put it on medium heat and wait for it to boil. Immediately adjust the heat to a simmer and allow it to bubble slowly for somewhere near three quarters of an hour. As it reduces, the sugar syrup will become thicker and the fruit will start to become translucent. Don't be alarmed if some fruit retains whiteness during cooking because it will be transformed as it cools. The cooking is finished when the syrup reaches the thread stage, about 230*F-235*F, but you will not need a thermometer to test for the right consistency! The glass of ice water is the ideal test tube for the stages of cooked sugar syrups. See the next step for more details...
Step 3: Testing for the "Thread Stage"
If you are unfamiliar with the stages of cooking sugar syrups here is the simple explanation. As sugar syrup is boiled, the water in it is slowly evaporated, allowing the syrup to become hotter and hotter. The names of the stages correspond to how the syrup behaves when a spoonful is dropped into ice water. The more concentrated the sugar solution is, the firmer it becomes upon cooling. The thread stage is on the very low end of the spectrum, followed by soft ball, firm ball, and other stages that are not of concern to this instructable. The stages terminate in caramel, which terminates in carbon if you cook it long enough, but I digress.
Candied citrus peel requires the thread stage. At this point when the syrup is dripped into ice water it will form visible "threads" as it falls to the bottom of the glass, but these threads are actually still liquid and cannot be smooshed together into a ball. If you can make a ball of the cooled syrup, you have reached the soft ball stage or perhaps even worse. Candied peel cooked to soft ball or beyond will become super chewy or even hard, which is undesirable. If it happens to you, try to save the mistake by adding a little water back to the pot and cooking it down to the thread stage again. I encourage attentiveness to the process to prevent over cooked syrup.
Conversely, undercooked syrup results in candied peel that won't dry properly and will remain syrupy. Not a bad way to go for an ice cream topping, so stop cooking earlier if that sounds good to you! Undercooked syrup will make swirling clouds when you drip it in the ice water, but no threads.
Step 4: Strain and Dry
Once the Buddha's Hand has been cooked to the thread stage, turn off the heat and cool it in the pot for half an hour or so. The resting period helps the syrup to fully penetrate the fruit.
Now strain the fruit from the syrup, allowing it to sit again to ensure as much syrup as possible is removed. The syrup is truly delicious and should be saved. If you add it to a cup of black tea it is remarkably similar to Earl Grey (which incidentally is flavored with bergamot, a relative of citron.)
Spread the strained Buddha's Hand over a cookie sheet and allow it to dry. You may accelerate the process with a fan, if you are impatient like me :) Allow it to cure overnight. A very fine crystallized coating may form on the outside, which is a great sign. The candy may now be stored in an airtight container and used however you see fit!
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