candied citrus peel

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Happy New Year’s Eve! Not that we actively participate in any associated celebratory events or anything, but still, a timely reminder to reflect on the past year. Did you learn anything new? Did you have an existential crisis? Did you gain weight? Did you fulfill all your resolutions? To all but the last one, I say yes. I certainly scraped a passing grade in all my subjects, and am dreading/anticipating but mostly dreading third year. And I don’t know if I made new friends, but I certainly made closer friends.

But perhaps most exciting of all, I finally got my first job ever yesterday! If anyone was reading my ramblings, they’d be rolling their eyes at the number of times I’ve mentioned failed interviews and blank résumés. I saw a newly put up sign calling for part-time waiters, walked in and miraculously got the job straight away. I’ve been busy all day pedaling around in my bike getting all sorts of thing ready for the job, like getting a health check-up, opening a bank account and the like. Like most jobs here, it only pays the basic labour rate (about a fifth of what I made on my tutoring job in Aus), but it’s the sort of thing I need to at least fill in the ‘experience’ column on my résumé. It’ll also spare me from extreme boredom and a TV addiction.

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What better way to round up 2015 than to make the origin of my namesake (5 orange peels) from scratch? Admittedly, candied orange peel isn’t exactly an essential ingredient in most recipes, and can be a little fussy to make, but the process is quite a calming and therapeutic one. Also, I saw a recipe today for the cutest orange chocolate cakelettes and thought the time was ripe for me to make my own candied peels.

Like me, you may like to experiment with other citrus fruits, of which I used oranges, a clementine, lemons, kumquats and a grapefruit today. Turned out that the green lemons had extraordinarily thick hard peels that refused to lose their integrity by the time the other fruits’ peels were done cooking; and the grapefruit turned out to be the best of the bunch with the most sweetness and least bitterness.

 

Candied citrus peel

assorted citrus fruits
sugar (for the simple syrup plus extra)

First thoroughly scrub the fruit clean under running water especially if not organic, in case there’s pesticides or mud.

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Cut off the top and bottom of each fruit and discard them, although you could save them if they don’t have too much of the weird bumpy bit, and if you cut off most of the white bitter pith.

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Depending on the size of the fruit, cut it into quarters or eighths, and separate the edible bit from the rind. Those edible bits don’t have to go to waste though! Simply get rid of the membranes and pips and turn into delicious iced tea.

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Slice into desired sized pieces.

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Blanche in boiling water, drain, repeat twice more. This helps get rid of some of the bitterness.

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Make a simple syrup consisting of 1 part of sugar, and 1 part of water (by weight). Boil the mixture until the sugar dissolves, then add the blanched peel. Make sure there’s enough syrup to cover most of the peel. Cook on low heat for 45 – 60 minutes until all the bitterness is gone and so is most of the syrup. Make sure to keep stirring once in a while so the bottom pieces don’t burn.

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Once cooled to room temperature, you may decide to leave them to dry as they are, coat them with caster sugar, or even dip in chocolate. The possibilities are endless, right now I’m thinking about a belated Christmas panettone…

citrus curd

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witness the tiny bubbles of airy-ness

Or rather, citrus cream, since it is unusually high in butter content than the more sour, traditional recipes out there. Also, it’s based on Pierre Hermé’s (who else!?) lemon cream recipe that I adore so much and love maybe even more than ice cream.

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relatively runny before chilling

It’s creamy, as you might expect from the butter, but also surprisingly light – texture wise, obviously, decadence is often accompanied by a high calorie count, but hey. This is probably due to the way the butter is incorporated: emulsified in its solid form, instead of melting it with the rest of the ingredients.

It’s perfect for a simple elegant lemon tart, which is what Hermé originally had in mind, and sets beautifully in an almond crust. I made a small batch of it this time to go into a white coconut cake for my mum’s impending birthday, just one whole egg plus a yolk, but you can multiply up to 4 times the amount.

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Cultured butter was on sale today, even cheaper than the regular kind, so of course I grabbed some to try baking with for the first time. My first impression was that it smelled like margarine, which I have an aversion to. However, as I tasted it, I found it a little tangy, as you might expect, with a more complex aftertaste. I don’t think it made a noticeable difference in the cake, but certainly well went with the citrusy theme in this curd and helped lift the flavours.

If you don’t feel like storing extra egg whites, feel free to use Hermé’s original recipe (which I’ll also include), which only uses whole eggs and has always turned out incredibly for me. I’m enriching mine with yolks today as I happen to have some left over from the white coconut cake.

[Insert your fav citrus fruit] curd (makes 4 cups)

165g granulated sugar
zest of 2/3 citrus fruits, ~ 2 tbsp
4 eggs + 4 yolks
180g fresh citrus juice
226g unsalted butter

Pierre Hermé’s lemon cream

200g sugar
finely grated zest of 3 lemons
4 large eggs
180g fresh lemon juice
298g unsalted butter

The method is the same for both recipes.

First make sure the butter is at room temperature and in 1 tbsp chunks, for easier incorporation later on. Place some water in a pot, about a knuckle deep is fine, and bring to a simmer.

In the meantime, in a bowl larger than the pot that doesn’t touch the water when you place it on top, rub the sugar and zest with your fingertips until the sugar is moist and fragrant. Whisk in the eggs (and yolks), followed by juice. It’s okay to have pips and pulp in the mixture at this stage, it’ll all be strained out later anyway.

Place the bowl on top of the pot of simmering water and start whisking slowly to avoid making sweet citrusy scrambled eggs. You may want to wear gloves or hold the bowl through a towel on the other hand, as the bowl heats up. Once in a while check that the water beneath doesn’t exceed a simmer, add more water if you need to to avoid burning the pot.

Keep whisking slowly until the mixture comes to 82°C/180°F. If you don’t have a thermometer, it’s possible to do this by looking at the texture. But if it’s your first time or want to ensure food safety (at least 60°C is needed to eliminate harmful bacteria), it’s handy to check the exact temperatures. The mixture at this point will have considerably thickened so that when you coat a spatula and run a finger down it, there will be an open channel.

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Also, if you’re whisking as vigorously as I was, you’ll notice the bubbles go from quite big to fine and foamy, then start to leave tracks as the mixture thickens. The whole cooking process takes about 10 minutes.

Once the mixture is at 82°C/180°F, strain into a clean bowl and put cling film directly on the surface to cool to 60°C/140°F, or about 10 minutes. When it’s slightly cooled, remove the cling film and blend in the butter a few pieces at a time. Hermé recommends a blender to maximise aeration, but an electric mixer is okay too. Beat for 3 more minutes after all the butter has been mixed in to achieve that airy mouth feel.

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It now needs a minimum of 4 hours in the fridge to reach its final custardy consistency. Cover with cling film on the surface so it doesn’t form a skin, and to stop condensation forming which could drip down and change the consistency.

When you’re ready to make a lemon tart, or fill a cake, or do some face-painting, give it a little whisk before using.

rough puff pastry

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Sorry in advance about the quality and quantity of the photos (or lack thereof) in this post and blog in general. In my defense, I was trying to do this in the middle of the night and am trying to save up for a decent camera.

Right then, the rough puff. It’s the less famous and glamorous brother to proper puff pastry that’s actually quite close to the real thing. There are less layers (243 instead of 729) and they come out less defined, but for the amount of time it saves, it puffs up beautifully and is great for almost everything you could use puff pastry for. It’s probably just the odd Mille-Feuille and a few others where you’d want maximum flakiness that it’s worth going through the time-consuming process. But if you haven’t got 3 hours, rough puff is every bit as buttery and versatile as its ‘official’ counterpart.

(Okay, it still takes a long time, but it eliminates the fear of butter poking through the pastry and it being too soft etc. If at any point the dough feels soft, not cold, or shrinking back I can just throw it in the fridge.)

It’s different to a laminated dough of a ‘real’ puff pastry in that instead of folding a block of butter (beurrage) into the dough proper (détrempe), you mix the butter straight into the flour and proceed with the folding. In other words, instead of thinning a single sheet of butter and folding it over itself time after time, you’re taking chunks of butter and thinning them while folding.

It starts with 4 simple ingredients: flour, butter, salt and water.


Rough puff pastry
(makes enough for 4 tarts)

250g pastry flour (or plain/all-purpose, some even use bread flour to develop gluten)
250g cold but malleable unsalted butter
1/2 tsp fine salt
~100g ice cold water

With a pastry blender, fork or the tips of your fingers, rub in small chunks of the butter into the flour until starting to incorporate. You don’t want to go all the way to sandy breadcrumb-like texture, you want visible chunks of butter remaining.

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Add in about half of the water and add a little more at a time until the the dough can be gathered up into a ball that sticks together but isn’t too wet. If too wet, add a little flour but avoid doing this too much as the ratio will be affected. If it still feels moist, it can be rectified later after it’s been chilled and dusted with flour.

Wrap in cling film and chill until solid, at least 20 minutes.

Now we can do the first turn (fold). Dust the work surface with flour, as well as the rolling pin, put the pastry down and dust the top of the pastry. Start rolling out the pastry, turning it 90 degrees every once in a while to stop it sticking. If it sticks, just dust the underside with more flour. Try to keep it in a rough rectangle shape and aim to roll it twice as long as it is wide (10x20cm). If it’s not quite rectangular, you can try squishing the sides with a bench scraper or some other tool to straighten the edges.

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When you’re happy that it’s roughly rectangular, take one short edge and fold it over 2/3 of the length (see below picture). In other words, you’ll end up with a single-layer half and a double-layer half. Then, take the other end and fold it on top of the double layers so you end up with 3 layers in total.

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That’s the first turn done! You can indent the top with a finger to feel like a proper pastry chef. Wrap it up and let chill again for 20 minutes.

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For the subsequent turns, it’s the exact same process. Take the rectangle of pastry and roll it out so the short edge is still the short edge, and the longer is still longer, to a 1:2 width:length ratio. Do the second turn, wrap, chill 20 mins.

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Then do the 3rd and 4th turns together if the dough is cold and not retracting. If it is, just put it back in the fridge. After the 4th turn, chill it for 45 minutes so it has a chance to relax properly. For an extra flaky pastry, do an optional 5th turn.

If using immediately, make sure it’s had a chance to chill before you try roll it out. If not, store in fridge for a couple of days or alternatively, roll out 3mm thick sheets and store in freezer. Defrost before use.

When you’re ready to bake, roll it to 3mm thick if the recipe doesn’t specify. If the recipe calls for an egg wash, brush it on carefully and tidily just before baking, and try avoid dripping over the neatly cut edges or sealing up the sides. Bake at a high initial temperature for best results, about 205C/400F until it’s puffed up then turn the temperature down to 190C/375 to cook all the way through.

pâte sucrée (& lining tart rings)

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Ever since I picked up a set of 3 tart rings (15, 17.5 and 20cm) at a ridiculous bargain of $2, I’ve been obsessed with making neat and professional looking tarts. They’re just as easy to use as other pie/tart tins, but it took a little figuring out how to minimise shrinkage after baking.

My first tart epiphany, was Pierre Hermé’s tarte au citron. I borrowed his book, Desserts by Pierre Hermé a few years ago and was captured by the elegant dessert. The lemon cream filling is undoubtedly divine, but surprisingly the sweet shortcrust pastry was a highlight itself, the almond flavour standing out and complementing the lemon perfectly. It was eye-opening; you don’t eat a tart and expect the crust to be anything but bland and almost negligible.

His pâte sucrée is one I swear by and it’s perfect with any sweet filling, even raw by itself. I think substituting the all-purpose flour for cake & pastry flour (low protein) ensures that the dough isn’t overworked, and keeps it short and crispy. Also, as always, I’ve adjusted the amount of sugar to my taste but feel free to increase the amount especially for a less sweet filling.


Pâte sucrée
(sweet shortcrust pastry, makes one 9″/23cm tart shell)
(adapted from Pierre Hermé)

125g cake & pastry flour (< 10% protein)
38g icing sugar
15g almond meal
pinch of salt
75g cold butter
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 to 2 tbsp cold water

First, sift the flour, sugar, almond and salt together and mix well.

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Drop in small (~1cm) cubes of cold butter. Working quickly to avoid melting the butter with body heat, use your fingertips to rub the butter into the dry ingredients. Grab chunks of butter and flour with both hands’ fingertips, run the mixture between the thumb and index finger, as if picking up sand and letting it fall back into the bowl. I love rubbing the butter in by hand, but if you so choose feel free to use a pastry cutter or a stand mixer with the paddle attachment.

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It will start out with visible chunks of butter, then turning into finer and finer crumbs. By which point you can switch do a handwashing motion to catch any unmixed butter. It’s done when there are no big lumps of butter, all the flour has been coated with the butter and when you press some of the mixture together it sticks in a ball.

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Add the vanilla and the cold water a little at a time. See if you can press the dough together to stick to itself with a spatula. If it falls apart, add a little more water. Avoid kneading the dough or manipulating it too much, instead press it together into one lump, turn out onto plastic wrap. Roll it flat and let chill in the fridge for at least 20 minutes.

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Dust the work surface with some flour, put the dough down, and dust with more flour.

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If the dough is quite cold and stiff, give it a fair beating with a rolling pin. Roll it out, turning the dough by 90 degrees to make sure it doesn’t stick. Continue until it’s larger than the tart ring by a 2-3cm margin (for the sides). It’ll be easier to transfer now onto a baking tray lined with baking paper, by carefully rolling it up onto the rolling pin first.

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Cut out the shape of the inner circumference of the tart ring.

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Now for the sides! Roll out long strips using the leftover dough the same thickness as the base of the tart, about 4mm. Cut to the same width as the height of the ring. (Pizza cutter’s great for this.)

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Carefully roll up the strips on the rolling pin and slowly untwist the pin around the sides of the ring. Alternatively, I’ve seen people cut all the way to the plastic wrap underneath the strip and then lifting it up that way. Either will work, so long as you gently lay the pastry against the inside edge of the ring. Repeat cutting strips and placing them against the sides until the inside edge is covered with pastry.

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Neat trick alert: wrap up some of the leftover dough to seal the seam between the sides and base. It’s neater and you don’t have to worry about getting dough under your nails or them piercing the pastry. Also press lightly on the sides to stick the pastry to the ring. If there are any gaps between the separate strips, just patch together with leftover dough, making sure to extend left and right (not just filling the gap) about 0.5cm.

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Dock the dough, i.e. prick away your frustration. Don’t worry, the filling isn’t likely to leak through the holes as they’ll close up during baking. It just helps with the base not puffing up since we’re not using pie weights here. At this stage, you could freeze until use or refrigerate at least 20 mins to relax the pastry to make sure it doesn’t contract excessively on baking.

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While it’s chilling, preheat the oven to 180C/350F. Blind bake the tart shell for ~15 mins or until lightly coloured and the bottom isn’t soggy. Keep the ring on while it cools as the sides can be flexible still (it’ll firm up once cool), and also while you bake it a second time with the filling so the sides don’t collapse. Only take it off once the entire tart is cool and the filling is set.