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Friday, September 17, 2010

~Candied Amber~ The fastest growing and most delicious of semi-precious gems

Cut to the kitchen, just days pre-gutting and still all clean and shiny (if a bit old...)  I wanted to get one last recipe in before the chaos ensued but it had to be a good one.  No plans had been made previous so I jetted off to the store real quick to see what might or mightn't spark some interest!  Indeed something did...

~Vanilla Bean Jewel Candied Kumquats~
Printable Recipe

Adapted from Sprinklebakes' Chocolate Orange Pots de Creme with Candied Kumquats

 2 C Kumquats (roughly 10 oz)
 1 C Water
 1 C Sugar
 2 Teaspoons Honey
 1 oz Rum
 1 Vanilla Bean
 1 Teaspoon Pure Vanilla Extract

 Special Tools: Mesh Strainer
                        Medium Non-Stick Pot

Kumquats, silly name and all, are a wonderful little fruit.  Shaped like a grape but tastes like an inside-out orange/clementine with a sweet rind and a sour, tannic, semi-pithy interior.  One of my personal favorite things to bring on a road trip for sure!  These little fellows are also quite versatile when it comes to culinary adventuring.  From marinades to ice creams (pasteurized juice) you can always add a more complex orangey flavor for a spin on classic recipes.

This recipe is one of my all time favorite ways to use them and I think it really makes them shine as an accent to many both sweet and savory dishes!

Start by popping out the little green stems, either by hand or the edge of a paring knife then slicing them length-wise and cutting out the seeds.  These seeds are, like any citrus seeds, quite bitter and can lend that same tannic, bitter mouth feel/flavor to the final product if you don't get them all.  Don't worry if the fruit gets a bit rough looking in the process of seeding.  It will plump up in the process of blanching and candying and they will return to their nice, rounded, grape-shape.

Once you've got all the fruit prepped for candying, we've got to blanch them to reduce the bitter (tannic) mouth-feel, bring out certain sugars and bring up colors to prevent dulling while cooking.

Food Science Notes - Tannic Acid Chains 

To blanch your fruit properly, toss them in a pot and add just enough cold water to cover.  Bring to a good boil for about 30 seconds then drain.  Repeat this process two more times then rinse quickly and set aside.


Many, many cooking processes involve blanching the required fruit and or vegetables but what really goes on when we "blanch"?  From a scientific standpoint, blanching is a process of quick immersion in rapidly boiling water then of immersion or rinsing in cold water all in order to inactivate certain enzymes that can harm the color, flavors, smells, and structure of the food.  Often with fruit, blanching also destabilizes and washes out certain complex organic molecules (such as tannic acids) than can yield some fairly unpleasant flavors and mouth-feel.  But lets go with vegetables for now...
Just as in our body, enzymes (highly complex protein catalysts) act to accelerate chemical reactions that break down, restructure and build organic molecules.  In food, we worry less about building and more about damaging and reshaping

An enzyme's tertiary structure
Lets take one molecule involved in color of almost all vegetables and its foil: Chlorophyll and Chlorophyllase.  Chlorophyllase is an enzyme common in fruits and vegetables that acts to reshape the Chlorophyll molecule in a way that makes it water soluble.  In this state,  chlorophyll can be more easily affected by pH extremes that dull color or simply be dispersed into the cooking liquid.  In blanching we both wash out certain macromolecules and acids at the same time Denaturing the Chlorophyllase (destroying its functionality) via the boiling heat.

Chlorophyllase is also partly responsible for fall color change
So there we have food trial-by-fire so to speak...  Blanching = heat + water = inactivation/removal via liquid of negatively influential protein macro-molecules = nice, pretty colors, scents, flavors, vitamin profiles in long-term stored food.  SCIENCY!


Now that we've finished prepping and blanching let's make the syrup for candying.  If you are going to use a vanilla bean, slice the bean length wise and scrape the seeds with the trailing edge of your knife.

Toss the seeds and the pod into the pot along with sugar, water, rum, and honey and bring to a boil over medium high heat.  Boil, stirring occasionally to break up sugar lumps, until the liquid becomes clear then remove and discard the vanilla pod.  Bring your hot syrup to a rolling boil, add the blanched fruit, then turn heat down to a slow boil.

Cook your fruit for about 15 minutes or until it becomes translucent.  Never be afraid to taste it as it starts to loose opacity.  You'll want to stop just tender enough for your liking.  If you go too far, the fruit can begin to become mealy and over-soft.  Yuk...

Drain your fruit with a mesh strainer into a heat proof container and conserve all that lovely syrup for later use.  The wonderful byproduct of this recipe is vanilla kumquat simple syrup which of course can be used for all kinds of things from cake moistener to liquid sugar for sweet teas!  The fruit itself can be canned via the boiling method along with a small amount of syrup and stored for about 9 months in a cool, dark place.

These little amber-like jewels are a wonderful addition to all kinds of desserts and savory dishes, especially ones involving chocolate or other bitter ingredients such as coffee ice cream, Tiramisu crepes, or even paired with a good pork chop or two.  They're fun to play with so don't be afraid to try!  You can add almost any kind of flavoring or whole spices o the recipe when you start cooking the sugar&water from vanilla beans to cocoa nibs and whole cloves.  Keep on experimenting and as always...