Candied Kumquats or Mandarinquats
I must confess to you I was never a big fan of kumquats, that is, until I was introduced to a very special tree. Not a kumquat tree exactly, but a mandarinquat tree, a cross between--you guessed it--mandarin and kumquat.
Kumquats are very fragrant, but the astringent skin and acidic flesh never did much for me. One bite into a mandarinquat from that tree, however, won me over entirely. I was seduced by the amazing fragrant and the astonishingly sweet rind. There was still a tang from the acidic flesh, but only just enough to add intrigue without being overwhelming. I ate handfuls after handfuls that day, right from the tree--like candy, albeit a very grown-up kind.
Besides being far more flavorful than regular kumquats, mandarinquats are also quite a bit prettier. Instead of the pale yellow skin and simple oblong shape of the kumquats, mandarinquats are rounder and more like a tear drop in shape, with deep orange, mandarin-like skin. I also find that mandarinquat's rind is a bit thinner than kumquats.
I went up the hills to visit Gene at his fabled citrus grove this weekend, and of course I stopped by to say hi to the tree. It's still bearing loads of fruits, but I knew the season was nearly over. I must do something to stretch it just a bit longer. So, I came home with a big bagful of mandarinquats and set out to candy them.
Candying kumquats or mandarinquats can be pretty quick and easy. You can just slice or chop the fruits and cook it in simple syrup until done. But what fun is quick and easy, huh? Sometimes I like doing things the most roundabout and difficult way possible. I like to candy my mandarinquats whole, keeping the beautiful shape and adding a little drama to whatever I serve them with--which can be quite a few things.
I like to serve one or two gorgeous, plump, and bright orange candied mandarinquats with a slice of bittersweet chocolate cake, spooning the citrusy syrup over the cake to add a lovely and sophisticated touch to an otherwise simple cake--a slice of pound cake works just as well, especially with a spoonful of freshly whipped cream. You can even serve a few of these candied fruits as a condiment on a cheese tray, or drop one or two on your morning yogurt. Don't forget the lovely syrup as well. I use the syrup to make my own citrus soda, by just adding the syrup into sparkling water. Who needs to buy commercial soda full of all that yucky high-fructose corn syrup when you can make your own?
Well, I was kidding really about the "most roundabout and difficult way" I said earlier. Candying kumquats or these beautiful mandarinquats whole is not that hard: there are just a few tricks you need to know to keep the fruits in tact and beautifully plump, and the rest is a breeze. The most important thing is your kumquats or mandarinquats must be very fresh. Old, dried-out fruits will seize up like giant raisins, which won't be very pretty at all. The second is you must cook them very slowly: heating things up too quickly might burst the fruits and you'll end up with marmalade instead--not that there's anything wrong with marmalades, mind you, they're just not what you set out to do!
Candied mandarinquats (or kumquats)
1.5 kilo (about 3 pounds) of mandarinquats, rinsed and patted dry
6 cups of water
4 cups of sugar
a pinch of sea salt
Use a small needle, poke a couple holes into each mandarinquats.
Add all the ingredients into a large pot. Cut a piece of parchment paper the size of the diameter of the pot. Place the paper over the fruit and liquid, and put a plate or the lid of a smaller pot over the paper to hold down the fruits under the liquid.
Set the pot on the stove over medium high heat. When the water begins to bubble, getting close to boiling, turn the heat down to simmer and continue to cook for two hours.
At the end of the two hours, the mandarinquats should be deep orange and completely translucent. Remove from heat, discard the plate and the parchment paper. Skim off any bubble or scum. Close the lid and let the fruits steep in the syrup overnight or at least 6 hours.
The next morning, use a slotted spoon to remove the fruits from the pot into a bowl. Set the pot back on the stove over high heat and cook until reduced by half, about 15-30 minutes. When the syrup is reduced to the consistency you like, turn the heat off, and gently add the candied fruits back into the pot. Bring the content of the pot back to a boil once again and turn the heat off.
At this point you can just fill the candied fruits and syrup into clean jars. They will keep in the fridge for a long time. If you want to make them shelf-stable, use canning or mason jars and follow the manufacture's instruction to properly sterilize and seal the jars.