Saturday, December 1, 2007

Glistening Glacé: Let the Holiday Baking Begin

Glace fruit 7 copyThe boxes have arrived: ten pounds of dried and glacé fruit. Cherries, citron, orange and lemon peels, dates, pineapple, apricots, three kinds of raisins. Plus pristine whole blanched almonds and freshly shelled hazelnuts, pistachios, and pecans. For the next three weeks, it’s into the baking black hole, that place where the world disappears and there is nothing left but my kitchen, where time really is relative and normal needs for eight hours of sleep are suspended without the slightest difficulty, where actions are concentrated under one bright, microscopic lens, my workspace.
The ingredients are as exciting and abundant, in their own pantry way, as summer's earthy produce. If sour cherries and currants are summer's gemstones, surely glacé fruits are winter's. And if glacé fruit weren't so sticky, you just might string it up and wear it, or pin some to your winter coat. It sparkles, like all good jewelry.
If you're wondering whether glacé fruits are the same as candied fruits are the same as crystallized fruits: well, sort of. All will have been cooked in sugar and water to start with, and the terms glazed and candied are often used interchangably. They may be finished differently, however. Crystallized fruit is generally sugared after being cooked in a syrup; though a root, not a fruit, ginger is the classic example. Very fresh crystallized ginger is a hot and sweet treat that I always have on hand to satisfy that after-dinner sweet craving. True glacé fruits are just-ripe fruits cooked in water and then preserved in a sugar syrup in a multi-stage process. Over the course of several days, weeks, or even months, the fruit is heated and steeped in syrup of increasing sugar concentration, gradually replacing a significant percentage of the water content of the fruit, and then dried.
Sensitive to the vagaries of timing, technique, and moisture, glacé fruit qualifies as an artisan product. Historically, glacé fruit falls into the category of luxury food items, traditionally reserved for holiday eating and baking; indeed, the heavy cake of fruit barely held together by other ingredients was nothing so much as a demonstration of bounty, sort of like having a clutch of black truffles or pound of best beluga on your table. Today, quality glazed fruit still commands a premium price, and a fine fruitcake is still a splurge. Indeed, the price can seem like a barrier because it is hard to buy good quality in small amounts--certainly not in the quarter- or half-cup amounts that some recipes might call for. Fortunately, because glazed fruits are essentially preserved fruits, they keep extremely well, and can be frozen. While you may not use cherries much after the holidays (although they are surprisingly good folded into vanilla ice cream or plain white bread for toasting), peels are versatile in the kitchen year-round, in baking, candy making, Asian cooking, and just to nibble on. Another strategy is to divide and conquer: buy a pound, and share the cost with a friend.
Working with glacé and sugared fruits is a sticky job. I use a sharp chef's knife for slivering or fine chopping, and use scissors when I want larger pieces--e.g., to cut cherries in half or apricots into quarters. Keep a damp cloth at hand as you work and wipe the blade of your knife or your scissors frequently.

Maple Ginger Orange Peel Bread
Recipes for orange peel bread are in some of my early 20th century cookbooks; my adaptation is richer and denser, with a more complex flavor. Use the finest and freshest fruit you can find and afford; as always, quality makes a huge difference (see note for sources). This tight-crumbed, moist bread is suited to the paper-thin slicing that makes fruited products satisfying rather than overwhelming. It makes great sandwiches with cream cheese, butter, or a little homemade deviled or plain ham (see note below)Glaceorgang ginger 1 copy.
1 ¼ cups glazed orange peel
¼ cup crystallized ginger
2 T unsalted butter, melted
2 large eggs
½ cup sugar
Scant ½ cup 100% maple syrup
3 ½ cups a-p flour
5 T baking powderOrgan peel batter
¼ tea cardamom
1 ½ cups sour milk
For glaze: 2 T apricot jam, 1 T water
Preheat oven to 325 F. Butter a 13x4.5x2.5 loaf pan; line with waxed paper, butter the paper, and flour the bottom and sides of the pan. You could also use a standard 8.5x4.5x2.5 bread pan plus one mini bread pan.
Slice the ginger and the peel into fine slivers; pack lightly to measure, and set aside. In a large bowl (use a standing mixer if you have one), beat together the melted butter, eggs, sugar, and syrup. Gradually add the dry ingredients and the milk alternately, beginning and ending with the dry. Beat a good four minutes until well combined, scraping the bottom of the bowl if necessary to incorporate all flour; the batter will be thick. Fold in the orange peel and ginger, distributing well.
Pour the batter into the pan and let it sit on the counter for 15-20 minutes. Just before putting it in the oven, decorate with a few thin slivers of orange peel, laid diagonally on the batter. Bake until a toothpick in the center comes out clean; for the long loaf pan, this is 50-55 minutes. Start checking after 40 minutes. The top will split near the end of the cooking (one aggressive old recipe even tells you to slash the top part-way through in a pre-emptive move). Surface will be dry and pale.
Remove to a rack. Melt 2 T apricot jam with 1 T water in a small saucepan and brush over the top of the cake while warm. When cool enough to handle the pan, turn the bread out and allow to cool completely on the rack. Wrap well. If you bake a standard and a mini, you may consider the latter an extra and eat it Orange peel bread 1 copyall.
Note: If you live in a city, you can probably find good quality fruit at this time of year: try the Italian, Eastern European, or German neighborhoods or look for specialty nut and candy shops. In Boston, I used to go to Dairy Fresh Candies in the North End (they don't carry quite as much as they used to); in Philadelphia, Nuts to You; the stores generally have a more comprehensive selection than is sold online. Other online sources include, in New Jersey.
To make deviled ham: Cut a 1/2 lb slice of smoked ham into chunks and toss in the food processor with 1 tea mayo, 1 tea minced onion, 1-2 tea Dijon mustard, a T each of golden raisins, maple syrup, finely chopped dill pickle, and cider or orange juice. Add a dash of salt, white pepper, and allspice. Whiz a few minutes until it forms a loose, spreadable pate.

Orange peel bread cut copyOrange peel bread cut 3 copyOrange peel sandwiches 1 copy

No comments: