Crystallizing is a process which gradually exposes partly poached fruit to a stronger and stronger syrup so that the water content diffuses out and is replaced by sugar. The reason candied fruits are expensive is not related to difficulty of production but is down to the fact they can only be made using tedious and painstaking procedures repeated every day for 12 days. Be warned that there are no short-cuts, which is why most people leave this kind of specialized artisanal food craft to small family businesses in the south of France.
The fruit used should be quite firm and it is peeled, then poached for about 8 minutes in simmering water. Different fruits at different stages of ripeness will take varying cooking times. If you do not have somebody to demonstrate this, then it is going to be very much a case of trial and error: too long and the fruit will collapse, not long enough and it will darken quite unattractively during the crystallizing process.
Pour the syrup back into a saucepan, adding another
Leave for another 24 hours, then repeat the procedure on a daily basis for three days, making the syrup stronger by adding
On the sixth day, add
On the eighth day, add another
You have come this far, so stiffen the sinews for the end is thankfully nigh and, if you are cursing ever starting, this is the moment when you can take a break because the fruit will sit happily in its syrup for up to 3 weeks before the final drying. Do not throw the syrup away: it will keep in a jar in the fridge forever and can be used for sorbets or in fruit salads.
Remove the fruit from the syrup and put the pieces on a wire rack to drain, before drying it in the oven at its lowest possible temperature, say 110°C/ 230°F/gas ¼, with the door ajar, for between 3 and 6 hours, turning the pieces at regular intervals.
Pack the fruit in those waxed ruched sweet wrappers you can buy and arrange them in a pretty box. Resist the temptation of telling the recipient that each mouthful cost more time and effort than you would like to consider. If they say they hate candied fruit, hit them with the box.
© 1998 Alastair Little and Richard Whittington estate. All rights reserved.