I adore fresh kumquats, but every time I bite into one I brace myself against the mouth-puckering intensity. Candied kumquats, on the other hand, are reliably sweet with an enjoyable nuance of bitter and tart. They're versatile, too: nibble on them as candies alongside tea, spoon them over desserts or into cocktail glasses, or even serve them with savory meats and salads.
Candied kumquats needn't be specific to any type of cuisine, but to make these flower-shaped ones, I took a cue from Vietnamese New Year candies. Known as as mứt Tết, these treats bring sweetness to the New Year and can be made with a variety of preserved foods from lotus to coconut, melon, ginger, and kumquat. Kumquat trees often figure in Chinese and Vietnamese Lunar New Year celebrations, as they symbolize good luck and prosperity.
Making Vietnamese-style kumquat candies (mứt tắc or mứt quất) involves cutting little slits in each kumquat, poking out the seeds, and simmering the fruit in a sugar syrup. To the syrup I like to add a few spices like ginger, cinnamon, star anise, and clove. Following the simmer and an overnight steep, you can press the kumquats and dry them into chewy candies, which are perfect alongside tea, or keep them in syrup as a soft topping for cakes, ice cream, or whatever you can dream up.
I won't lie, the preparation of these kumquats can be somewhat painstaking, especially if you make a big batch to share with family and friends. (The recipe below is for a fairly manageable one pound of kumquats; you could halve, double, or triple it as you wish.) But I find it's totally worth the effort to make something so lovely and delectable, whether you're celebrating the New Year or simply the existence of these bright and happy fruits.
1 pound kumquats
2 cups sugar
1 (1-inch) coin ginger
1 cinnamon stick
1 star anise pod
Using a sharp paring knife, cut 6 to 8 lengthwise slits in each kumquat. Leave the top and bottom ends of each kumquat intact and be careful not to cut all the way through the fruit.
Lightly pinch the top and bottom of each kumquat to form a lantern shape and use a toothpick, skewer, or sharp chopstick to gently remove the seeds. Don't worry if you can't fish out every seed; the seeds will loosen during cooking, and it's important to be gentle with the kumquats so they don't split apart.
Fill a saucepan with water and bring to a boil. Add the kumquats and blanch for 1 minute. Remove the kumquats and drain. Repeat this process two more times (three times total), using fresh water each time.
Refill the pot with 2 cups of water, sugar, and spices (if using). Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the kumquats and reduce heat to low. Keep the kumquats evenly covered in syrup by periodically spooning syrup over them or gently submerging them with a wooden spoon. Simmer until the peel is translucent, about 45 minutes.
Remove from heat, cover the saucepan with a cloth, and let the kumquats steep for 8 hours or overnight.
At this point, you can dry the kumquats into a candy, store them in syrup, or can them in jars for longer storage.
Using a slotted spoon, remove each kumquat from the syrup and gently press down on the top and bottom to flatten it into a flower shape. This is also a good opportunity to press out any remaining seeds. Dry the kumquats on a baking rack, on a parchment-lined baking sheet in an oven at 200°F or below, or in a dehydrator at 135°F. Drying time depends on the method, conditions, and fruit size; in a dehydrator it takes about 8-12 hours. The candies are ready when they are pliable and no longer very sticky to the touch. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Kumquats are best consumed within a week.
Transfer the kumquats to an airtight container, cover with syrup, and refrigerate. Kumquats are best consumed within a week.
After steeping the kumquats for 8 hours, bring the kumquats and syrup back up to a boil. Remove from heat. Pack the kumquats into a hot pint-size canning jar and top with syrup, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. (Can also use 2 half-pint jars with 1/4-inch headspace.) Remove air bubbles, wipe the rim, and adjust the cap. Process in a boiling-water canner for 10 minutes.
• Don't toss any leftover syrup! It can be used to flavor sparkling water and cocktails, drizzled on cake, and mixed into dressings and marinades.
Related: Drink Recipe: Kumquat Spritzer
(Images: Emily Ho)