My Sweet Candied Citrus (Mứt) Offering for Tết

published Jan 26, 2022
Candied Meyer Lemon with Chili and Licorice (Mứt)  Recipe

This recipe infuses the low-acid mellowness of Meyer lemons with the kick of hot chilies and camphor licorice.

Makesabout 60 pieces

Prep1 hour 30 minutes

Cook2 hours 15 minutes

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Mứt tray with candied Meyer lemon peel and assorted candies, etc.
Credit: Photo: Jenny Huang; Food Styling: Thu Pham Buser; Prop Styling: JoJo Li

A bowl of narcissus blossoms to welcome spring; a spray of golden citrus to invite wealth; a platter of jujubes to chase out misfortune: The garden abounds with Lunar New Year metonyms for courting the triplets Felicity, Prosperity, and Fortuity.

To adorn my Lunar New Year table, I look to California’s citrus, which grows with almost aggressive abundance in our sun-drenched earth. By January, Los Angeles is practically bursting with citrus. The fruitful limbs of navel trees and their more perfumed cousin, the Cara Cara,­ hang over fences, retaining walls, and gates. Even citrus fruit cosseted behind high garden enclosures eventually find themselves in plastic buckets placed next to the mailbox with a note entreating passersby to take as much as they’d like.

For many years, I’ve candied kumquats and Buddha’s hands for Tết, but this year I’m reaching for the Meyer lemon, the citron-pomelo hybrid darling of California cuisine. Xiangningmeng is the Meyer lemon’s original name and she was born in Beijing. In the early 20th century, Frank N. Meyer brought her to America, on behalf of the United States Department of Agriculture, which in turn gave her a new Christian name: good ole Frank’s surname.

Credit: Photo: Jenny Huang; Food Styling: Thu Pham Buser; Prop Styling: JoJo Li

Further recounts of the Meyer lemon’s early decades in the United States generally tell of a life as a local beauty and curiosity in fashionable home gardens in California, with a brief threat of imminent destruction when she was singled out for carrying a virus that could wipe out all the state’s citrus groves. She was saved from annihilation by scientists at UC Riverside who grafted a virus-free budwood onto new American-tested rootstock.

Her cultural roots obscured and offending limbs severed, she sank her new feet deep into California’s soil. Luminaries Alice Waters and Martha Stewart often are credited for bringing her to national attention, but despite such endorsements, she eschewed big ag’s limelight and confounded efforts to cultivate her on a large, commercial scale. She preferred, rather, to bear tender, delicate-skinned fruit that don’t travel well.

If not in your own backyard, you’re most likely to find Meyer lemons, then, at your local farmers market, or in the bins of specialty markets and grocers. This recipe for candied Meyer lemon infuses the low-acid mellowness of Meyer lemons with the kick of hot chilies and camphor licorice. (Use the remaining syrup to glaze cakes or make a French 75.) If possible, use fresh picked lemons, when they’re at their most aromatic. I punch out little circles of lemon peel to mimic gold coins, but if you find the process too fiddly, just cut the peels into strips instead. Although not necessary, a candy thermometer and dehydrator will help immensely in this recipe.

Candied Meyer Lemon with Chili and Licorice (Mứt) Recipe

This recipe infuses the low-acid mellowness of Meyer lemons with the kick of hot chilies and camphor licorice.

Prep time 1 hour 30 minutes

Cook time 2 hours 15 minutes

Makes about 60 pieces

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds

    Meyer lemons (8 to 10)

  • 4 quarts

    plus 5 cups water, divided

  • 6

    dried Thai bird chilies, divided

  • 4 cups

    granulated sugar

  • 2 tablespoons

    light corn syrup

  • 1 ounce

    thinly sliced dried licorice root (optional)

  • 1 teaspoon

    powdered citric acid

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 1 1/2 cups

    white sanding sugar

Instructions

  1. Halve and juice 2 pounds Meyer lemons (1 1/2 to 1 2/3 cups), taking care to not juice too hard and break the peel. Refrigerate the juice in an airtight container until ready to use.

  2. Use a small regular or butter knife to scrape out the flesh and as much of the white pith from the lemon halves as you can until you are left with hollowed-out lemon peels. Cut each piece in half so that they lay somewhat flat. Use a 1-inch round cutter to punch out circles of peel (push down with a hand protected with a kitchen towel if needed to apply enough force).

  3. Place the rounds and trimmings in a large bowl or pot (enough to hold at least a gallon of water). Add 4 quarts of the water and refrigerate for 2 days. This soaking process will leach the peels of some of their bitterness without compromising their structure.

  4. Rip and crush 6 dried Thai bird chilies with your hands and discard the stems but keep the seeds (about 1 1/2 tablespoons). Transfer 1 1/2 teaspoons to a large, heavy bottomed, non-reactive pot or Dutch oven; reserve the remaining for sprinkling later.

  5. Drain the peels. Add the peels, reserved lemon juice, remaining 5 cups water, 4 cups granulated sugar, 2 tablespoons corn syrup, 1 ounce dried licorice root if using, 1 teaspoon citric acid, and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Remove from the heat and let the mixture cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 or up to 3 days.

  6. Uncover and bring the mixture back to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer until the peels are translucent and the syrup is orange, about 1 1/2 hours. Drop a teaspoon of the syrup into iced water. If the syrup firms into a soft, malleable ball of candy, the peels are ready to be removed. If the syrup doesn’t firm up, continue to simmer, testing every 30 minutes, until it reaches the right consistency.

  7. Remove the peels from the syrup with a spider or slotted spoon to a metal strainer or colander. Let drain for 10 minutes. Reserve the syrup for another use.

  8. Fit a wire rack over a baking sheet. Transfer the peels onto the rack and arrange into a single layer. Sprinkle with the reserved 1 tablespoon dried Thai chilies. Place 1 1/2 cups sanding sugar in a small bowl.

  1. Option 1: Dehydrator: Working with one piece at a time, coat the peels in the sanding sugar and place in dehydrator trays in a single layer, making sure they do not touch. Dehydrate at 100°F until the peels are dry to the touch, about 24 hours.

  1. Option 2: Oven drying: Working with one piece at a time, coat the peels in the sanding sugar and place on a baking sheet in a single layer, making sure they do not touch. Place in an oven set on the lowest temperature (use convection if you have it to circulate the air). Close the oven door, but prop a wooden spoon between the oven and the door to keep it ajar. Dry in the oven until the peels are mostly dry to the touch (they will dry more as they sit), about 3 hours if the oven is at 170ºF.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Once dried and cooled, store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks (store with silica packets if you have any to help absorb any moisture).