If you come across "mixed peel" on a list of ingredients while perusing recipes, know that the unfamiliar item is simply the candied peel of citrus fruits, usually oranges and lemons. While familiar to European cooks as a common ingredient in baked goods such as fruitcakes, mixed peel is difficult to find stateside. This doesn't mean you have to cross that recipe off your list. There are ways to acquire or make mixed peel, as well as some easy substitutions to consider.
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Mixed peel, essentially syrup-soaked citrus rind, has a strong flavor balanced by intense, sugary sweetness, meaning a little goes a long way. It's most often used in baked goods, especially fruitcakes, traditional British Christmas pudding and mince pies, German stollen and Italian panettone. Caribbean rum cakes sometimes include mixed peel. too. You can enhance many baked goods, such as breads, scones, muffins, coffee cake and cookies, with just a little mixed peel for a touch of citrus flavor. Use your imagination and incorporate mixed peel into savory dishes. Spread a small dollop over brie and bake until it's bubbly, then serve with crackers. Add some to your barbecue sauce or blend with soy sauce for dipping or stir fries.
Store-Bought Mixed Peel
Store-bought mixed peel generally comes in a glass jar or plastic container. The peel can be in large pieces, thin slices, diced or chopped; the texture ranges from dry and crystallized to sticky and almost jam-like. Sometimes it is blended with candied non-citrus fruits like cherries and pineapple. Look for it in specialist baking stores, gourmet food boutiques, high-end Italian delis and British stores. If you're searching online, use alternative names for mixed peel, such as candied fruit, candied fruit peel, crystallized fruit or glacé fruit.
Homemade Mixed Peel
Mixed peel is easy to make, although quite time-consuming. You can use any citrus fruits you want, including oranges, lemons, limes, tangerines and grapefruit, either individually or mixed together. Scrub the fruits well -- store-bought citrus often has an invisible wax coating. Pare off the peels with a knife or peeler. If you prefer a slightly bitter citrus flavor, leave some of the white pith attached; otherwise remove just the peel. Recipes and methods for mixed peel vary. You generally need to simmer the peels in a syrup of water and white sugar for up to an hour, then drain them, simmer in a new syrup mixture and repeat. Some methods tell you to repeat two or three times; others recommend simmering them repeatedly over several days. Alternative methods say to pour syrup over the peels and let them steep. After the final syrup infusion, drain the peels on a rack and optionally coat them in more sugar. You can leave the peels whole or chop or slice them.
If you can't find and don't want to make mixed peel, you can usually just eliminate it from a recipe altogether and still expect successful results. Recipes that call for mixed peel typically only require a small amount for flavor and sweetness, so skipping it won't generally effect the balance of wet and dry ingredients. Alternatively, substitute mixed peel with some citrus zest and a little additional sugar, honey or syrup. Orange marmalade, although not as intensely flavored as mixed peel, is also an adequate substitute.