A few years ago I got a message from a nice young couple that had worked their way through each and every recipe in Room for Dessert, my first book, and wanted me to sign their copy. And let me tell you, these kids were really pioneers, as this was well before the “cook every recipe from the book” blogs got so popular—they didn’t even have a blog!
When I met them, the book was filled with bookmarks and stains of all sorts. Obviously well-used, they really didn’t even need to tell me that they’d made everything in the book. But they did confess that the only recipe they couldn’t make was the candied citron, because they couldn’t find any citron.
I feel their pain. I was going to make panforte (Italian fruitcake) this year and I looked all over Paris this year for one and couldn’t located a single, solitary cédrat, no matter where I looked. (And I’m scared to use those greenish pieces and strips sold in containers.) My constant refrain is that you can get everything you want in Paris—except what you’re looking for. I scoped out specialty produce places, outdoor markets, and the Jewish épiceries. You name it, if there was the possibility of finding a citron in there, you can be sure there was a strange American fellow in there trying to explain to them what a cédrat was. But I guess I shouldn’t complain about a country where you can find foie gras in natural food stores.
Last week I was over in the sixth for a doctor’s appointment and walked past Hédonie (6, rue de Mezieres). On a whim, I peered through the window, and spotted a lone Buddha’s Hand citron resting in a basket amongst a pile of grapefruits.
Of course, it had no price on it (that seems to be another truism about Paris—the one particular thing that you want to buy is the only item on the shelf that doesn’t have a price on it, prompting a “price check”, which here can range anywhere from five seconds to a shrug of the shoulders), but the lovely saleswoman put the lone citron on the scale and pressed a button marked agrumes Bachès, and it spit out a price of just over €5. I hemmed and hawed for a few minutes then dug the heels of my cheap skates into the ground and bought it.
(She also told me that they usually get them in October, so let’s remember that for next year.)
People have asked me to put in recipes the time it takes to candy fruits. But that’s like asking someone how long it takes for water to boil. It’s pretty difficult to gauge, and no one wants to ruin a hard-won piece of fruit, so an inexpensive candy thermometer, which are available at most supermarkets, cookware stores, and even hardware stores, is the best way to judge when fruit is candied.
The two most common citrons are the Buddha’s Hand, with elongated tendrils, and the Etrog (or Esrog) citron, which resembles a big knobbly lemon. Be sure to buy one from a source that doesn’t spray their fruits or raises them organically.
(Oh, and by the way. That couple also finally found a citron as well, and made the recipe. I’m not sure where or how, but they did drop me a line to let me know.)
Related Links and Recipes
Tuscan Panforte (Divina Cucina)
Panforte with Candied Quince (Wednesday Chef)
Chocolate-Hazelnut Panforte (Epicurious)