Tanghulu (Candied Fruit Skewers)

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The perfect tanghulu is a skewer of ripe fruit covered evenly in a thin, clear sugar shell. This simple recipe relies on a precise ratio of sugar, water, and corn syrup that produces a crisp, even candy shell. Be sure to thoroughly dry fruit prior to dipping it in the syrup. To add a sweet chew or nutty crunch to these treats, stuff the fruits with red bean paste or walnuts prior to skewering and dunking.

Tanghulu (Candied Fruit Skewers)
Photo: Photo by Jacob Fox / Food Styling by Greg Luna / Prop Styling by Stephanie Hunter
Total Time:
35 mins
Yield:
5 skewers

It was 1 A.M., but I couldn't put my phone down. I found myself immersed deep in the endless scroll of TikTok, watching videos of people making tanghulu, a Chinese street snack of sugar-coated fruit. I was mesmerized as they gently dipped skewers of plump red strawberries into a pan of scalding hot, bubbling sugar. The fruit emerged encased in a glasslike coating, as smooth and clear as an ice rink moments after a Zamboni completed its run. Once the fruit had cooled, the cooks would take a giant bite, shattering the sugar shell and sending sweet shards flying in every direction.

Traditionally, tanghulu is made from hawthorn berries, which have a sour, crab apple–like flavor. They are difficult to source in the United States, so resourceful cooks most commonly use strawberries as a substitute. As I kept scrolling, I found people experimenting with skewers threaded with crisp grapes, clusters of blueberries, bright green slices of kiwi, and even entire peeled clementines. You can turn almost anything into tanghulu, if you believe in it enough (and the surface of the food isn't too wet).

"It's important not to overthink tanghulu," says 2021 F&W Best New Chef Lucas Sin, who grew up eating the sweet snack. "At the end of the day, it's simply sugar-covered fruit." When he makes it at home, he never fusses with candy thermometers, parchment paper, ice baths, or other tools you expect to reach for when working with sugar. Instead, he sticks to a simple recipe of water, sugar, and a little bit of light corn syrup to stabilize the mixture and prevent it from crystallizing. Sin says the ratio of sugar to water he uses always results in a "thin, shatteringly crispy shell." Sometimes, he'll add more texture and flavor by stuffing the fruit with sticky rice paste, red bean paste, or even walnuts, he says. Now, what should I turn into tanghulu next?—Khushbu Shah

Ingredients

Fruits

  • 15 assorted small fresh fruits (such as hawthorn, crab apples, strawberries, tangerine segments, cherries, and/or grapes), rinsed

  • Sweetened red bean paste or walnut halves (optional)

Syrup

  • ¾ cup granulated sugar

  • cup water

  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup

Directions

Prepare the fruits:

  1. Stem, core, or otherwise prepare fruit so that each bite-size piece is entirely edible. If desired, stuff fruits with red bean paste or walnuts. Pat outsides of fruit dry with paper towels, and place on a baking sheet lined with paper towels. (Wet fruit will prevent the sugar from sticking.)

  2. Slide 3 fruit pieces onto each of 5 (12-inch-long) bamboo skewers, skewering through the center of the fruit. Arrange each piece so fruits are evenly stacked, with bottoms and tops of fruits gently pressed together. Place skewers on a baking sheet lined with paper towels. Set aside.

Make the syrup:

  1. Combine granulated sugar, 1/3 cup water, and light corn syrup in a shallow pan. Cook over medium, undisturbed, until sugar dissolves and mixture begins to boil, 4 to 5 minutes. (To prevent sugar crystallization, it is very important not to stir.) Reduce heat to medium-low; cook, undisturbed, until syrup reaches 310°F and picks up the faintest golden hue, 15 to 18 minutes. Remove from heat; let syrup stand until bubbles subside, about 30 seconds.

  2. While syrup is still hot, tilt pan so that syrup pools on one side. Working with 1 fruit skewer at a time, very lightly touch the side of the fruit skewer onto the surface of the syrup. Carefully and quickly, rotate skewer in one direction, taking care to evenly coat all surfaces of the fruits without submerging the entire fruit into the syrup. Try to do this in 1 rotation. Let excess syrup drip back into pan. Work quickly so that syrup does not cool and thicken. Place skewer, fruit side up, into a heavy cup or other container; let candy stand, un-touched, until naturally cooled and fully hardened, about 2 minutes. Meanwhile, repeat process with remaining fruit skewers. If needed, use scissors to trim off any long, hardened strands of syrup from cooled skewers.

Make Ahead

The skewers are always best when eaten immediately, but tanghulu can be stored in the freezer. Tanghulu is traditionally wrapped in a thin layer of rice paper for storing, but skewers may also be kept in a ziplock plastic bag.

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