How to Make Tanghulu

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Tanghulu, also known as bingtanghulu, is a traditional Chinese snack that dates back to the Song Dynasty. It primarily consists of candied fruit skewers, most traditionally hawthorn berries, although various fruits such as strawberries, kiwi, or grapes are also used today. These skewers are dipped in a hard candy coating, resulting in a delightful contrast between the sweet, brittle shell and the tart, juicy fruit inside. This treat is particularly popular in northern China and is often found in night markets or during festive seasons.

The Appeal of Tanghulu

What makes tanghulu so appealing is its simple, vibrant aesthetic and the delightful combination of textures and flavors. The glossy candy coating is visually striking, typically a clear or slightly caramelized sugar that encases the fruit. When bitten into, the coating shatters pleasantly, giving way to the fruit’s burst of freshness. This combination of crunchy and juicy, sweet and tart, makes tanghulu a popular choice for people of all ages.

The traditional fruit used in tanghulu is the hawthorn berry, which is known for its health benefits, including aiding digestion and improving cardiovascular health. The berries are small, round, and typically a deep red, which makes them as visually appealing as they are tasty. However, modern variations include a range of fruits, catering to a wider palette and incorporating seasonal specialties or local favorites.

How to Make Tanghulu

The process of making tanghulu is straightforward but requires precision, especially in the candy-making phase. Here’s a detailed guide on how to create this treat:

  1. Ingredients:

    • 500 grams of hawthorn berries or any firm fruit (strawberries, grapes, kiwi slices, etc.)
    • 2 cups granulated sugar
    • 1 cup water
    • A few drops of lemon juice (optional, to prevent crystallization)
    • Bamboo skewers
  2. Preparation of Fruit:

    • Begin by thoroughly washing your chosen fruit. If you’re using hawthorn, you’ll need to remove the seeds, which can be done with a small knife or a specialized corer.
    • For other fruits like strawberries or grapes, ensure they are dry as water can interfere with the candy setting properly.
    • Skewer the fruits onto bamboo sticks, typically about 5-6 pieces per stick, depending on size.
  3. Making the Sugar Syrup:

    • In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and water. Heat the mixture over medium heat, stirring continuously until the sugar is fully dissolved.
    • Once the sugar is dissolved, stop stirring and allow the syrup to boil. You can add a few drops of lemon juice to help prevent the sugar from crystallizing.
    • Use a candy thermometer to monitor the temperature of the syrup. It needs to reach 300°F (150°C), which is the hard crack stage. At this stage, the syrup will thicken and start to turn slightly amber.
  4. Dipping the Fruit:

    • Once the syrup reaches the correct temperature, remove it from the heat. Working quickly and carefully, dip each fruit skewer into the hot syrup, ensuring it’s completely coated.
    • Allow the excess syrup to drip off, then hold the skewer for a few seconds to let the candy shell start to harden.
    • Place the coated skewers on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone mat to fully set. This should take only a few minutes as the sugar hardens rapidly once removed from the heat.
  5. Serving and Storage:

    • Tanghulu is best enjoyed fresh, as the candy coating can start to soften if left exposed to air for too long. However, if you need to store them, keep them in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. They should last for a day or two before the quality starts to decline.

Tips for Perfect Tanghulu

  • Temperature Control: The key to the perfect candy coating is getting your syrup to the hard crack stage without letting it burn. A candy thermometer is crucial for this.
  • Fruit Preparation: Ensure your fruit is completely dry and room temperature before skewering and dipping. Moisture can prevent the candy from setting correctly.
  • Quick Working: The sugar syrup will start to harden as soon as it’s removed from the heat, so work quickly when dipping your fruits.

Tanghulu offers a delightful eating experience that combines the natural flavor of fruit with the sweet crunch of candy. Its preparation, while simple, requires attention to detail, especially in handling hot sugar. Whether using traditional hawthorn berries or experimenting with other fruits, tanghulu can be a fun, delicious treat to make at home, perfect for special occasions or as a festive snack during the holidays. This traditional snack not only connects us to centuries of culinary tradition but also offers a unique way to enjoy the natural sweetness and health benefits of fruit.