Many cultures have a tradition of making fruit leather. It’s full of natural nutrients, keeps for a long time, and satisfies any sweet tooth. Haw leather, also known as 果丹皮 (guodanpi), is one example of healthy fruit leather made from the Chinese hawberry. This centuries-old hawthorn candy takes only three ingredients to make. Can’t get any simpler than that!
History & Ortigins
Sweet treats made from hawthorn berries are a nostalgic staple for many Chinese kids. They’re especially enjoyed in the winter months, since hawberries are harvested late in the year, and their festive red colour fits right in with Chinese New Year.
Besides haw leather, here is a gallery of some other traditional Chinese hawthorn candies:
Fun fact: Another traditional use for hawthorn berries in Chinese cuisine is to add the “sour” to sweet and sour sauce.
As a kid, my favourites were the haw flakes and haw rolls. I remember trying tanghulu for the first time during a trip to Beijing and being so disappointed with how sour it was. But as an adult, I’ve grown to love it!
These dried sheets of hawberry purée are basically the Chinese version of fruit rollups or Fruit by the Foot candy. So if you like those (as I do!) you’ll be sure to love this homemade haw leather.
Nowadays these traditional sweet treats are seen as a bit old-fashioned, as they are very simple and have remained unchanged for generations. But for me, the tangy taste of any hawthorn candy takes me right back to childhood.
Here are some other names for traditional Chinese haw leather:
- Haw Sheets
- Chinese Hawberry Rolls
- Hawthorn Leather
- 山楂卷 (Shanzha Juan) → “Haw Roll”
- 果丹皮 (Guodan Pi) → “Fruit Leather”
Interested in even more obscure culinary uses for the Chinese hawthorn berry? Check out this fascinating article on Chinese haws!
What You’ll Need
Only three ingredients are needed for this hawthorn candy recipe:
- Chinese hawberries aka “haws”
The traditional fruit used for Chinese hawthorn candy is, of course, the Chinese hawthorn berry. There are hundreds of edible hawthorn varieties around the world, all belonging to the Crataegus family of plants.
Did you know: although the hawthorn fruit is often referred to as a “berry,” they’re not really a berry at all but rather a drupe or stone fruit. They have more in common with fellow stone fruit like plums.
What differentiates the Chinese hawthorn fruit (Crataegus pinnatifida) from other hawthorn species is its appearance. It is larger than the common hawthorn berries seen around North America and Europe, with speckled white spots dotting its skin.
For this recipe, start with 1¼ of fresh Chinese hawberries—that’s the total weight before removing the pits. Once pitted, they will weigh just over 1 lb.
Chinese hawthorn berries can be difficult to find, and near impossible when out of season, which falls around September to October. As an alternative, you can substitute 1 lb cranberries (454g) for the 1¼ lb of hawberries in this recipe. Use half the amount of water because cranberries have higher water content than hawthorn berries. They won’t taste the exact same but are still snacky and delicious!
You could probably use other hawthorn varieties as well, though I have not tested this recipe with anything other than Chinese hawthorn and cranberries.
I use white granulated sugar for my haw rolls.
Some people use rock sugar, a traditional Chinese ingredient which you can use interchangeably with the white sugar in this recipe. Just make sure to add it to the saucepan at the beginning of cooking hawberries so that it melts down by the time you add it to the blender.
First we have to clean and pit the hawthorn berries. This is the most arduous and time-consuming step, and if you rope in a friend to help that will make it much faster. It took me an hour to finish all the berries!
Step 1: To clean haw fruit, first remove any stems or leaves, and pick out any haw berries with rotten areas.
Step 2: Soak them in water for a few minutes, shaking them around to remove any dirt on the surface. Drain the water.
Step 3: Cut out and discard the top and bottom ends of each haw. You can use a paring knife for this, or I found that the little end on my OXO vegetable peeler, which is meant for removing eyes from potatoes, is perfect for this too.
Step 4: Once both ends have been removed, slice the haw open lengthwise. You won’t be able to cut your knife all the way through, it will meet the hard seeds in the centre. So slice it like you would an avocado, then twist the sides to pull them apart.
Step 5: Pry out the seeds using your fingers; there could be anywhere from one to five seeds per fruit.
Step 6: Sometimes it helps to cut the haws into quarters to get at all the seeds.
Step 7: Add all of the pitted hawberries to a saucepan. Add 1 cup of water. Cover the saucepan with a lid and set it on medium heat.
Step 8: When the water starts to simmer, set a timer for 2 minutes. Turn off the heat when time is up. Then remove from the stove and splash in another 1/2 cup of water to cool it down slightly.
Step 9: Pour the haws, water, and sugar into a blender. Blend on high speed until it’s smooth.
Step 10: The mixture should be very thick but just blend-able; if it’s too thick, add a little more water as necessary.
Note: Add just enough water to blend the purée smoothly. The more water you add, the longer it will take to dry into leather.
Now there are two ways you can dry out your haw leather. One is the oven method, which is what I prefer because it’s more hands-off and gives consistent results. The other is the stovetop method, which is the traditional way of cooking Chinese fruit leather. I’ll show you both ways below.
Oven Drying Method
Step 1: Spread the mixture evenly over a half-sheet pan (or two quarter-sheet pans). If your pan is not non-stick, line it with parchment paper first.
Step 2: Use a bench scraper to smooth out the top to ensure it dries into an even flat sheet.
Step 3: Place the sheet pans in your oven on the middle rack, then set it to the lowest possible temperature (no higher than 190 F). You can also use a dehydrator. Here I’m drying a sheet of hawberry leather on the left and cranberry leather on the right.
Step 4: Dry the sheets until they are slightly tacky. They should not feel moist or squishy to the touch. With my oven set to 170 °F, it took 6 hours. Once the haw leather is dried, and while it’s still warm, gently pull the sheet by the corners to peel it off the pan.
Step 5: Roll into a tight log and secure with plastic wrap.
Step 6: Let rest for 1 hour before unwrapping and slicing.
Tip: It helps to dip your knife in water between cuts to prevent the haw candy from sticking to the blade.
Stove Drying Method
Let’s say you don’t want to keep your oven running for so long, or your oven temperature doesn’t go low enough. This drying method requires a bit more effort and time, but it does the job.
Step 1: Transfer the blended hawthorn mixture from the blender into a nonstick pan (I’m using a HexClad 10-inch). If you don’t have a nonstick pan, you’ll want to add some oil.
Step 2: Set the pan on medium heat and begin to stir with a spatula or wooden spoon. Keep stirring and scraping until the mixture looks really thick. If you hold your spoon up, the hawberry purée should cling to the spoon and not fall down at all. It took my stove around 10 minutes to reach this stage.
Step 3: Scrape the thickened purée onto a sheet pan and smooth it over with a bench scraper. Let dry in a sunny spot for about a day. Drying time will depend on the humidity in your area, and on the thickness of your fruit leather. It took 20 hours for me in the dry Calgary winter.
Step 4: Once dried, tightly roll it up and secure with plastic wrap. With this method, the candy is not as tacky and therefore doesn’t hold a tight roll very well. You can poke toothpicks through it or keep it wrapped up to hold its shape.
Make Ahead & Storage Tips
Homemade haw leather should be tightly wrapped and stored for up to a week at room temperature. You can also freeze them to keep them indefinitely.
If you’re following a specific diet or need to be aware of allergies, here are a few ways you can modify this recipe:
- Gluten-free: the recipe for Chinese hawthorn candy is naturally gluten-free as written.
- Oil-free: haw leather is also completely oil-free.
- Refined sugar-free: substitute the sugar for an alternative sweetener like stevia or erythritol. Note: I have only tested with granulated sweeteners, and cannot guarantee results using liquid sweeteners like maple syrup. If you try, please do report back!
The hawthorn berries can also be substituted for cranberries.
If you made this recipe with a successful substitution, please let me know. Post a comment describing what you did so I can add it to this section and help future readers. (Leave your name blank if you don’t want to be credited.)
More Chinese Recipes
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Chinese Haw Leather (Hawthorn Candy)
Use Imperial/Metric buttons below to toggle between volume vs weight measurements. I recommend weighing out your ingredients for best results.
- 1¼ lb Chinese hawthorn berries see Note 1
- ½ cup sugar
- 1½ cup water
- To clean haw fruit, first remove any stems or leaves. Soak them in water for a few minutes, shaking them around to remove any dirt on the surface. Drain. Remove the top and bottom ends of each haw and slice it open to remove the pit.
- Once all the hawberries been sliced and pitted, add them to a saucepan along with 1 cup of water. Cover the saucepan with a lid and set it on medium heat.
- Once the water starts to simmer, continue to cook the fruit for 2 minutes. Then remove from heat and splash in another 1/2 cup of water to cool it down slightly.
- Add the softened haws and water, along with 1/2 cup of sugar, to a blender. Blend until smooth (see Note 2).
- Spread the mixture evenly over a half-sheet pan (or two quarter-sheet pans). If your pan is not non-stick, line it with parchment paper or wax paper first.
- Use a dehydrator, or your oven set to the lowest temperature, to dry the sheets until they are slightly tacky. They should not feel moist or squishy to the touch. With my oven set to 170 °F, it took 6 hours.
- Once the haw leather is dried, and while it’s still warm, gently pull the sheet by the corners to peel it off the pan. Roll into a tight log and secure with plastic wrap.
- Let rest for 1 hour before unwrapping and slicing. (It helps to dip your knife in water between cuts to prevent the haw candy from sticking to the blade.)
- Hawthorn berries: You can substitute 1 lb cranberries (454g) for the 1¼ lb of hawberries in this recipe. Use half the amount of water because cranberries have higher water content than hawthorn berries. They won’t taste the exact same but are still snacky and delicious!
- Blending: The mixture should be very thick but just blend-able; if it’s too thick, add a little more water as necessary. Note that the more water you add, the longer it will take to dry into leather.