Candied Citrus Appeal

Lemons, oranges, tangerines: The rinds of almost any citrus fruit can be transformed into sparkling, delectable treats.

Denise Gee September 17, 2012

You’ve probably seen them in the supermarket around the holidays: containers filled with clumps of a mysterious neon-colored sticky substance. Although this preservative-laden, chemically colored product is labeled candied orange or lemon peel, it bears as much resemblance to the real thing as Cheese Whiz does to farmhouse Cheddar. And there’s a good reason for that: According to Regan Daley in her book In the Sweet Kitchen, most candied peel sold in this country is made from citron, a large, sour, knobbly citrus fruit that is grown almost exclusively to make commercial candied peel. The result, says Daley, is a harsh, acrid product with enough preservatives that it “would probably outlast the most stubborn fruitcake.” Sure, you can buy artisanal candied citrus at European-style candy stores and pastry shops, but be prepared to pay dearly for it: At New York’s super-luxe chocolate shop Michel Cluizel, a half-pound of candied orange peel costs a whopping $49.

The good news is that making your own candied peel—using only the best organic ingredients, of course—couldn’t be easier or more inexpensive. Yes, you’ll need to set aside a little time for this project, but I can guarantee you’ll end up with candied peel that has wonderfully concentrated fruit flavor, enveloped in just a dusting or two of sugar. And it’s even more heavenly when dipped in chocolate.

Once you’ve made a batch, you’ll find there’s so much you can do with candied peel. It is delicious chopped and sprinkled atop sweet treats, from cupcakes to ice cream to waffles, and it makes the perfect hostess or holiday gift.

Before you start, you’ll need to assemble a candied-peel tool kit that includes:

  • Organic citrus fruit
  • Vegetable scrubber or toothbrush
  • Cutting board
  • Chef or utility knife plus a paring knife and small spoon
  • Vegetable peeler
  • Kitchen shears or craft scissors (optional)
  • 1 large saucepan (at least 5 quarts)
  • 1 large (about 10-cup) bowl for ice water
  • Colander
  • Organic granulated cane sugar
  • Colored decorating sugar (optional)
  • Cream of tartar (available in the spice section of most supermarkets)
  • Candy thermometer
  • Gallon-size plastic zip-top bags
  • Wire grid-style racks to fit in rimmed baking sheets
  • Waxed paper
  • Paper plates (optional)
  • Chocolate (optional)
  • Orange liqueur (optional)
  • Airtight containers for storage
  • Glassine bags and ribbon for packaging (optional)

 

 

Select the Fruit
  • Since most pesticide residue is found in the skin, its important to use organic fruit when making candied peel.
  • The sweetest citrus fruits—‘Meyer’ lemons, clementines, ‘Minneola’ tangelos, pomelos, honey tangerines—yield the sweetest candy.
  • Tarter fruits can also be sweetened, but it helps to have a taste for their slight bitterness. Though I’ve never been a grapefruit fan, I was surprised by the sweetness of the locally grown grapefruit peel I candied.
 

Peel and Trim

There are two main ways to peel the fruit:

  • For small batches of thin strips or curls for garnishes, use a vegetable peeler.
  • For bigger strips or to make other shapes, such as diamonds or triangles, cut the fruit in quarters. Cut away the fruit to eat later, and use a spoon or knife to scrape off as much of the white pith as possible (see photos above and opposite, top). More pith can remain on sweeter fruit (it absorbs the syrup well and provides a nice color and texture contrast); for tarter fruit, get as much off as possible without breaking through the fruit skin.
  • Cut quarters into 3⁄4-to-1-inch-wide strips about 1⁄8 to 1⁄4 inch thick, or into shapes as desired.
     

B&B = Boil & Blanch

To tenderize the fruit peels, remove bitterness, and concentrate flavor, place the peels in the saucepan and add enough water to fully cover them while allowing them room to move when boiling. (For every 3 cups of loosely packed peels, I used 6 cups of water.)

For already-sweet citrus peels: The one-step b&b method. Cover peels with water as directed above, bring to a boil over medium-high heat, and boil for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until peels are tender and almost translucent. Meanwhile, fill a large bowl with cold water and ice cubes. Carefully pour the peels into a colander to drain, then douse with cold water before plunging the colander into the ice-water bath to stop the cooking process and help the peels keep their shape. Remove the colander and set aside to drain.

For tart peels: You’ll need to use a three-step b&b method to remove any hint of bitterness. Cover peels with water as directed above but let them boil only 5 minutes before draining and blanching. Repeat this process two times, using fresh water for boiling and fresh ice water each time, until the peels are slightly translucent and tender. Taste for any residual bitterness (which may be the case with grapefruit); if need be, boil and blanch once or twice more until the bitterness is removed, but don’t overdo it or the peels will be tasteless. Drain.

 

Sweeten the pot

Candied peel gets its sweetness from simple syrup. Here’s how to make it:

  • Rinse out the saucepan. Add the drained peels and measure in fresh water to just cover fruit; keep track of how much water you use. Drain peels again, this time reserving the water.
  • Return water to pan and add as much sugar as water (for 4 cups water, you would add 4 cups sugar).
  • Add cream of tartar to help preserve color and keep the sugar from crystallizing during the long high-heat cooking time. Use a ratio of 1 teaspoon cream of tartar per 4 cups sugar and 4 cups water.
  •  Stir to combine and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Add drained peels to the simple syrup, stir to fully incorporate, and bring to a boil, letting fruit peels roil about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to the lowest setting and simmer, stirring only occasionally, for about 50 to 55 minutes. When the temperature reaches 230∞F on a candy thermometer, the syrup should be just right.

 

Sweeten Some More

  • Drain the sweetened fruit peels, reserving the simple syrup (see “Flavor Saver” on page 51). Place peels atop wire racks set on rimmed baking trays lined with waxed paper or paper towels and let them “drip dry” for about 30 minutes, using a fork to turn them occasionally.
  • Add about 1 cup sugar to a gallon-size zip-top plastic bag or medium-size bowl and add peels; toss to coat in sugar.
  • Wash racks and replace waxed paper in trays. Place sugared peels atop the clean racks.
  • In low-humidity climates, leave the peels out to dry for about 24 hours.
  • In high-humidity climates, allow at least 2, maybe even 3, days to let the peels dry naturally.
  • To speed things up, heat oven to 200∞F and then turn off the oven. Place the peels in the oven to dry overnight; if necessary, repeat this process.
     

Cure & sweeten even more

  • Return sugared peels to bag of sugar and give them another good shake.
  • Coat an airtight container with a thin layer of sugar and place the peels in the container.
  • Close securely and don’t open the container for several days. Do shake the container daily, though, to ensure that the peels don’t stick together.
  • Peels will keep in an airtight container a couple of weeks, but do not refrigerate: They’ll get unpleasantly chewy. You can, however, freeze candied peels in an airtight container for 2 to 3 months. Defrost at room temperature, breaking the peels up to air-dry. Add a fresh dusting of sugar if desired.
     
 

Dip them in chocolate
  • Use about 8 ounces of chopped high-quality bittersweet, semisweet, milk, or white chocolate per 1 cup of peels.
  • Cover several paper plates with waxed paper and set aside.
  • Slowly melt the chocolate over simmering water in a double boiler, adding 2 to 3 teaspoons of orange-flavored liqueur while stirring if desired.
  • Dip each slice a third of the way to halfway into the chocolate. Place on plates lined with waxed paper and refrigerate for about 15 minutes until chocolate is set.
     

Tips

  • Most but not all organic citrus is unwaxed. If you can find only waxed organic citrus, use a vegetable scrubber or clean toothbrush to remove the coating.
  • Cutting peels with craft scissors that have a decorative edge adds a professional look to homemade candied citrus.
  • Pour cooled fruit-infused simple syrup through a strainer into an airtight container. It’s delightful in drinks and over ice cream, and it refrigerates well for up to 3 weeks.
  • A bit of cinnamon, nutmeg, or ground ginger added to your sugar coating makes it more sprightly. Use colored sugar for even more pizzazz.
  • For a completely decadent treat, after the chocolate coating has dried, sprinkle with edible gold dust, available at craft stores, such as Michaels, or online at Amazon.com.
  • Avoid cooking a variety of peels all at once. Sweeter, thin-skinned fruits can be cooked together, but sweeter fruits mixed with tart fruits won’t tenderize and sweeten evenly.
  • Homemade, organic candied peel makes a beautiful gift, so don’t hide it in a gift box. Instead, package small amounts in transparent glassine bags and tie with a pretty ribbon.

 

For Step-byStep Instructions, see also How to Make Candied Citrus Peels.

 

Denise Gee and Robert Peacock’s new book, Sweet on Texas: Lovable Confections from the Lone Star State ($24.95), will be published this October by Chronicle Books.

Photo: Robert M. Peacock

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