I first candied citrus peels when I was living in Florence. In fact, I’m not sure that I had even heard of candied citrus peel before. I was amazed to find out that the pithy, spongy white part of the rind could be miraculously transformed into something far better than edible…. I would even say delicious. Do not be put off if you have made the mistake of buying some sticky, mute candied citron and swore that you would never, never again give your support to such an assault on fruit. Citrus peels candied at home are indescribably better. Even candied, the zesty peels have enough kick to pack a serious citrusy bite. Most American pastry chefs seem to like to candy just the zest, but I’m a sucker for the thick slabs of peel cut into chunky little strips.
I wanted to get this post up before Christmas, as candied peels can make a laudable addition to many Christmas goodies. (While in Florence I fell head over heels for Panforte and Panettone– both traditional Italian Christmas treats- and have made them every Christmas since. Though I am still searching for a recipe for a fabulous christmas cookie I stumbled across–a butter cookie with candied orange peel, hazelnuts, and coriander. Mmm.) You can use candied citrus peel in anything that uses dried fruit– cake, cookies, muffins, breads. Save your citrus peels in a bag in the freezer until you have accumulated enough to make a full batch. Then , with just a little time and sugar, you can turn your leftover lunchbox scraps into one of my favorite confections. If you are feeling particularly hedonistic, candied peels are exquisite dipped in chocolate.
1 part Citrus Peels (any citrus peel except for lime will work)
1 part sugar (measure your complete volume of peels, and use the same amount of sugar)
1/2 part water
optional seasonings*- cinnamon stick, allspice, star anise, coriander, black pepper, vanilla, a slice of fresh pineapple.
Prepare the Peels:
If you are saving peels that have been pulled by hand off of the fruit, you don’t need to prepare them any further. If you have cut the peels off of the fruit then it is essential that you scrape off any of the fruit membrane that is remaining, you want only the white spongy interior. ( If there is any fruit left, then you will end up with an impossibly hard, leathery piece of peel.)
The whole reason that citrus peel is palatable in this preparation is because of blanching. By boiling the peel in water several times, you dilute some of the bitterness in the peel. Put your peels in a saucepan cover with cold water. Cover the pan and bring it to a boil. As soon as the water comes to a boil, remove the pan from the heat and pour off the fragrant, lightly colored water. Once again cover the peels with fresh, cold water and bring to a boil, then pour off the water. Repeat the process once more– a total of three times. I have seen some recipes specify blanching as many as five times, but I think the amount of just-slightly-bitter tang after three boils is just right, but you can go ahead and blanch a few more times if you want a milder end product.
Add the sugar to the drained peels. Then add water (half the volume of the sugar and peels) Cover your pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to the lowest setting that will maintain a simmer. Keep your pan covered and simmer for about an hour. Every so often stir the peels and check to make sure that the syrup hasn’t cooked down too much (you want the peels to remain submerged in syrup). If needed, add a little bit of water. Take a close look at the peels– you want them to be translucent all the way through, even at the thickest parts of the peel. When the peels are fully cooked remove them from the heat and allow them to cool in the syrup.
Line a baking sheet with plastic wrap. Then place a wire rack on top. Spread out the peels to dry. Let sit at least one day. (I find the oven a convenient place to store the drying peels undisturbed)
At this point the peels can be stored as-is, but I prefer to cut them up into strips. Then they are ready to be measured for any purpose which might arise. If your peels are still moist and sticky, you can toss them in a bit of granulated sugar. Candied peels will keep at room temperature for several weeks– I keep mine in the freezer where they last indefinitely.
*I only add the optional spices if the peel is to be in a starring role– if it is just going to be mixed in with a bunch of other dried fruit or nuts, then the subtleties of the spice will be lost. But if you are going to have the peel as a centerpiece I highly recommend the combination of vanilla, pineapple and coriander. Your kitchen will smell more delicious than I can articulate.