Making Candied Citrus Peel

Disclaimer: I'm not really into the December holidays. We had quiet Hannukah celebrations growing up and I was always turned off by Christmas displays. Probably has something to do with being raised in a mostly Jewish suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. My wife, though, had a much different upbringing (ask me about it someday). She loves the holiday traditions and embraces the season, so I've become accustomed to having both menorahs and a Christmas tree in the apartment. Slowly and begrudgingly I've found peace with all these festivities. I still cringe when the George Michael, Annie Lennox, and Mariah Carey come on the stereo, but on the other hand I do love me some Yule Log dvd.

One tradition that I can definitely get behind, though, is the exchange of holiday kitchen creations. There's nothing like Susan & Diane's exquisitely packaged cookie box, or Amorette & Elizabeth's winter homebrew and homemade bitters. As much as I'd love to just sit back and let the treats roll in, I knew I had to up the ante and create something of my own. Since I don't have years of kitchen experience like a lot of my friends, I decided to start with something simple: candied citrus peel. You can get a pleasing variety of colors, you can pack 'em up into little gift bags, and unless you really botch a step they're really hard to fuck up.

 

I did some cursory research and learned that the pretty much everyone agrees on process: blanch, simmer, decorate, and dry. You can finds tons of simple recipes online, but I was most inspired by Jennifer Yu's description.

Citrus fruits are cheap and plentiful this time of year, and for my first time I went the pedestrian route. Mostly. I used grapefruit, orange, lemon, and lime. And just to keep things interesting, I threw in some meyer lemon as well. You didn't think I was going to go with something truly exotic like buddha's hand, did you?

Per her suggestion, I tried two methods of harvesting the peel. First method: I cut each orange in half, juiced it with a handheld squeezer, and then tried to scrape out pulp. What a pain in the ass. Maybe it would've worked better if I had a serrated grapefruit spoon on hand, but the pulp just did not want to be free.

The second method worked a lot better: I cut off polar caps, scored along longitudes every sixty degrees or so, peeled carefully, cut the peel into ¼" slices, and juiced the leftover fruit segments. One thing I learned is that the peel doesn't change size much during the cooking process, so you should try to be roughly accurate. Better to be too thin than too thick, because thick ones are a bit leathery and too bitter.

 

Step 1: Blanch. This is a really simple step that removes a good amount of the overwhelming bitterness, leaving just enough to keep a good contrast with the sugar coating. Just toss the peel in a pot, fill it with cold water to cover, and put it on the stove on high heat. Bring it to a boil for thirty seconds, then pour off the water. Refill the pot with cold water and repeat, until you've done three blanchings. I had five types of peel (each with a different yield) and three functioning stove burners, so this took a bit of a juggling act to coordinate and keep track of how many blanches each pot had.

 

Step 2: Simmer. Every recipe suggests using a 3:1 sugar-to-water ratio, and it worked for me as well. If it's not too exact, don't worry, it doesn't have to be super accurate. Just make sure you make enough sugar water to keep the peel well immersed - at least an inch and a half of liquid above the top of the peel pile - because you'll be simmering for a long time and you don't want to burn your peel.* Bring the sugar water to a boil, toss in the peel, and reduce to a simmer. Toss a lid on there and keep the pot 75% covered to prevent too much liquid loss. Simmer until the peel is soft and translucent.

Recipes call for around 60-75 minutes of simmering. Most of these peels required the high end of the spectrum, needing at least around 75 minutes to be translucent and soft with just a little resistance. When they're done, just remove from the liquid, and set in a bowl to cool for about ten minutes.

 

When the liquid cools, pour it into a container (thinning with water if necessary) and save for rum cocktails.

Step 3: Decorate. After the peel cools it will be very sticky, so be prepared for some frustrating work. I rolled the first batch in sugar, but I don't necessarily recommend that because it's a bit tedious and after a short time the sugar clumped.

 

I lined up remaining batches on wax paper and gave them a heavy sprinkling of sugar, which had the disadvantage of leaving some parts of the peel undecorated, but had the advantage of being a whole lot faster and prettier.

 

Then just to take it one step further, I dipped some in melted chocolate instead of topping them with sugar. I didn't have the supplies (or experience) to properly temper chocolate, so I just melted some nice quality dark chocolate in the microwave, kept a good eye on it and stirred frequently to watch for burning, and dipped away.

 

Step 4: Dry. It's as simple as it sounds — just let 'em dry overnight. If you've gone the chocolate route, though, and didn't store them in the freezer, you're going to get blooming. Especially if you have an old radiator heated apartment with lots of overnight temperature spikes and cooling cycles.

Start to finish it's a pretty time consuming process, but it's worth it seeing row after row of candied peel taking over your kitchen table.

*This is what happens when you don't use enough liquid.

 

Of course it was the meyer lemon.

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