Candied citrus peel is another tasty and relatively easy way to use up a “trash food” that is still full of flavor, and that is why we’re featuring this yummy confection in our Feasting in Times of Winter Scarcity series. Again, if we think back to a time when citrus would have been harder to get your hands on and therefore a very special treat when you had it… then it makes sense to use every bit! And the best way to make a special treat even more special is to turn it into the candied jewels below. Better yet, if you followed along with our Tale of Two Vins post, you can put your peels from that to work, yet again, reincarnating them into their third life!
The recipe below will work for virgin citrus peels, but it is even better with the ones that have been sitting in and absorbing that sweet, boozy slurry for a few weeks. Much of the bitterness will have already left them, and they’ll have picked up other flavors. Added Bonus: you don’t have to “waste” the alcohol they absorbed by just tossing them in the compost because it will all be part of the finished product here.
You can do this recipe with peels from any citrus fruit, but it is particularly tasty with the thicker peels of oranges and grapefruit (my personal favorite).
Candied Citrus Peel
citrus peels (soaked or unsoaked previously in booze, with or without pulp attached)
Slice the peels into thin strips or “smiley faces” roughly 1/4-1/2-inch wide. If you prefer a thinner or less-bitter peel, you can scrape out some of the white pith at this stage. I generally like a meatier, slightly bitter candied peel, so I don’t scrape out much of the white pith. Particularly if you are using peels that have been previously used to infuse alcohol, much of that bitterness will already be gone anyway.
Place peels in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan.
If you are using virgin peels (not pre-soaked in alcohol), cover peels with water and bring to a low simmer for about 5 minutes. Dump off water, and repeat until the bitterness is reduced to a palatable level for you when you taste a peel. Then proceed to the next step. If you are using peels that have already been soaked in alcohol, you can skip this entire pre-boiling step.
Fill sauce pan with water until peels are covered about one inch, measuring how much water you add. Then add an equal amount of sugar (i.e., if you needed 4 cups of water to cover the peels, add 4 cups of sugar for a 1:1 ratio).
Bring to a very low simmer, and continue to simmer until peels are translucent. If at any point the syrup becomes too thick or caramelizes to be darker than the color of straw, add water. This will take about an hour. To test if peel is done, remove one, allow it to cool, and see if you can bite through it easily. You will notice a visible change in the appearance of the peels and liquid when they are ready, with both becoming very glossy.
Remove the peels from the syrup and allow to dry on a wire rack overnight or until no longer sticky. Look at these fatties below – this is why I leave my pith in for maximum absorption potential. Be sure to put a pan or wax paper under the rack, or you will have some tough-to-clean counters!
TIP: Reserve the syrup for later use as a citrus-flavored simple syrup.
The next day, toss the peels in superfine sugar until coated. Some sources recommend to even let the peels sit in the sugar overnight or even indefinitely to dry out further and allow any remaining gooeyness to fully absorb the sugar. If you plan to store them more long-term, this may be a good idea. As a bonus, it will give you some citrus-scented sugar to use in the future. If you plan to store them directly in your belly, this is less necessary.
Store in an air-tight container in the pantry. Peels will keep indefinitely if allowed to dry properly (but they may mold if not completely dry before storing). If in doubt, eat within a couple of weeks or store in the refrigerator.
Now that you have them, how can you use them?
- Dip one end of the peels in chocolate and serve with coffee or dessert.
- Give a box of them as a gift.
- Mince peels and add to fruit pies, pound cake, shortbread cookies, or ice cream.
- Use as a garnish on almost anything, especially citrus cocktails, like the one at the end of this post or the one here. Throw in some of that leftover citrus syrup as a bonus!