Besides its presence in a wide variety of traditional holiday baked goods, candied peel makes a very nice Christmas candy—plain or dipped in dark chocolate. It is an old fashioned kind of homemade treat. My mother has memories of her grandparents making it at Christmas time. To this day it is one of her favorite holiday candies—I'm sure she would be disappointed if I didn't make at least one batch.
Since candied orange peel is easy to make there is no reason to settle for the inferior stuff that is sometimes sold commercially. Choose a day to make it when you have other activities to attend to at home. Once started, it doesn't take a lot of attention, just your presence in the house during its quiet and lengthy simmer on the back of the stove.
In addition to orange peel, lemon and grapefruit peel also candy beautifully. Whatever fruit you choose, seek out specimens that have thick skins so that the white layer of pith—which softens to a chewy, gumdrop-like texture during the cooking process—will be nice and fat. After multiple blanchings in boiling water, most of the natural bitterness of the pith is gone and the peels will have begun to soften. The transformation from a fibrous, bitter rind—suitable only for the compost heap—is made complete by a long slow simmer in a simple sugar syrup.
When the pith is translucent, the candying process is finished. I like to drain the now-thick syrup off and spread the peels out on wire racks to dry. When they have dried to the point that they are just slightly tacky to the touch—usually overnight, I like to toss them in granulated sugar. They can then be stored airtight at room temperature and eaten as a snack or diced and added to baked goods. If you are only going to be using them to bake with, they can be stored in their syrup in the refrigerator until you are ready to use them.
Candied Orange Peel
2 navel oranges (thick skinned oranges are best)
2 1/4 c. sugar, divided
1 3/4 c. water
1 T. freshly squeezed lemon juice
Top and tail the oranges and quarter them lengthwise. Pull the rind away from the flesh—scrape away any membrane that remains attached to the rind. Set the orange flesh aside for another use or a snack. Lay the pieces of rind on a cutting board and slice them lengthwise into 1/4-inch strips.
Place the strips of peel in a medium saucepan and add water to cover by an inch. Bring to a rapid boil. Simmer for 5 minutes. Strain the peels and discard the water. Cover the peels with more cold water and bring to a boil again, simmering and straining as before. Repeat one more time with fresh water.
|After three blanchings|
In a clean medium saucepan combine 2 cups of the sugar with 1 3/4 c. of water and the lemon juice. Heat until the sugar is dissolved. Add the peels and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low. The goal is to cook the peels at a bare simmer—you should only see a bubble or two on the surface of the syrup as the peels cook. Cook until the peels are translucent—about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
|After 1 1/2 hours|
Strain the citrus peels and place them, so they are not touching, on a wire rack. Let sit overnight to air-dry. Toss the candied peels in the remaining 1/4 cup sugar, coating them thoroughly.
|Strained finished peel|
|Spread out to dry|
|Tossed with sugar|
Makes about 40 pieces of candies orange peel. Store the peels at room temperature in an airtight container.
(Recipe adapted from Four-Star Desserts, by Emily Luchetti)