Introduction: Candied Citrus Peels

Around the holidays I always see people buying and eating expensive store bought candied citrus peels. This year I made my own. It's relatively easy and inexpensive, but it does take a bit of time.

This recipe is for the basic peels. There are two optional variations: 1) dipping the peels in chocolate and 2) leaving the final coating of sugar off so that you can use the peels for baked goods.

Step 1: Ingredients

Decide what kind of citrus peel you want to candy. Grapefruits, lemons, and oranges are the traditional ones; I've also heard of people using limes. Adjust the amount of fruits you purchase based on how big they are. Two grapefruits are about equal in peel amount to three/four oranges, or four/five lemons or limes, depending on size. You want fruit with a thicker peel.

Granulated Sugar
I've used different amounts of sugar for different amounts of fruit peel. On my first go, I used four cups of sugar to four cups of water to three oranges. The second time, I used two cups of sugar to two cups of water to two grapefruits. For more peel, use a larger amount of sugar and water, for less peel use less. Just make sure you have enough syrup to keep the fruit covered the whole time.

Just like what it sounds like. Make sure to use cold (or at least cool) water during the blanching process. Also make sure to keep the ratio of water to sugar the same while making the syrup. Otherwise, nothing special here.

Optional: Chocolate
Peels can be dipped in chocolate after they've been cooked in syrup. Dark or milk chocolate go well with the orange peels. I'm planning to try dark chocolate with the lime peels as well.

For this to work well, you need to be prepared ahead of time for the various stages. You'll want a good paring knife for the cutting step, a large pot for the cooking steps, and a colander, a metal drying rack and wide, shallow bowl for the drying/sugaring step.

Step 2: Cutting the Peels

Cut the fruit into quarters. Remove the pulp part of the fruit from the peel and save for another use.

Cut away as much of the pith (the white, spongey, bitter stuff on the inside of the peel) as possible. I found that cutting the peels into smaller pieces makes this process easier, but increases the amount of time it takes because there are more peels to process. (You will eventually cut all the peels down to a small size either way.)

Start cutting at one end. Slowly wiggle the knife along the peel. Generally, you'll want to make several passes with the knife to get all the pith off. (It's easier to remove the pith when the peel is a little dry, rather than wet -- so I definitely recommend doing this before blanching the peels.)

Step 3: Blanching the Peels

Put the peels in a medium or large pot. Cover the peels with cold water. Heat the peels and water up to boiling. Soon after the water boils, remove the pot from heat and drain the water from the peels.

Repeat this process at least three times for best results. Blanching before cooking the peels takes away a lot of the bitterness while leaving behind the flavor.

Step 4: Cooking the Peels

Set your peels aside for the moment.

On the stove, heat up an equal amount of water and sugar. As stated in the directions, this can be four cups of each or two cups of each, depending on the amount of fruit peels involved. Two cups of each seemed to be plenty for two grapefruits. Four cups of each was a lot of syrup compared to three oranges worth of peels. Experimentation will give you the best results.

Bring the sugar and water to a boil. You can stir the mixture at this point to help the sugar dissolve faster. Once the sugar is entirely dissolved and the syrup is boiling, add the peels and turn the heat down to a simmer.

Allow the peels to simmer in the syrup until translucent. The amount of time this will take is related to how thick the peels are. I left oranges in for a full hour and ended up with very translucent, soft peels. Grapefruits seemed to finish up after only forty-five minutes. When I tried lemon peels (the thickest peel so far), I left them in for a full hour and they still were relatively hard.

Step 5: Sugaring and Drying the Peels

Once the peels are translucent, turn off the heat. Allow the peels to cool down in the syrup.

(I've tried storing the peels in the syrup overnight, rather than immediately processing them. This resulted in very crystalized syrup and peels covered in what was basically rock candy. I think you're better off just finishing the peels right away.)

When you're ready to pull the peels from the syrup, set up a wide shallow bowl or plate filled with more granulated sugar, a wire rack, and a colander.

Put the colander in the sink and pour the peels and syrup into it, draining away the excess syrup. Pull the peels from the colander one by one. If you're using the peels for baking or dipping the peels in chocolate, place the peels on the wire rack without any further modification. Otherwise, roll the peel in the sugar and then rack the peel.

(If you don't have a colander handy, you can also use paper towels to blot the peels when they come out of the syrup. I found that this takes a lot longer, is much messier, and results in lots of wasted paper towels. The colander method is much quicker and less messy.)

After about half an hour, the peels should be firm enough for storage, chopping, or dipping in chocolate. I just put mine in plastic sandwich bags until I'm ready to package them; tupperware would work fine as well.