Thursday 19 February 2015

Honey-Candied Citrus Peels

February is a time for stirring. The flutters of restlessness after winter's excitements have worn off, the tiny signs that the outside world is waking up and preparing to grow again - readiness for change, both inside and out. A time of transition, where nothing is content to stay still. At least, that's what I feel every year at around this time. Call it cabin fever or simply instinct - something begins to urge me to think about spring cleaning, to seek out fresh air, a bright spot, a change of scenery. It seems to always be the time for plans and ideas, the start of new things. One of those "new things," 5 whole years ago now, was the start of this blog. I'd planned a larger, more exciting, more special (and timely) post to mark this occasion (...blogiversary? ...blogday?) but, funnily enough, more new things got in the way. Exciting things. (Well, aside from a cold - that was neither exciting nor good...) 

But even good news has a way of upending everything when it unfolds so suddenly. Hopefully I'll have time to get to those bigger plans and new recipes pretty soon. For now, though, something simpler. 

OK, I know what you may be thinking: simple? What's simple about making something you could just buy at the store? 

Well, a lot of things. For one thing, ingredients - the store-bought stuff is generally going to contain a lot more than just citrus peels and sugar (and not in a good way)! The recipe is actually quite simple to make, too. You can find a bunch of recipes online for candied peel with just sugar and water. I wanted to give it a more interesting flavor, so I replaced part of those with honey and lemon juice. The procedure is just as straightforward as the all-sugar method, though. 

I originally wanted to replace all the sugar with honey, but chickened out at the last minute because I was worried it would change the texture too much. If you do try that, though, please let me know how it goes! 

I actually made this with the intent of using it in a specific project - one that actually involves, well, baking - which I haven't gotten to yet, as mentioned...but it's also a good recipe in its own right, whether you want to use it in baking, as a decorative touch, or even on its own (perhaps dipped in chocolate?) as a small sweet. 

The finished product seems a little more sticky than the standard recipe, but for most purposes this won't really matter - it might be too wet for certain kinds of garnishes or dipping in chocolate, but I haven't tested that yet. 
The flavor is indeed more complex, and the leftover syrup...well, I had to stop myself from eating spoonfuls of the stuff - it tastes like pure essence of marmalade!  

Honey-Candied Citrus Peel

**Note: Please make sure to use organic fruits - as with any recipe using citrus zest or peel. Seriously, you don't want to eat the peels of the conventional kind, because they're usually coated with antifungals or other things that really aren't meant to be ingested! The organic ones may still have a very thin coating of wax, but it will be food-grade vegetable wax and should come off without much trouble.**  

Select several citrus fruits with unblemished skins (I used 5 small lemons and 1 medium-sized orange, which gave me 145 g of peel - a little over a cup). Wash and scrub them very well (just because they're organic doesn't mean they're clean!) 
Cut off a small piece at the stem end. With a sharp knife, score the top layer of peel as if you were cutting it into wedges, but try not to cut into the fruit itself. Quarters work well for small lemons and limes, while anything bigger should probably be scored into sixths or eighths. Now, use the tip of the knife to lift up the edge where you cut off the stem. Slip your thumb underneath this edge and gradually separate each wedge of peel from the fruit, one at a time. Repeat with the rest of the fruits. 

- Cut the peel into thin, even strips. Length of the strips can vary depending on what you want them for - I cut them fairly short since they'll mainly be used in recipes, but long strips would probably look more elegant for decoration or dipping in chocolate. (You'll now also have several naked citrus fruits, which should be refrigerated for some other use.)

- Put the strips of peel into a pan and cover with cold water. Add a pinch of salt and bring to a boil.

- Boil 10-12 minutes, then drain and discard the water. Repeat the boiling process, depending on what kind of peel you're using - lemons and limes should be ok with 1-2 boils, while oranges need 2-3 and grapefruit even more. The aim is to get rid of the unpleasantly bitter components, without making the peel too soft and mushy. 

- Next, set the peels aside while you make the syrup (you can use the same pan). 

For the syrup you will need: a fairly mild-flavored, light- or medium-colored honey (clover, wildflower, etc); sugar (I used unbleached / evaporated cane juice); water; and lemon juice. I'm giving ratios because the amount of syrup you need is not based entirely on the amount of peel - it will also depend on the size and shape of your pan. You need enough to keep the peels completely covered. It's better to have too much than not enough; there are lots of uses for the leftover syrup! 
The basic ratio is 2 parts honey : 2 parts sugar : 2 parts water : 1 part lemon juice. (For example, I used 120 g honey, 120 g sugar, 120 g water, & 60 g lemon juice, which was just enough to cover ~1 cup of peel in an 8-inch saucepan.)

- Combine all syrup ingredients in a pan over medium heat. When the sugar/honey have completely dissolved and the mixture has come to a simmer, add the peel. Cover and continue simmering for an hour - a glass lid is useful here, so you can keep an eye on it. Check occasionally to make sure all the pieces stay submerged in syrup, and to adjust temperature if needed.

- Strain the peel well (keep the syrup!) and spread the pieces in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with wax paper or parchment. Let dry for several hours or overnight. 

- Toss with sugar and spread out on a fresh piece of wax paper or parchment (the first one will have a coating of sticky syrup which will make the sugar clumpy) and dry for a few more hours before putting in a jar - this will reduce stickiness. Store in the fridge or freezer. It should keep for at least a few weeks refrigerated, more if frozen. 

Coming soon: recipe(s) using the peel, the syrup, or both!