It's easy to imagine the cook who first decided not to waste the fragrant lemon and orange rinds that were left behind when the fruit was peeled and prepared for the table, fiddling around and boiling it in honey or sugar syrup until the tart, brightly colored peelings were plump and sweet. It's still one of the most delightful candies ever created, but is also indispensable in holiday baking, especially in fruit cake.
Though commercially candied citrus peel for baking has been around for a long time now, today most of it is made with high-fructose syrup, which, while cheaper, is cloyingly sweet with an unpleasant aftertaste. Fortunately, making it at home isn't difficult or all that time-consuming and is an excellent way to use leftover citrus peelings that would otherwise be thrown out.
The old recipes called for blanching the peel in four or five changes of water to remove all the bitterness, but doing so with modern hybrid fruit removes an important element of the flavor. I find that doing it just twice is usually enough.
Crystallized or Candied Citrus Rind or Peel
I used to weigh all the ingredients, but have found that it's easier and just as effective to use a measuring cup for proportioning the rinds with the sugar.
To use leftover rinds from juice, ambrosia, or the breakfast table, cut each half into quarters and scoop out any remaining pulp and membrane but leave the white pith intact. Scrub them with a vegetable brush under cold running water and store them in an air-tight container such as a plastic storage bag, refrigerated, for up to 3 days, until you have enough rinds for a batch.
If you're using rind from whole fruit, scrub the fruit under cold running water with a vegetable brush, then remove the rind by cutting going all the way through the membrane into the fruit sections. Scrape all the pulp and membrane from the rind, leaving the white pith intact.
When you're ready to proceed, cut the rinds into 1/4-to-3/8-inch wide strips and measure them by loosely packing them into a large measuring cup.
For each cup of peel you'll need at least ¾ cup of sugar
1. Put the rinds a heavy-bottomed stainless or enameled pot and add enough water to completely cover them by at least half an inch. Bring it to a boil over medium high heat and adjust the heat to a brisk boil. Cook for 8-10 minutes. Drain, and again cover with cold water. Return the pot to medium high heat, bring it to a boil, and adjust the heat to a brisk boil and cook 8-10 minutes. If the rind is still very bitter, repeat once more.
2. Drain well and for each cup of rind, combine ½ cup of sugar and ¼ cup of water in the pot in which the rind was blanched. Stir until the sugar is mostly dissolved. Return the rind to the pot, and bring it to a brisk boil over medium-high heat, stirring often. Adjust the heat to medium and boil until the syrup is absorbed and the rind is transparent, stirring occasionally at first and more frequently as the syrup is absorbed. It'll take about 15-20 minutes. A lot will depend on the rind, so be patient. When the syrup is absorbed, remove the pan from the heat.
3. Spread the peel on a wire cooling rack set over a baking sheet to catch drips, and let it dry at room temperature until firm and only a little sticky—about 8 hours. If using the rind for baking, omit the sugar coating outlined in the next step and store it in an airtight container. Use it within three days.
4. To finish the peel as candy, spread 1 cup of sugar for every 3 cups of peel on a wax paper or parchment lined rimmed baking sheet and roll the rinds in it until they are coated. Spread it and let it sit until it's dry to the touch (about half an hour to an hour), then store the candy in airtight tins or plastic storage tubs.
Portions of this essay and recipe are adapted from Essentials of Southern Cooking, copyright © 2013 by Damon Lee Fowler, all rights reserved.