My job is tightly connected to my favourite activity, cooking, therefore I find it difficult to pinpoint what I like to do when I’m not working. What do I do when I do not cook for the blog, for a magazine or in a class? Apart from reading, something I leave to the evening when the lights are dim and the rhythms slow down, I think you won’t be surprised if I tell you that I cook, again.
There are two activities that I especially enjoy: one is baking bread, both with fresh brewer’s yeast, added sparingly to the dough, and with sourdough, which I’ve been feeding for almost five years now, with some highs and many more lows.
The other one is preserving: I find it genetically satisfying to make jams and marmalades to preserve the best produce of the season for as long as possible. Don’t get me started with the liqueurs: limoncello, bergamot liqueur, lemon verbena, nocino, alchermes… I might sip them twice a year, but that’s not the point for me. I am so proud when I line them up on the table after a dinner with friends or a cooking class, it is home made at its best.
Over the last few years, since the production of panforte and cavallucci for Christmas took on pastry shop rhythms, I started to make my homemade candied orange peels and candied citron peels. Apart from the exorbitant cost of high quality artisanal candied peels, which is totally justified, given the amount of time it takes to make them, the taste of home-made candied peels has nothing to do with that of store bought, colouring bright, preservative rich ones. Making your own candied peels cuts down the costs and provides you with the most fragrant peels you’ll ever taste.
One of the reasons why winter is my favourite season are citrus fruits.
As soon as I see citrus fruits on the market stalls, I compulsively buy them and bring them home by the bagful. The production of bergamot marmalade or bitter orange marmalade is the peak of the citrus season for me.
I eat tons of oranges, too, so I had to come up with an idea to use them. When someone eats an orange, they look at me with a terrified look: how do you want the peel? the whole skin, pith included? just a thin zest? Is that okay?
The thick skin, with all the pith, in large and regular segments, is good for making candied peels. If you carefully remove just the orange zest with a peeler, that’s perfect to make orange powder.
Candied orange peels, how to make them at home
When my parents asked me what I wanted for Christmas I gave them a list for marmalade lovers: a jam funnel, jam jar tongs and a refractometer. This geeky tool, which looks like a kaleidoscope, is used to measure Brix degrees, which indicate the density of sugars in a liquid. It comes in handy for marmalades and candied peels in this moment of the year, while I’m going to use it to have the right amount of sugar in syrups to make sorbets in summer.
Obviously the refractometer is not essential for candying the peel, though it helps. Below you can find the detailed procedure to candy your orange peels at home. Then you’ll be able to use in panforte, in cavallucci, and also in a simple citrus pound cake, or you can cut them in strips and cover with melted chocolate…
Consider having a pot with peels and syrup on the stove for about ten days: the positive side is that your kitchen will smell incredibly fresh and citrussy for days.
- 500 g of organic orange peels
- 1.250 g of sugar
- 1.250 g of water
- 300 g of glucose or acacia honey
Cut the ends of the oranges, carve the peel into large segments, then gently remove with your hands the whole peel, pith included. It will take you a few days to make 500 grams of orange peel. Collect the peels gradually in a plastic container and cover with cold water. Keep at room temperature. Change the water twice a day, this will also take away the bitterness of the peel. When you have the amount you need, start the candying process.
Fill a pot with water and add the peels. Bring the water to a boil. As soon as it starts boiling, drain the peels and cool them down in a bowl of cold water. Repeat this process for blanching the peels two more times. The last time, instead of removing the peels as soon as the water starts to boil, simmer them for at least 30 minutes, or until the white part has become translucent. At this point, gently drain the peels and cool them again.
Once cold, drain the peels and let them drain well on a wire rack.
Prepare the water and sugar syrup. Some people say to double the weight of the peels to find the amount of water and sugar needed, others suggest to multiply by three, to make sure you have enough syrup for the storage. After trying both ways, I decided that the right amount for me is two and a half times. So, for 500 grams of peels you will need 1.250 grams of water and 1.250 grams of sugar. This will help you do the maths if you have a smaller of bigger amount of peels.
Pour the water and the sugar into a large pot and stir well, then heat over medium-low fire until the sugar has completely dissolved and the syrup will almost begin to boil.
Turn off immediately and bathe the orange peel into the hot syrup. They must be completely covered by the syrup. Leave them in the syrup until the following day. Do not cover the pot otherwise the steam condensation would drip into the pot.
The next day, heat the syrup again with the orange peesl still inside. As soon as it starts to boil, turn it off. I took a shortcut: some remove the peels every time before bringing the syrup back to a boil, to prevent them from breaking. For a small home production, though, there is no need to complicate your life. Wait again until the following day.
The candying process will take from 7 to 10 days. How to know when the peels are ready? The syrup will thicken day by day, becoming stickier. Eventually it will create a film on the surface, and it will be almost as thick as honey. For the geeks out there, use a refractometer, the tool which measures the concentration of sugar: the peels will be candied to perfection when the syrup will reach 72° Brix.
When you are at the last boiling, add the glucose, or the acacia honey, to prevent the peel from crystallizing or becoming too hard, stir carefully until dissolved and bring to the boil.
Up until the last year I would drain completely the peels and store them in a Tupperware in the refrigerator, but the peels tended to crystallize and become hard. Now I collect them in a sterilized jam jar, covering them with their syrup, then I seal the lid.
If you have some leftover syrup, keep it in the fridge in a jar: you can use it to brush cakes or to make sorbets and refreshing drinks in summer.
To seal the jars, arrange them in a pan and place them in the oven at 100°C. Dry cook the jars for 40 minutes for 250 grams jars. If the jar keeps 500 grams of liquid, the cooking time will be 80 minutes. Again, easy maths. Remove the jars from the oven and let them cool down, then store them in a cool and dry place in your pantry for a year or more.
When you open the jar, use the candied orange peels you need and keep it in the fridge until you have finished all the peel.
I read many articles, asked tons of questions and eventually came to my home-made method, which is not scientifically rigorous. These are the sources that helped me find a way, along with a trial and error process which was so fun all the way down to my candied orange peels.
- Arance Candite, metodo classico on I Pasticci dello ZioPiero’s blog (in Italian)
- Scorze di arancia candite on Teonzo’s blog (in Italian)
- Scorze di arancia candite, metodo italiano, on Martina’s blog (in Italian)
Other interesting readings:
- Candied Orange Peel, by Domenica Marchetti. Some cooks are intimidated by the candying process, which calls for poaching fruit in sugar syrup, but it’s easier than you might think, and it is especially easy to candy citrus peel. As the peel absorbs the hot syrup, it is transformed from a bitter pithy thing into a chewy-soft confection with jewel-like translucence.
- How to make candied orange peels, by Cooking with Rosetta.
Candied citron peels, how to make them at home
The exact same procedure can be applied to citron peels. In this case, cut the citron in a half, and then in quarters. With a sharp knife cut away the pulp and keep the white pith, which will be thick and firm. Depending on the thickness of the peel, it may take a day or two more than orange to candy.
Do not throw away the pulp. You can add it to a marmalade (and we’ll talk about it next week) and also slice it thinly into a salad. The citron, if possible, is even more charming than the orange once it has been candied.
Every year I fill a jar with this fine powder with an intensely orange scent and use it sparingly since the end of the orange season in biscotti, cakes, but also in risotti and with fish to substitute the freshly grated orange zest, one of the most celestial smells in the world.
I recently discovered that what I believed to be a new way to preserve the orange aroma throughout the hot months was instead an old remedy, something my grandmother has always done. They would dry up the orange peel next to the fireplace and crumble it in cakes and biscotti when needed. Those women had never thrown something away, let alone the peel of a fruit as precious as an orange.
So how do you make it nowadays? Remove the orange zest with a peeler. Collect it on a wire rack and dry until brittle next to a stove, on a radiator or near the fireplace. You can also dry them up in a dehydrator and in the oven on low temperatures. Be careful as the orange zest is so thin that it burns up easily. When you have a good amount, blend them into fine powder. Collect this powder with a brush in a jar. It can be kept for several months, preserving its aroma intact.
You can follow the same procedure for clementines and lemons.