There is only one kind of candy I make, and that's candied citrus peel. The reason is simple: Although I've never had homemade chocolate that came close to the best imported brands, I've never had commercial candied citrus peel that matched homemade.
Perfect candied peel is fragrant with ripe citrus and just sweet enough to make you forget you're eating what is essentially something so bitter that you'd normally spit it out.
After spending a couple of weeks running through various recipes, I think I've come up with a method that gives the best of this balance and does it without a long process.
Usually, before beginning the actual candying, you temper the bitternessin citrus peel with either a long soak in cold water or repeated blanchings in boiling water. You then cook the peel in sugar syrup until it turns translucent and finally you roll it in sugar and dry it.
Triple-blanching is much faster than the slow soaking; you're done in about half an hour, depending on how much peel you're working with. But does it affect the flavor? I tried both methods side by side and decided they make equally good peel, provided you manage the blanching carefully, draining the peel as soon as the water comes to a boil. Too long at the boil and the peel loses its edge.
Not that this careful attention makes much difference in most recipes. After the long cooking in sugar syrup that is required to candy the peel, most of the lively citrus flavor is gone anyway.
But there's a neat wrinkle in the candied peel recipe in Giuliano Bugialli's "The Fine Art of Italian Cooking" (Times Books, 1989). Instead of cooking the peel in sugar syrup, he simmers it for 10 minutes in plain water. Then he pours hot sugar syrup over the peel and leaves it at room temperature for an hour to candy gently.
Peel candied this way has the fresh citrus edge I was missing in other recipes. And that edge remains even after triple-blanching, rather than the eight-hour cold-soaking Bugialli calls for (changing the water every hour).
The biggest drawback to my adaptation of Bugialli's recipe was the way the sugar clumped clumsily on the peel after the candying. It was just too wet. That problem disappeared when I followed food writer David Karp's suggestion of drying the peel in a warm oven before rolling it in sugar. Warm the oven and put in the peel on its rack. Turn the oven off and leave the door open. I found that half an hour works about right for orange and lemon peel. Pomelo, with its extremely thick peel, takes a full hour.
Once you've rolled the peel in the sugar, you'll need to dry it again. Simply return it to the cooling rack (placed over a jellyroll pan; cooked sugar is tough on tabletops) and leave it at room temperature. It's best to shoot for a single layer of peel to avoid wet spots.
But if the peel overlaps and sticks together, don't worry. Just return it to the bowl of sugar and give it a good shake. Candied peel is remarkably tough stuff. You can even pull stuck-together pieces apart with your fingers with minimal breakage.
You can leave the peel like this for a couple of days, nibbling every once in a while to determine when it's reached the perfect texture. Because of the way sugar pulls moisture from anything it touches, the peel will continue to get harder as it sits out. When it's just right, seal it in an airtight container. It will continue to dry, but much more slowly. Odds are, it'll be eaten before it's too tough.
There's another useful trick in Claudia Roden's "Book of Jewish Food" (Alfred Knopf, 1996). She waits to remove the pith from the peel until after the peels have been softened by soaking (she uses a cold soak; it works just the same as blanching). This makes the removal much easier. By the time the blanching is done, the once-tough, sticky white stuff is spongy and soft enough that you could practically scrape it off with a spoon.
As far as the peel is concerned, it doesn't matter whether you've peeled the fruit just for the peel or it comes from rinds of juice or table oranges. Roden's book has a lovely description of her mother and father hoarding their citrus rinds every winter in a big bag until they had enough to candy. I now have a similar bag in my refrigerator.
If you peel the fruit just to make candy, slice the fruit in cross sections afterward and pour the citrus-infused candying syrup over it. These slices are great with toast at breakfast or with a sugar cookie for dessert.
The candied peel itself makes a lovely addition to a cookie plate. But its highest and best calling is to be served after dessert with coffee, alongside some good chocolate--purchased, of course.
Candied Citrus Peel
Active Work Time: 1 hour 10 minutes * Total Preparation Time: 2 hours 30 minutes
5 pounds citrus fruit