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Test Kitchen tips: Zesting citrus

November 15, 2012|By Noelle Carter
  • Orange zest.
Orange zest. (Los Angeles Times )

When a recipe calls for zest, it's referring to the outermost layer of a citrus fruit -- that colored part of the skin that gives oranges, lemons and limes their vibrant colors. It's the zest that contains those rich, fragrant oils that give so much flavor to a dish or recipe.

There are many ways to zest a fruit, whether using a citrus zester (pictured above), a grater, a microplane or rasp, vegetable peeler or even a good old-fashioned paring knife.  Simple as it may be, there are still some tips to keep in mind:

  • Make sure you remove only the outermost layer of colored zest, leaving the white pith behind. The pith is bitter, and that bitterness can overpower the flavor of the zest, affecting the final recipe.
  • Zest your citrus first, before juicing or using any other part of the fruit in a recipe. It's easier -- zesting a juiced fruit is like trying to zest a flat tire.
  • Choose your method of zesting based on how the zest will be used in a recipe. If the zest is strictly for flavor, I prefer a rasp or grater -- I find the blades don't cut quite as "clean" as a zester or knife, slightly bruising the zest as it's removed to release more oils for flavor. If I'm using the zest as a garnish (candying it to top a cake, or using it to complete a cocktail), a zester, peeler or knife work best. A zester will give you nice, consistent strips of zest.  A peeler or knife enable you to remove large pieces of zest, which you can cut or chop to use as desired.

If you have any kitchen tips or questions you'd like me to explore, leave a comment below or shoot me an e-mail at


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Norwegian orange cake

Total time: 1 hour, 15 minutes plus cooling time

Servings: 10 to 16

Note: Candied orange peel is generally available at gourmet and cooking supply stores, as well as at select well-stocked markets.

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3/4 cup (1½ sticks) butter, softened

1 cup sugar

3 eggs

Grated zest of 1 orange

1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons orange juice, divided

1 1/3 cups (5.7 ounces) flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

3 ounces dark chocolate (preferably 70%), finely chopped

3/4 cup powdered sugar

Candied orange peel for garnish

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. In the bowl of a stand mixer using the beater attachment, or in a large bowl using a hand mixer, beat the butter and 1 cup sugar until light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, until thoroughly incorporated. Beat in the orange zest and one-third cup juice.

2. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour and baking powder. With the mixer running, slowly add the flour mixture until combined to form the cake batter. Fold in the chopped chocolate.

3. Place the batter into a greased and floured 9-inch bundt pan, smoothing the top of the batter. (The batter will come slightly less than halfway up the sides of the pan.)

4. Bake the cake until puffed and lightly browned on top and a toothpick or cake tester inserted comes out clean, 45 to 55 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool in the pan on a cooling rack, then remove from the mold. The finished cake will be about 3 inches tall in the center.

5. While the cake is cooling, make the icing: In a medium bowl, sift the powdered sugar. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons orange juice and whisk to form the icing.

6. Drizzle the icing over the cooled cake, then garnish with the candied orange.

Each of 16 servings: 233 calories; 3 grams protein; 30 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 12 grams fat; 7 grams saturated fat; 58 mg cholesterol; 20 grams sugar; 62 mg sodium.

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