When life gives you lemons (and oranges and grapefruits) … you end up with a lot of peels.
And life has given us a lot of citrus lately. It is January after all. We’ve been preserving lemons, bruleeing grapefruits, turning mandarins into marmalades, and tossing oranges into salads. And all that juicy goodness means our compost bins are overflowing with peels.
But we do make sure to save a few from that fate, because citrus peels can be transformed into one of the most delicious things on the planet: orangettes.
Orangettes are candied orange peels, but they can be made with any citrus peels — lemon, lime, grapefruit. When making these for snacking, I don’t use super-thin peels, like those from mandarin oranges or meyer lemons, because I like to have a little pith for a nice, chewy texture. But they’d be fine for use as a dessert garnish.
To turn the peels from trash to treasure, you boil them to remove the bitterness and soften them up, then simmer them in syrup until saturated. Roll in sugar and allow to air dry overnight, and the result is a sweet, vibrantly citrusy treat that’s exquisite with a cup of tea or hot chocolate.
Traditionally, the strips of peel are simmered in a simple syrup made with granulated sugar, but I like to use honey. First of all, we have a beehive in the backyard, which means I have no shortage of the stuff. But most importantly, the floral notes of the honey add tremendous flavor. In fact, the resulting peels taste like orange blossoms, rather than just orange. And to make things even more interesting, I add whole spices to the mix too. Even if you opt for granulated sugar instead of honey, I highly recommend adding spices for complexity.
The only drawback, if you can call it that, is that honey-simmered peels aren’t as firm as traditional orangettes. Their texture is more like fruit gels. Personally, I think that’s even better — especially when they’re dipped in chocolate (good lord!) — but if you want something with a firmer bite, go with granulated sugar and maybe add a bit of honey just for flavor.
But whatever you do, don’t toss out that syrup when you’re done. It’s now infused with orange and cardamom and cinnamon and, if you used honey, incredible floral notes. It is, simply put, liquid gold. Drizzle it on yogurt, ice cream, or your morning oatmeal or porridge — we’ll even give you a recipe to use it up next week.
But first, give your compost bin a break and give these très élégant treats a try. They’ll even keep until Valentine’s Day — if you can keep your hands off them.
Chocolate-Dipped Honey-Candied Orange Peels
Makes about 2 dozen
I love candying orange peels in honey instead of granulated sugar because they end up incredibly floral. If you’ve ever had orange blossom water, you know what I mean. Most methods for candying citrus peels require briefly blanching the peels in boiling water several times, and changing the water each time to ensure all the bitter compounds are tossed out. But I simply use a large pot of water and boil them once, for a longer period of time, and I’ve never had a problem with bitterness. It might be a good idea for a large batch of orangettes, but for just a couple oranges the fuss isn’t necessary. The candies are delicious enough on their own, but adding the chocolate dip takes them over the top.
2 navel oranges
1 cup honey
1 cup water
1 cinnamon stick
4 green cardamom pods, crushed
1 cup granulated sugar
4 ounces dark chocolate, chopped (optional)
Cut the top and bottom peels from the oranges, then slice along the sides of the oranges, between the flesh and the white pith, to remove the peel. Reserve the fruit for another use. Scrape off any fruit that’s clinging to the peel (it gets mushy when simmered). If the peels are really thick (as with grapefruit), slice off some of the pith so you’re left with no more than 1/4-inch. Slice the peels into 1/4-inch wide strips. You can trim the edges nice and neat, or leave them irregular for a more rustic look.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the strips of peel and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, until tender (see note above). Drain and rinse.
In a medium saucepan, combine the honey, water, cinnamon and cardamom. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Add the boiled peels and reduce heat to a bare simmer. Gently cook for 40 minutes, or until translucent. Strain over a boil to catch the syrup. Allow the peels to drain and cool completely. Refrigerate the syrup for another use (you can segment the reserved orange fruit over the syrup to catch the juices, and the add the segments to the syrup. Refrigerate and allow the fruit to steep in the syrup overnight, then spoon onto yogurt, oatmeal or dessert).
Place the granulated sugar in a shallow bowl. Toss the peels in the sugar until fully coated and shake off the excess. Place on a cooling rack and allow to air-dry overnight.
Optional Chocolate Coating: Place the chopped chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at 50% power for 30 seconds and stir. Repeat microwaving at reduced power for short intervals, and stirring, until most of the chocolate is melted but there are still some soft, unmelted pieces (it should be about 95 to 100 degrees). At this point, continuously stir until the remaining chocolate is completely melted (temperature will lower to 89 degrees). This technique will temper the chocolate so that it cools hard and shiny, instead of dull, streaked and soft. To test, pour a little chocolate on a piece of parchment. It should look dry and set within a couple minutes. If not, it’s not in temper and you should keep stirring for a few more minutes and test again. If you suspect the chocolate got too hot when melting, add a piece of unmelted chocolate and stir until it completely melts.
Dip each sugared peel in the chocolate, or spoon it on over the bowl. Set on a piece of parchment paper and allow to cool until set. Stored in an airtight container, orangettes will keep for several weeks.