Monday, January 14, 2008
If you have never tried candying your own zest- you're missing out! It is so much better than anything you can buy (and I've used a lot of commercial product) and it's so easy. I think the fact that my husband (who doesn't like any sort of citrus zest in his food) went crazy for them says volumes about how good they can be! There are several different options after you candy the zest. You can keep hang on to it for various recipes (holiday breads, Florentines and other cookies) or you can dip it into chocolate and keep it for a nice little sweet snack to have after dinner or with a cup of coffee. I know it's a little late this year, but it also makes a nice addition to all the edible holiday gifts that are exchanged (every year I send out care packages to close family).
You can easily save the peel in the refrigerator until you have a enough to candy (you want at least a few pieces of citrus worth) I used three oranges for this recipe and it gave me quite a bit. You can however, use any citrus you want- grapefruit, lemons (especially Meyer lemons), limes, tangerines, kumquats and last but not least, citron. I would probably keep each batch to one kind of citrus for fear of flavors mingling but then again maybe that wouldn't be a bad thing :).
For this post,I used oranges.
Start by peeling the citrus. You want to aim for long wide sections which you can later trim down to neater, thinner strips. You can have a lot of pith on at this point, you want the zest as thick as you can get it so it doesn't fall apart as it cooks. At this point the zest will last well wrapped in the refrigerator for about a week or so (if needed, it is ideal to candy it while it's still freshly peeled). Once the zest is peeled, cover it with cold water in a saucepan and bring to a full rolling boil. Drain the water off and repeat this process two more times. It is important to blanch the zest with fresh water each time because this is what is going to remove all the bitterness and leave you with the sweet citrus flavor. After it has been blanched three times, at this point if you want, you can trim the strips down into whatever size you want. It will depend on what you are going to do with the zest. If it is going to be diced later on for a recipe, then don't bother trimming, but if you want them to be uniform in size for serving on it's own or dipped in chocolate, you want to trim it now (a good size is 1" long by 1/4" wide). Also remove any extra pith or bits of pulp stuck to the strips. You do want to leave some pith, ideally maybe 3/8 to 1/4 of an inch. Next you are going to need to make a simple syrup, which is equal part sugar and water, which the zest is going be candied in. For the three oranges I used 2 cups sugar and 2 cups water. If you are using more zest you'll need to make more syrup. A good guide is to make sure all the zest in completely submerged in the syrup by about 1/8- 1/4 of a inch. Then bring the syrup to a boil or until the sugar is totally dissolved and add the zest and then make sure it comes to a boil and turn it down to a low simmer.
This will now cook for 1 hour- 1 1/2 hours. What you're looking for is to see that the zest is fairly translucent and if you take a piece out and trim off a little sample, it shouldn't taste bitter at all but be sweet and cooked through with the sugar. Once it's done drain off the syrup while it's still hot and lay out the zest on cooling racks. At this point you want to let it dry out a bit so it's not quite so sticky. I ended up leaving mine out uncovered overnight. At this point you can store it for later recipes (it can also be left in the syrup and stored in the refrigerator for a few weeks) or you can roll it in sugar and leave it plain or dip in chocolate. I chose to dip mine in tempered chocolate (you can also just use melted chocolate but you'll have to store it in the refrigerator) .
In the picture at the beginning of the post you will see a dish next to the zest and that is what are called Mendients and these are simply little rounds of tempered chocolate topped decoratively with different dried fruits, nuts and candied zest, or anything else you can think of. This is a lot like chocolate bark only small bite size and more attractively arranged. They are so simple but so good. The combination in the picture is dried cherries, hazelnuts and candied orange. These are great for entertaining in place of or as part of a dessert course. They're also a nice little treat to put out with afternoon tea or coffee. I had leftover tempered chocolate from the orange so I quickly made a few. The only trick is you want to place little mounds of chocolate on parchment and then when it's partially set, arrange your toppings and gently press them down into the chocolate.