I had two days off, back to back, last week, and figured I’d use them for a baking marathon. That time of year, you know. I try (really, I do) to get the German cookies made early enough so we can ship them off to various far-flung family members so they arrive BEFORE Christmas. (Without having to overnight them, heh heh.)
Anyway, one of the cookies that’s part of that collection is Lebkuchen, a traditional German spiced cookie that includes candied citrus peel – what kind you use depends on the recipe you’re following. Bill’s mom’s version has candied orange peel and candied citron, the kinds that come in those 4 oz. containers in the grocery store.
I generally make more than one batch of these cookies, because they’re one of the favorites, so that means several containers of each kind of candied peel.
Now, this year, for various reasons (including the Scratchy saga), money is tight. And those candied peel containers are pricey, for the amount you get. And they’re also probably loaded with preservatives and additives and other “-ives” that aren’t at all good for you…so I decided it would be both healthier and cheaper to make my own candied peel. And it’s a cool thing to do. And pretty.
I’ve thought of doing it in years past, but then I’d get lazy and just buy the containers. This year, with two days off IN A ROW! I decided to candy some peel.
So here we go…
I got a couple bags of oranges (they were buy one get one free!) and used all the oranges in one bag to make the candied orange peel. First – with a vegetable peeler, I peeled the peel off, getting as little white pith as possible. The pith is bitter, and you don’t want that in your candied peel or in your cookies.
That’s a lotta orange peel.
And in cases where the the pith left on the peel was kind of thick, I took a small, sharp knife and removed the pith. The technique is a LOT like removing the skin from a fish filet, so if you can do that, you can remove pith from peel. Just lay the knife down nearly flat against the peel, hold one end and, with a gentle back and forth motion, slice between the pith and the peel. It takes a bit of practice, but once you get the idea, it’s pretty speedy.
After all the pith is removed, or most of it, you need to slice or dice the remaining peel. For my purposes, I wanted it diced, so I sliced it length-wise about a quarter of an inch wide, and then diced that.
You could, instead, leave it in those strips, or you could cut it into even thinner strips, which are really pretty as a garnish. I could swear I’ve done that with lemon peel in this website somewhere, but I couldn’t find the post. Anyway, it’s completely up to you how you slice your peel – the candying process is the same all around.
Once you’ve got your peel sliced and/or diced, place it in a pot and cover with water. You want about an inch or so of water above the peel. Place the pot on a burner and bring to a boil. Strain the peel, discard the water, then put the peel back in the pot, add more cold water, bring to a boil again. Once more, strain, discard old water, add more cold, and bring to a boil. Strain once more.
So, to sum up, you boil the peel in three batches of water. This helps soften the peel and get rid of bitterness.
While I had that going on, I started prepping for my other candied peels. I had decided to do lemon and lime as well. And yes, it was still cost effective this way – because in addition to ending up with candied peel, I also have a variety of citrus juices, which we’ll use in cooking or beverages or whatever.
Okay, now, once you’ve boiled your peel three times, it’s time for the candying phase.
Combine sugar and water in a pot. (I just kept using the same pot over and over – you don’t need to trot out all your cookware.) I used a 2:1 ratio – two parts sugar to one part water.
Warm the water/sugar mixture enough so that the sugar dissolves. Stir it now and then to help in the process.
Once the sugar has completely dissolved, add your thrice-boiled citrus peel in and bring to a boil. Then lower to a simmer and cook for about ten minutes, or until the peel is translucent. If you need more time, that’s fine.
Once the peel has cooked in the sugar for the desired length of time, strain it.
BUT – keep the liquid – it’s a citrusy simple syrup now, and you can store it in the fridge for ages and use it in dessert sauces or in mixed drinks (adult and child friendly). One more added benefit to doing this yourself!
So here we are – I’ve got orange, lemon, and lime:
And there you go! I let the simple syrups cool and then put them all in the fridge. I used some of the peel in two different kinds of lebkuchen this year, and still had some left over. I might make some other kind of cookies with them. Not sure yet. And we have plenty of simple syrup for who knows what.
Pretty nice, no?
Oh – and in case you’re wondering, Bill tried one of the lebkuchen and said he liked it better this way, with the home-made candied peel, than with the store-bought stuff. You can really taste the fruit, instead of just a generic candied fruitish flavor.
OH – and one other step – I didn’t do this because I was using the peel in cookies, but after you strain the peel out of the syrup, toss the peel in granulated sugar and spread it out to dry on parchment paper. This will give you that pretty, frosted look that’s especially nice when you’re garnishing, say, a slice of lemon meringue pie or something like that.