Peelings… whoa, whoa, whoa, peelings

The problem with making really tasty and delicious holiday treats is that once you start making the things, people expect you to make them every year. This is how I’ve found myself roped into making the fruitcake, truffles, cookies and particularly the candied orange peel every Christmas.

Candied orange peel isn’t at all difficult to make, but it is incredibly time consuming. To make enough to send even a small amount to family at Christmas, I need to use at least a dozen oranges, and pithing all that peel out can take at least an hour, before I even get to cooking the things.

Then there’s the dilemma of what to do with all the juice. I use the juice for breakfast rice bowls, where I create a donburi-style rice bowl with stewed tropical fruit instead of a savoury topping. Dried fruit, marinated in juice, is cooked with coconut milk and tofu and served over brown rice. This usually leaves me with lots of orange skins to throw away, so it’s a great time to make the candied peel.

The real trick and (and back breaker) is in ensuring that as much of the bitter white pith is removed as possible. I take each orange half and slice it first across the middle to juice it, and then take each piece and slice it length-wise (so I end up with quarters) – this is the point that I start removing the pith, as it’s the easiest size to work with. Too big and it’s bulky and hard to get the knife in properly, too small and it tears too easily.

To remove the pith, start with a good smallish, flexible knife. A boning or fileting knife is perfect. Then, start in the centre, holding the end closest to you firmly, and slice away from yourself horizontally, exactly as if you were fileting a fish. Then turn the peel around and do the opposite side. This may take a few cuts before all the pith is gone, and it’s definitely better to carve away at the pith bit by bit than to hack at it and tear the peel.

Once the pith is removed, slice that piece lengthwise again to get a strip. This is the best length for candying, as anything too big will take a long time to dry.

Be sure when you’re choosing oranges to get the freshest ones available, and work with them while they’re still fresh and plump. An older fruit with a dry skin with be very difficult to remove the pith from and no matter how good your knife skills are, will tear and look ugly. You want relatively uniform strips if you’re making them to serve as is. I salvage the torn bits by using slivers of candied peel to garnish orange cream truffles, so the peel above wasn’t wasted.

Once you’ve got all the pith removed and you’ve rested your wrists a bit (believe me, after an hour of this work, you will have sore wrists), the actual candying part is simple.

Put the peel in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil. Drain the boiling water and cover with fresh cold water. Repeat this process three times. This removes much of the bitterness left in the peel and softens up the peel to allow for the candying process. After the final boil, allow peel to drain in a colander for a couple of hours, then pat as dry as possible with paper towel. The peel will be water-logged at this point, so don’t worry if you can’t get it all.

Take as many jellyroll pans as neccessary to allow the peel to be laid out in a single layer. Pour about a cup of granulated sugar in each pan and spread peel in a single layer, preferably with the inside part of the peel facing down. Shake pans gently to cover peel with sugar.

Then you wait. The sugar will quickly get wet and lumpy from the moisture in the peel. Resist the urge to replace the sugar right away. Leave the peel in a warm, dry place (inside the oven as long as it is turned off is perfect – do NOT try to hurry the process by putting the peel and sugar in a hot oven, you’ll get caramel, not dried peel) for about a day. Remove the still-damp peel from the pans, wash and dry pans and fill with sugar again. Replace peel in sugar.

Eventually the peel will absorb the sugar and will become dry. This may take anywhere from 2 to 5 days, depending on humidity levels. If your peel is very wet, replace the sugar on a daily basis until the peel is dry.

Once the peel is completely dry, store in an airtight container. May be dipped in chocolate at this point if desired.