Just under the wire before Christmas, here’s an edible gift idea: candied citrus peels. Start them tonight, and they’ll be ready by Saturday.
I’ve been doing this for years, and it’s probably my greatest kitchen love-hate relationship. On the one hand, candied citrus peels are incredibly delicious, a real show-offy gift, and a great way to use up food scraps. On the other hand, making them is labor-intensive. Not difficult or complicated–just a lot of f’n work.
That said, this is the kind of elaborate kitchen project that even a rank newbie can take on. All you need is a sharp knife, a pot or two, a lot of water and some sugar, and a place to set your peels to dry. Beyond that, what matters isn’t skill so much–it’s patience.
Below is a long, elaborate explanation of how I do this. The short version is: peel yourself some citrus and cut the peels into pieces. Blanch the peels in boiling water a few times. Simmer the peels in simple syrup for about an hour. Lay the peels out to dry for a day or two. Coat the dried peels in sugar or chocolate. Done.
I usually save citrus peels in the freezer and make a big batch of candy every few months. Every time, about 24 hours into the process, I wonder why I got myself into this. Then I take a nibble, and remember: oh, yeah. It’s because candied citrus peels are amazing.
My friend Victoria lives in Texas. Audrey and I always get feverishly excited when she comes to visit us. Not just because she’s a delightful, uproariously hilarious person–which she is–but because whenever she comes, she brings each of us a pretty paper box full of candied pecans.
These are a serious indulgence, my friends–candy-sweet and nutty-rich, wrapped in a crisp, lacy skin of beaten egg white. Pop one in your mouth, and the candy coating shatters and crackles between your teeth, giving way to buttery pecan crunch. They’re almost ladylike, in a way, wrapped up in sugary white lace. Every time she visits, Audrey and I make a pact to share one box and put the other one away for safekeeping. And every time, we end up plowing through both boxes in a matter of days.
Victoria’s pecans popped into my mind the other day, as I was considering what to make as a birthday present for my boyfriend’s pecan-loving mother. It’s speeding towards Christmas, and something spicy and sweet seemed appropriate. I rifled through the spice cabinet, and unearthed a tin of smoked cinnamon that Sam’s mom had given me as a gift. I decided to make a batch of candied spiced pecans, using her gift as the basis for my gift. And what a great idea that was.
If the Texas-style pecans are ladylike and sweet, these are gutsy, dark, even a little sexy. Not candied, exactly–there’s much less sugar, for one thing, so the coating is equal parts sweet, salty, and smoky. If the candied pecans make me think of white lace, these spiced pecans make me think of bourbon. I made up a pretty paper box for Sam’s mom, and some little bundles for my coworkers. I had planned to toss the leftovers into a salad–maybe with some bits of pear and blue cheese–but then they disappeared too, within a matter of hours. I guess some things don’t change.