I swear I thought there could never be a good use for citrus peels. I’ve always seen these things in confectioners’ windows and wondered what they were made of since there was no way they could actually be made of that inedible, bitter, crap of a fruit’s outer shell. Apparently I don’t know everything about candy. Shocking, I know.
After learning that boiling a peel in simple syrup and basically inundating it with all things ridiculously sweet creates a jelly-like creation that is chewy and delicious, I had to try it for myself. But I can’t start with something easy like an orange peel, which in the fruit peel world is the sweetest. Oh no. That would be untrue to my bite-off-more-than-I-can-chew self. I decided to go with grapefruit peels. A fruit that I have never been able to understand the allure. They’re bitter and sour and leave a weird aftertaste/feeling in my mouth when I eat them. I know they’re healthy and all, but so are Brussels sprouts. Not to offense to the Brussels sprout lovers of the world, but I have mentioned my distaste for all foods green, so this should come as no surprise. After reading a few recipes on candying peels, and grapefruit peels in particular, I knew I was totally armed and ready for the challenge to come. Right?
I used Texas ruby red grapefruit for my endeavor as they were the only ones at the market that weren’t shipped across the entire country, and because they were the only ones that had decent peels. The behemoth of a fruit then proceeded to sit on my kitchen table for the next few days. Every time I would walk through the kitchen I’d pick it up and give it a good sniff to see if it was ready for my harvest. I do have to say, I love the smell of a ripe grapefruit.
Grapefruit peels are particularly interesting since they’re bitterness knows no end. I had to blanch them four times and scrape the pith from the inside of each strip in order to mitigate the bitterness. I probably didn’t have to do that last bit, but I have a strange relationship with pith. I’ll spend 20 minutes pulling each little white string of ooky crap off my orange before taking a single bite. I have mentioned my strangeness. You were forewarned.
Then came the syrup. I expected to turn away for one minute and when I turned back to find that the sugar had completely burned and crystallized to the pan. So instead, I watched it like a hawk. Amazingly, it all worked beautifully. The syrup clarified perfectly and the peels just bubbled away. I was nervous that they were supposed to simmer for only ten minutes, as I had read elsewhere that they should sit for an hour. But I put my faith in the kitchen gods and pulled them off after the requisite ten.
So after burning myself on bubbling hot syrup while trying to arrange the wily strips on my cooling rack, I left my jellied peels to cool overnight. In the morning they were dry enough to be rolled in sugar without turning it all into a sticky mess. Then came the moment of truth: discovering if my creations were actually edible or if I had just made some really pretty strips of crap. I tentatively took a tiny bite of one strip and mulled it over. And they were good! Surprisingly good! They had the flavor of those orange slices you get in the candy aisle, the ones that have no natural ingredients in them at all and that I love with every fiber of my being, with the punch of grapefruit following the sweet. They didn’t turn me into a grapefruit lover, but I do like them. And I can definitely see myself using the technique on oranges and inhaling those peels in one sitting.
Candied Grapefruit Peels
2 small grapefruits
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup water
1 cup superfine granulated sugar
With peel still on fruit, quarter peel lengthwise then remove, keeping pieces of peel intact. Reserve fruit for another use. Diagonally cut pieces of peel into 1/3-inch-wide strips.
Put peel in a 3-quart saucepan filled with cold water and bring slowly to a boil over moderate heat. Boil 1 minute and drain. Repeat procedure 4 times to remove bitterness.
Have ready a lightly oiled large rack set in a shallow baking pan.
Bring regular granulated sugar and water to a boil in a large heavy skillet, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Add peel and boil, stirring, until most of syrup is absorbed, about 10 minutes.
Turn out peel onto rack, separating pieces. Dry candied peel, uncovered, at room temperature until only slightly sticky, 4 to 8 hours. Toss, a few pieces at a time, in superfine sugar, shaking off excess.
Candied peel keeps in an airtight container at room temperature 1 week or chilled 1 month. If chilled peel becomes too moist, pat dry and reroll in sugar.