When you think about crafting homemade gifts out of things you were going to throw away, do you imagine pasting magazine pages on oatmeal canisters, or weaving corn husks into throw rugs? If you’re crafty, go for it. But I’m talking about making excellent candy out of food waste. With no special skills or equipment, you can make a truly appealing gift out of orange peels, turning trash to treasure. A quick dip in velvety dark chocolate makes them irresistible.
Candied orange peels are truly the OG thrifty, food waste-reducing, yet classy treat. You might associate them with a depression-era grandma, or a British show you watch on PBS, but DIY low-waste foods are as valuable now as ever. Preserving fruits and their peels in honey is an ancient technique, made easier with granulated sugar.
Save Orange Peels As You Go
One of the best things about making candied orange peels is that you can eat oranges all week, remove the peels in quadrants (more about that later), and save the peels in a zip-top bag.
Then, all you need is some sugar and water to make plain candied peels (and a bit of chocolate, if you want to dip them for a crowd-pleasing gift).
This ancient preservation technique is deceptively simple. As the simmering sugar syrup infuses into the fruit, it creates an environment where the microorganisms that might cause mold or spoilage cannot thrive. It works out well for us, because the sweetness makes the bitter pith and peel both delicious and long-lasting.
The Question of Pith
Some recipes will direct you to spend time scraping the layer of white pith from the peel. This isn’t necessary, and is so fussy that you might not want to make the peels at all. The pith absorbs sugar and becomes sweet, and a hint of bitterness is just part of the symphony of flavors.
Choosing Your Chocolate
While you are free to use your favorite chocolate, the overwhelming majority of fans prefer dark chocolate to go with oranges. The bracing, tannic, bittersweet flavor of dark chocolate serves to accentuate the sweetness and citrusy sparkle of the peel itself. If you’re a milk chocolate fan, dip away, but the overall effect will be sweeter and a little flatter.
To Temper or Not To Temper?
The chocolate bars you buy at the store have a glossy surface, and they snap when you break them. That’s because the chocolate is tempered, and when you melt it, it goes out of temper, as all the carefully formed fat crystals in the chocolate transform into random patterns that won’t set as glossy or firm. You can dip in un-tempered, melted chocolate, but chances are as it cools it will look slightly dull, swirled, or have a softer texture. If you want a glossy, professional snap to your chocolate, go ahead and temper it.
To get the un-tempered chocolate to harden, let it set, then transfer to a container and refrigerate. If you want to cover the un-tempered look of the chocolate, you can sprinkle the just dipped peels with decorative colored sprinkles or jimmies, even toasted and minced nuts, if you plan on serving within a couple of days.
Orange Peels Jazz Up Baked Goods
If you leave your candied orange peels un-dipped, you can chop them to add to muffins, cookies, or yes, fruitcake. Candied fruit and peel was always part of the rum-soaked fruitcakes we eat at the holidays. Anywhere that pops of sweet orange flavor would add excitement, you can add some minced peel.