Spicy Candied Orange Peel

I’ve been attening pottery class each week for many years, but let’s be honest.  While I sit, and build pottery each week with John Hodge, the session is basically a food and travel discussion.  And let’s not forget to mention that we often share dishes in class that we’ve prepared the night before.  At times, it’s a pottery, food discussion and noshing event all in one studio session.  John recently described at length, as he often does, a salad he enjoyed on his travels to Umbria.  The salad was constructed with delicate greens, a few shavings of cheese, a scattering of spicy orange peels and simply dressed with warm honey. That’s all I had to hear to make me stop on the drive home and purchase a few oranges to develop this recipe.  I knew that I had to experience this flavor combination, but particularly the spicy candied orange peels.  

I’ve made candied orange peels before, but never spicy orange peels.  I love chopped orange peels baked into batters and dough such as olive oil cake, panettone or shortbread cookies. It’s also lovely when garnishing desserts.  It adds a beautiful pop of flavor and color atop a dollop of whipped cream to compliment rich desserts such as Pots de Crème or cheesecake. During the holidays, I decorate chocolate bark and mendiants with candied orange peel. Have you ever stuffed a piece of candied orange peel into a pitted date? It's a flavorful treat.   Their sweet and spicy combination makes them perfect for a variety of uses, or enjoying just as is. 

I’ve tried recipes for candied orange peels that require the peels to dry a day or two at room temperature.  The high humidity in southeast Louisiana often requires a longer time frame. So, I’ve developed this recipe that can be completed in one afternoon with a little help from a low-temp oven bake that basically kick starts the dehydrating process.  It does the trick of drying out the peels in one afternoon, but if time permits do let the peels sit uncovered overnight to ensure any damp spots have dried. 

Let’s talk about sugaring the peels.  I actually like splitting the batch and only dusting half of the peels with sugar right before the low-temp oven bake.  This is my reasoning.  I prefer to add the sugar-coated peels to batters and doughs when using candied orange peel as an ingredient in baked goods.  When I stuff a piece into a pitted date, toss into a salad or add candied peels as an accompaniment to a charcuterie platter, I prefer the non-sugar coated peels.  Whether I make this spicy version or the traditional sweet version (omit the pepper flakes), I always dust half of the batch with sugar and leave the remaining peels uncoated.  Then I dry them.  It’s simply preference whether you add the sugar dusting step.  When I package the candied peels as a gift I do mix the two textures in each package.  My gift recipients enjoy having the option of both textures. 

Spicy Candied Orange Peel

Servings: 3 cups

5 navel oranges

3 cups granulated sugar, plus ¼ cup for coating strips (optional)

3 cups water

¾ teaspoon red pepper flakes

1. Cut off both ends of each orange.  Working with one orange at a time, place an orange cut side down.  Starting at the top and slicing downward, cut off the peel with pith in 1 ½ inch strips.  Repeat all the way around the orange until all of the peel is removed.  Peels can be left in wide strips or each strip can be sliced into thirds creating ½-inch wide strips.

2. Place orange strips in a medium pot and add enough water to cover the peels.  Bring to a boil. Let boil until tender 10-15 minutes.  Drain, but do not rinse.

3. In a medium pot bring sugar, 3 cups of water and pepper flakes to a boil.  Stir until sugar is dissolved. 

4. Add peels and return to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer and cook until peels are translucent, about 1 ½ hours. 

5. Preheat oven to 250°F. Place a wire rack on a rimmed baking sheet.

6. Using a slotted spoon, transfer peels to wire rack, separate and let drip for 10 minutes. 

7. Spread ¼ cup granulated sugar in a shallow dish.  Working in batches, toss peels in sugar and return to wire rack. 

8. Place rack and baking sheet in oven and bake until the peels are firm, about 1 hour.  Peels may appear wet when removed from oven, but will harden as they cool.  If time permits, let sit uncovered at room temperature over night before packaging. 

Do Ahead: Candied orange peels can be made up to 1 month ahead and stored in a tin in a cool place away from moisture.