If you're feeling inspired by the tips in last week's biters column to make your own orange bitters, one of the essential ingredients you'll need is dried orange peel. You can probably find this product at your herbalist or specialty food store, but who knows how old those peels are? Taking the extra step to dehydrate fresh orange peel at home gives you that much more control over the quality and flavor of the final product.
And it's some of the easiest baking you'll ever do.
The Best Oranges for Dried Orange Peel
Likely the first question to arise once you embark on this DIY journey is, What kind of oranges should I use? Of course, the easy answer is, use what you can get your hands on. (You don't really have other choices!) If navel oranges are available — and they're a pretty ubiquitous variety — those will work fine.
You can also try using a blend of orange and tangerine for a more dynamic flavor profile. I've heard of people using tangelos to desirable effect, too.
For their recipes, many commercial orange bitters brands source special types of bitter oranges that grow in the Caribbean (one such kind is the Seville), which add more dimension to the bitter notes of their products. But tracking down Caribbean-grown bitter oranges isn't mandatory (nor all that feasible: word is, they're not good eating, so good luck finding them in the U.S.). If you make bitters you're going to add other bittering agents — namely gentian root — to ensure your orange bitters will have that pungent sharpness.
How To Make Dried Orange Peels
Here's how I make dried orange peels.
1. Peel the oranges
Once you have your oranges sourced, the next step is to peel off their skin. But first, be sure that if your oranges come waxed that you wash off this glossy layer. (Hot water and some scrubbing should do the trick.)
Then, try to remove the peel in large swathes, as these will prove easier to handle. Also, try not to take too much of the white pith along with the orange peel.
2. Dry them in a low, slow oven (or in a dehydrator)
If you happen to own a food dehydrator, by all means, this is a prime opportunity to dust it off. But your oven will effectively dry out those peels, as well. The trick is to cook them low and slow...sort of like barbecue.
Lay your orange peels out on a baking sheet, then preheat your oven to a low setting. Recipes for drying orange peel vary pretty widely in their heat recommendations; some suggest three hours of 200º heat; others say 100º for just 40 minutes. The important thing is to dry these puppies out without burning them, so choose a low temperature and check on them often until they're fully dry.
→ Tip: When the peels are dry, they'll curl and stiffen up.
Once dry, remove the peels from the oven and let cool. At this point you can chop them into thin strips for more convenient storage (in an airtight jar) or leave them intact. Now you're ready to get bitter.