You may juice citrus regularly, but perhaps don’t realize what you’re missing: all the flavor from the peel. Citrus zest brightens so many recipes, but if you have citrus sugar in your pantry, you’ve got a wonderfully fragrant gift. Keep it tucked away for sprinkling on cookies, rimming the glass of a tart cocktail, or gifting to your favorite baker or mixologist who will delight in the flavors of preserved sunshine.
Whenever I use big batches of lemons (for example, for lemonade) or limes (you know, for margaritas), I zest the peel and dry it in the oven in advance. Store the dried peel in an airtight jar and mix with sugar anytime you need this gift.
This recipe is for a lemon-lime version, but follow the fruit on your counter. I’ve used many combinations of orange, lemon, lime, and grapefruit to great results. (It’s also easy enough to vary with other flavorings; I keep both lavender sugar and rose sugar on hand.)
As a general rule of thumb, mix 2 tablespoons dried zest or culinary-grade flowers to 1 cup granulated sugar, but this is a very forgiving recipe, so have fun with it. The flavorings are so pretty as is, but if you’re using the floral sugars for baking, crush them in a grinder so the flavor blends into your batter well without big textural bits. If you don’t choose organic fruit, just make sure to scrub the peel well before zesting.
2 tablespoons lemon zest (about 2 large lemons)
2 tablespoons lime zest (about 3 medium limes)
2 cups granulated sugar
Preheat the oven to 150°F (or the lowest possible temperature; some ovens only go down to 170°F).
Wash and dry the citrus fruit. Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper. Over the lined cookie sheet and with a zester, remove the top layer of the skin of each citrus fruit, taking care to avoid any white pith. Measure the zest into tablespoon-size portions as you work. Once you’ve collected 4 tablespoons of zest, lightly move your fingers (or a fork) across the top of the zest to spread it evenly across the pan.
Place in the pre-heated oven for 10 minutes, until the zest is fragrant and dry but not browned. (Don’t expect the aroma alone to signify your zest is ready; it should be crispy and dry to the touch.) Remove zest from oven and permit to cool for 2 to 3 minutes.
In a small bowl, stir together the sugar and the zest with a fork for 2 to 3 minutes or until well-combined and the sugar, and the air around it, is sweetly perfumed. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 months.
Gift Wrap Option
Cut a piece of ribbon and wrap around the lid of the sealed jar a few times. Tie in a knot and trim the ends.
Text excerpted from Food Gift Love, © 2015 by Maggie Battista. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.