Candied things are special. By cooking in a simple syrup and then drying, the moisture is removed and replaced with sugar which acts to preserve that which is being candied. The flavor is both sweetened and smoothed out, and the texture transformed. And it’s a great way to use up kitchen bits that would otherwise go to waste, like empty vanilla pods and citrus peels.
Candied components imbue desserts with a shot of magic, and if you like mixing up your sweet and spicy flavors, candied things can be your sneaky ally. Think candied cayenne pepitas atop pumpkin bread pudding, or spiced candied beet chips over goat cheese cheesecake. For candied citrus peels, like the ones pictured above, use any basic recipe but add a dose of chili powder to the mix and you may never go back to plain old sweet again.
Typically, granulated sugar is used in cooking, and most items respond well to a sugar-dusting when drying. But I like to employ more wholesome sweeteners for the cooking task; Sucanat, maple syrup, and honey can all be used to nice effect. (For the sake of simplicity, granulated sugar is listed in the recipes below, but I encourage trying natural sweeteners too.) If I’m going to dust for the drying, I usually cave in to a quick roll in (organic) granulated sugar, it results in a sparkling finish that incites reverie and a texture hard to achieve otherwise.
Although typical candying candidates include citrus peel, violet, ginger, and pineapple, there’s a whole world of other morsels out there that perform perfectly when drenched in sugar. Here are some of my favorites, some not that unusual, and some which may seem strange, but are really wonderful.