My favorite way to add citrus zest to baked goods

citrus zest

I love lemons. And limes, and grapefruits, and oranges. There’s no citrus fruit that I don’t love. The irresistibly bright scent just gets to me. Especially in the middle of winter, when all of the food is too heavy, too dark, too much. I like to add citrus zest and juice to baked goods, to add a little interest and a lot of flavor. Meyer lemon zest in cookies. Orange zest in chocolate tarts. Grapefruit zest in browned butter cookies, a completely unexpected pairing but totally awesome. Today, I thought I’d share my favorite way to add citrus to baked goods— complete with photographs!

I like to rub my citrus zest into granulated sugar, a tip I picked up from Joy the Baker. This method releases every last bit of essential oil from the zest into the sugar, so you can have a totally flavor-packed cake or cookie or brownie.

microplane grater

I’ll be working with blood oranges, but you can do this with any citrus you like.

To zest your citrus, begin by cleaning and drying it thoroughly. Any variety of citrus will do, but try to buy organic— you’re going to be eating the zest, and that’s often where the most pesticide residue ends up.

Grab a grater or zester. I use this microplane grater, which is pure magic. It’s sharp, it’s precise, and it lets me zest citrus without getting into the bitter pith. I highly recommend buying one of these, but if you have a regular grater, that will also do!

zesting an orange

Now zest the citrus, careful to get the colorful top layer of the peel, and not the white part underneath. The white layer is called the pith, and it’s what makes citrus peels so bitter. If you’re doing things right, your zested orange will look like this.

Continue to zest the entire orange.

add zest to sugar

Measure out the sugar for your recipe in a large bowl. Add the citrus zest.

Start to rub the sugar and zest mixture between your fingers, working the sugar into the zest. You want to release essential oils into the sugar for intense fragrance.
Do this for 3-5 minutes.

rubbing zest into sugar

The sugar will have a strong aroma of citrus, and will have taken on the color of the zest.

 The sugar should be an even light orange now (or yellow, or green, depending on what zest you’re using).

rubbing zest into sugar

And it should be fluffy!

finished citrus zest sugar

Continue with your recipe, using your sugar-zest mixture where you’d normally add the sugar.

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