Use a sharp paring knife to score the peel of each fruit into quarters (or sixths or eighths if using grapefruit), cutting just through the skin from the top to bottom all around. Use your fingers to strip the peel from the fruit. It’s okay if some fruit is left on the peel for now. You should have 3 to 4 cups peel. Save the fruit for another dish.
Place the peel in a 3- to 4-quart saucepan and fill the pan with cold water, leaving just enough space for it to boil. Bring the water to a full rolling boil over medium-high heat. Drain the peel and dump it into a large bowl of cold water to cool for a minute. Drain and return the peel to the saucepan. Repeat the entire blanching and cooling sequence twice for thin-skinned Meyer lemons or tangerines; three times for oranges, regular lemons, or tangelos; or four times for grapefruit. (Blanching rids the fruit of excess harshness and astringency and tenderizes it. The number of blanchings is not cast in stone. With experience, you may increase or decrease the number to get the tenderness and flavor that you like. Even fruit of the same variety varies in texture, skin thickness, and bitterness, so use my guidelines as you will.)
After the final blanching and draining, use a small sharp knife to scrape only the mushiest part of the white pith (and any fruit left on the peel) gently from the peel, leaving thicker lemon, orange, and grapefruit peels about 1/4-inch thick and thinner tangerine or Meyer lemon peels about 1/8-inch thick (thinner skins, in fact, may need little or no scraping). Cut the peel into strips or triangles or whatever shape you like. Place the peel in a smaller (2-quart) saucepan with the water and the sugar.
Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Wash the syrup and sugar off the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush or a wad of wet paper towel. Adjust the heat and simmer the peel uncovered, with little or no stirring, very gently until the syrup registers between 220° F and 222° F and the peel has been translucent for a few minutes; this will take a little more or less than an hour.
Remove from the heat and use a slotted spoon to transfer the peel to a rack set over a rimmed baking sheet, to catch the syrup drips. Spread the peel out in one layer and let cool and dry overnight.
Dredge the peel in sugar to coat. Stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator, where the peel will keep for several months.
My career was sparked by a single bite of a chocolate truffle, made by my Paris landlady in 1972. I returned home to open this country’s first chocolate bakery and dessert shop, Cocolat, and I am often “blamed” for introducing chocolate truffles to America. Today I am the James Beard Foundation and IACP award-winning author of ten cookbooks, teach a chocolate dessert class on Craftsy.com, and work with some of the world’s best chocolate companies. In 2018, I won the IACP Award for Best Food-Focused Column (this one!).