Freshly grated zest adds flavor to many baked goods. Because the dyes on mass-harvested oranges and lemons aren’t completely nontoxic (the dyes aren’t harmful in the small amounts used in baking, however), it’s a good idea to use organic citrus for zesting. Wash and dry the fruit well before zesting.
There are a few options for getting the zest off the fruit. No matter what tool you use, remove only the colored zest (which contains the flavorful essential oils) and avoid digging into the pale, bitter pith. Among bakers, the Microplane zester, a long metal utensil that resembles a wood rasp, has become an absolutely essential kitchen tool. It effortlessly removes the zest in very fine shreds. Before I bought a zester, I happily used the small holes on a box cheese grater or Parmesan cheese grater; just be sure the grater holes aren’t jagged, or you’ll dig into the pith instead of removing the zest. I don’t like the small zesters with four or five small holes, as they create long strips of zest that must be chopped before using, making another step in the process.
If your supply of fresh fruit is depleted, substitute pure lemon or orange oil for the zest. Boy-ajian brand is excellent, and can be found at kitchenware shops and by mail order. Depending on whether the citrus flavor should be subtle or strong, use ¼ to one teaspoon of pure lemon or orange oil for the zest of one fruit. I always have some on hand.
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