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Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Candied Orange Peel Experiment.

The combination of orange and chocolate is one of my favorites.  Every Christmas, my mom used to put one of those foil-wrapped chocolate oranges in the bottom of our stockings, and I remember that I always tried to make it last, but inevitably ended up consuming it before New Year's Eve.  Maybe it was my favorite because I got to whack the crap out of it before consuming, but I'm almost positive that the reason I went for it first was because of that amazing combination of flavors.  James has come to realize that a package of Orange Milano cookies placates the infamous "funks" that occasionally consume me, so whenever he starts to see the initial warning signs (moodiness, apathy, general unpleasantness), he knows to pick up a package at the store. 

I'm the type of person that obsessively researches something once I get it into my head that I'm going to try it.   So, when, during a recent visit to a local restaurant, a few friends and I ordered a dessert which consisted of shaved chocolate, whipped cream, and candied orange peel, I was immediately infatuated, and had a nagging urge to make candied orange peel.   I found various different recipes (and consulted with James's fancy Professional Pastry Chef book, which intimidates the bejesus out of me because it's all professional and measures things by weight instead of volume), and finally came up with a "recipe" that I felt comfortable trying.

Candied Orange Peel dipped in Dark Chocolate

(I referred frequently to David Lebovitz's recipe for candied ginger, but basically came up with this one on my own, through trial and error)


4 oranges, unsprayed or thoroughly washed
2 c water
1 c granulated sugar, plus more for coating
Dark chocolate chips (or bars, coarsely chopped)

1. Using a vegetable peeler (I prefer using the Swiss kind because it scrapes a minimal amount of skin from my knuckles), remove the peel of the oranges in strips (unsprayed/organic oranges are preferred because of the pesticides used on conventionally grown fruit, but if you can't find any, or just don't want to pay the exorbitant prices for organic fruit, then just wash them thoroughly with vinegar and water).

2. Using a butter knife, remove any of the white pith that remains on the peels.  The pith is very bitter and will make your candy taste the same if it isn't removed.  (Pictured below, the peel on the left has been scraped and the peel on the right still has some pith attached.)

3. Add the scraped peels to a pot of cold water and bring to a boil.  Boil the peels for 5 minutes, drain, rinse in cold water, then repeat two more times with fresh, cold water.  Using a non-reactive pan is best when dealing with citrus, because the acid in the citrus fruits (especially lemons) reacts with aluminum to produce a metallic taste in whatever you're making.  I found this out the hard way when making lemon curd for the first time.

4. Bring 2 c water and 1 c sugar to a boil.  Add the blanched orange peels to the boiling sugar solution and simmer on low approximately 30-45 minutes, until the peels are translucent.  You're going to want to keep an eye on these, because the sugar-water will reduce to a syrup and will eventually cook until burned (I've also had the unfortunate experience of dealing with this when I neglected a poached pear syrup). 

5. Remove the peels from the syrup when the bubbles start to become bigger.  Turn off the heat and remove each peel, one-by-one, with a pair of tongs and coat in granulated sugar.  The peels will be covered in molten sugar syrup, so don't try to eat them or get any on your fingers, as molten sugar is like napalm (rinse immediately with cold water if you do get it on you). Shake off excess sugar, and try to avoid lumps of sugar sticking to the peels by brushing them off as they form.  Transfer the sugar-coated peels to a baking sheet covered with parchment or wax paper to dry for approximately 1 hour (or overnight if you're not coating in chocolate).  The syrup can be reserved for use in other recipes, and I'm sure it would make a lovely iced tea sweetener.  If you decide to dispose of it, as I did, do NOT dump it down your kitchen sink, unless, of course, you'd like to spend some quality time with your plumber in the near future. 

6. Bring a pot of water to a boil.  Add the chocolate chips to a heat-proof bowl and place over the boiling water to melt the chips.  Stir occasionally to help the chocolate melt faster. 

note that if you're planning to use a stainless steel bowl like I did, use an oven mitt, because the bowl will become HOT ­­­– no joke

7. When the chocolate is melted, turn off the heat and begin to dip the sugar-coated orange peels in the chocolate.  Return each dipped piece to the parchment/wax paper and when all the pieces are dipped, transfer to the refrigerator to set for about 20 minutes. 

Candied orange peels will last up to a week when dipped in chocolate and should be stored in an airtight container at room temperature.  Without the chocolate, they will last a few months in an airtight container.

These are sure to please and impress.  The resulting peels are very sweet and have a texture reminiscent of chewy gummy-candy, with a rich complement of dark chocolate.  While not exactly a cinch to whip up in the kitchen, they're definitely a recipe that can be successfully completed by most, with a little love and patience, and would make a great gift.  
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