Amazingly enough, the holiday season is already upon us. While it is undoubtably stressful, with seeking the perfect gift, decorating the house, coordinating travel plans and holiday parties, there is nothing like a little holiday baking to relieve all that stress. A warm kitchen with my favorite podcasts playing in the background, I feel at home stirring pots of caramel and hearing the whir of my stand mixer as I make cookies. I have this great apron that my aunt made me when I was little; it is bright red with an applique of stacked presents, outlined in puffy paint, with my name written at the bottom, also in puffy paint. I only wear this apron for holiday baking, and I love it.
This year, I am expanding my candy horizons. For the last few years, I've been making toffee, which has gone pretty well. I love giving candy as gifts because it's pretty, delicious, and a great break from cookies. This year, I decided on candied orange peel dipped in dark chocolate and salted caramels. These recipes would show off two great local ingredients: citrus (which is just coming into season here) and dairy products from Clover in Petaluma.
The caramels turned out beautifully, but what would you expect from butter, cream, and sugar being simmered and heated to the perfect temperature? Once cooled, it became soft, smooth, buttery, and stunningly golden. I sliced the caramel into cubes and wrapped in waxed paper. A tin of these, combined with the candied orange peel, will make a perfect gift for your friends, family, co-workers, anyone!
The recipe I am going to share with you is for candied orange peel. This process takes a while, so I would recommend setting aside about 2 hours. It is, however totally worth it. Be sure to get off as much of the pith (white part) of the orange as you can. It is what makes the peel quite bitter, even after being simmered in sugar water for 45 minutes. The recipe I was working off of did not make this a large part of the preparation, so I've emphasized it in the recipe below. Take your time, be diligent, follow the recipe, and you'll get a delicious result.
In addition to the candied orange peels, here are links to some of the other treats I made:
Enjoy, and happy holidays!
Candied Orange Peel
Makes about 2 cups of peel
6 thick-skinned (firm) Valencia or navel oranges, organic if possible
4 1/2 cups cane sugar, plus more for rolling
1 1/2 cups water
6 oz dark or semi-sweet chocolate (I used a Dagoba semi-sweet baking bar)
Cut off the top and bottom of each orange, then score the peel into quarters, making sure to cut only through the peel and not into the fruit. Peel the skin and pith off of the fruit (if you have an orange peeler, it works great for this step); save fruit for another use. Cut the peel into 1/4-inch wide strips. Using a paring knife, go through each strip and remove as much of the pith as possible.
Put the peels in a large saucepan and fill with cold water until it just covers the orange peel. Bring to a boil over high heat, then pour off the water. Repeat this blanching process (each time starting with cold water) two more times. Remove the orange peels from the pan.
Whisk the sugar with the water in the saucepan. Bring to a simmer and cook until a candy thermometer* reaches the soft thread stage (230-234 degrees F). Add the peels and simmer gently, reducing heat to maintain a simmer, until the peels become translucent, about 45 minutes. Resist the urge to stir the peel during this process, since it will cause the sugar to crystallize. If necessary, swirl the pan a bit to move the peels around. Drain the peels, saving the syrup (it is delicious in iced tea, over ice cream, etc.). Roll the peels in sugar, then place on a sheet of parchment paper to dry for 4 to 5 hours.
When the peels are dry, they are ready for the chocolate. Melt the chocolate in the microwave or using the double-boil method. Dip half of each candied peel in chocolate, then place back on the parchment to dry. Once dried, store in an airtight container.
*A candy thermometer is a necessary tool for good candy, since temperature is such a key factor, so I would recommend purchasing one. I got mine for $10 at a kitchen store.