Thanksgiving is over. The turkey’s been roasted and eaten (or perhaps you tried a duck?), the festive harvest plates have been washed and put away for another year. And now everything in America is telling us it’s time for the winter holidays: the pharmacies selling mechanical Santas, the radios playing nothing but Elvis, the twinkle lights and pine garlands draping storefronts.
It’s all going a little too fast for me. How is it the holiday season already? We just got into fall! (It doesn’t help that my school is rehearsing and producing a play in the three weeks before winter break. December’s going to go like lightning.)
I like to move slowly into winter, preferably with something delicious to ease the transition. There’s hot chocolate, of course, and mulled wine (more on that soon). But lately I’ve been craving something tangy, a treat with zip.
This candied orange peel fits the bill. I first learned how to make it a few years ago when my mom decided to bake stollen, a traditional German holiday bread studded with dried and candied fruit. Her grandmother (intimidatingly nicknamed “TuTu”) used to bake stollen every winter, and my mom decided that she was ready to take on the baking challenge. So we spent a long, cozy morning cutting up oranges and simmering the peel in a thick syrup, then chopping those candied peels to mix into the bread. It was one of those lovely surprises of the holiday season, when you learn that your parents have these hidden traditions they never told you about.
Personally, I prefer the candied orange peel just as it is, maybe with a bit of chocolate to really make it decadent. The French call these chocolate-dipped gems orangettes, and you can learn more about them from Molly Wizenberg’s blog of the same name. They’re shockingly easy to make. And they’re just the thing to wake up your senses as you settle into a long, cold winter.
Candied Orange Peel (Orange Sticks)
(adapted from The “Settlement” Cook Book)
1 orange, scrubbed
1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp granulated sugar, divided
1/4 cup hot water
optional: 1/4 – 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
To make the orange peel:
Score the orange lengthwise into four sections. Carefully remove the peel from the orange, making sure to keep each section in one piece. You should have four sections of peel. Carefully cut each section into narrow slices, about 1/4 inch wide.
Place the slices in a medium saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then drain off the water. Repeat process four more times. This will blanch the bitterness from the orange peel.
Set aside the orange peel. In the same saucepan, mix 1/2 cup of sugar and the hot water and cook over low heat, stirring often, until sugar is dissolved. Place the blanched orange peel back in the pan with the simple syrup and stir to coat. Cook over low heat, stirring often, until the syrup is mostly evaporated, about 20 minutes.
Remove the orange peel from the saucepan and drain off the excess syrup (or pour it into your tea, as I did). Sprinkle the remaining tbsp of sugar over a flat surface and carefully roll the orange slices in the sugar, using tongs or a spoon, until coated. Place on a wire rack to cool.
For chocolate dip:
Melt the chocolate chips in a double boiler over medium-low heat. When the chocolate is just melted, dip the ends of the orange peel in the chocolate. Let cool on a piece of wax paper. 1/4 cup of chocolate chips will be sufficient for about half the slices.