Growing up I was mesmerized by the books written by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Of the many memorable stories told in each of her books, one particular Christmas scene has remained with me.“Laura was wondering about the orange before her…she had once eaten part of an orange, so she knew how good an orange tastes.” And after the party she couldn’t help but say, “Oh, Ma, each one of us had a whole orange!’ (Little Town on the Prairie) Reading Laura’s elation over the gift of single piece of fruit not only gave my twelve year old heart a perspective on what it meant to be grateful, I began to understand the importance of showing genuine gratefulness, even for the smallest of kindnesses. Many years later I would learn of some of the symbolic significances behind the giving of oranges at the holidays. Now, as soon as December arrives, there is always a large glass bowl filled with clementines sitting on the counter or gracing a table. This year I decided it was time to find another way of incorporating oranges into the holiday season and into some of this year’s gifts. Could there be anything more perfect than Orangettes?
Candied fruit has a storied history. Ancient Romans preserved fruit using honey more than 2,000 years ago. In the 14th century, candied fruits discovered by Europeans traveling to the Middle East became one of the confections brought back to France where they immediately gained in popularity. During the 18th century, candied lemons and oranges were some of the most sought after and elegant sweetmeats found in the larger cities in Colonial America. The imported citrus fruit and sugar used in the making of these candied jewels, sometimes called ‘orange and lemon chips’ made these early confections rare and costly ones. Today, these aromatic, flavorful, glistening candied orange peels dipped in chocolate are called Orangettes.
In the spirit of full disclosure I must tell you the making of candied orange peels is, well, slightly time and labor intensive. Oranges have to be peeled, sliced, blanched three times, drained, trimmed, blanched once more, simmered in a sugar syrup until they have a translucent quality, lightly tossed in superfine (caster) sugar, and dried all before they are either again rolled in sugar or dipped in melted chocolate. Please know after a single bite of this swoon-worthy confection your selective memory will come to your rescue and you will suddenly find yourself championing the adage ‘nothing worth having comes easy’. It may be a losing battle to think your willpower is strong enough to keep you from eating only one piece of this candy perfection. But don’t think of this loss as giving up. Think of it more as giving in to one of life’s pleasures.
Years ago I searched for, found, and ultimately made some Orangettes. But for whatever reason I did not save that recipe (code for I couldn’t find it). So again I had to go on the hunt. Only this time, I felt like I was on a never ending pilgrimage. After an exhausting search through cookbooks, reviewing online recipes with their accompanying comments, and watching several YouTube videos, the choice of oranges along with both the sugar syrup ingredients and process for making the Orangettes seemed to be all over the map. For a brief moment I thought about abandoning this journey. But for better or worse, giving up has never been one of my virtues (although circuit exercises continue to push me to the brink of raising the white flag).
Thin or thick skinned oranges? Thick won here making either Navel or Valencia oranges the best options. Cut or peel the orange rinds? I went with cutting them as there are more length and width options for the finished peels. A one to one sugar to water ratio, a two to one sugar to water ratio or some other ratio variation for the simple syrup? My head was spinning. I chose the 2-1 sugar to water ratio for some unexplainable reason. Add corn syrup or freshly squeezed lemon juice to keep the simple syrup from crystalizing? Lemon juice won out. But more on all of this keeper of a recipe later.
How thick or thin you make the strips of orange peel is a personal preference decision. Larger oranges as well as how you cut the oranges will influence the length of the strips. Scoring the orange from end to end or first cutting each end of the orange before scoring and removing the peel were both options used. My preference was for scoring the orange from end to end as it yielded longer strips of the rind.
Blanching the orange rinds removes any trace of their bitterness. In a wide, deep pan the orange rinds are covered with cold water. After the water is brought to a boil, the rinds continue to boil for two (2) minutes. After draining the pot of rinds, the rinds are blanched two more times (for a total of 3 at this point). After the third blanching, the peels are drained and cooled to the point where they can be handled.
Using a sharp pairing knife, the rinds are trimmed, leaving as much of the pith as desired. Be careful to not trim too much as the pith is what retains the sweetness once the peels are candied. The trimmed rinds are then blanched in cold water (bringing the total number of blanches to 4) and then drained. Note: If you cut your rinds into wide strips or you chose to leave more of the pith on, blanch for a 5th time.
A simple syrup made of two cups of water, four cups of granulated sugar, and two tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice are cooked until the sugar dissolves. The drained orange rinds are added, the mixture brought to a boil, and then reduced to a simmer.
The rinds cook for 60-90 minutes or until the peels look glassy and slightly transparent.
The rinds are removed from the syrup and placed on a drying rack.
After approximately 30 minutes the cooked rinds can be lightly tossed in caster (superfine) sugar and then returned again to the cooling rack. They will be very sticky at this point. Tossing the rinds in the sugar to assist in the drying process is an optional step, however, it makes them much easier to handle the next day when either dipping in melted chocolate or rolling in granulated sugar.
Allow the orange rinds to dry overnight on a cooling rack.
Orangettes can be completely or partially dipped in either semi-sweet or milk chocolate. The amount of chocolate you need will be dependent on how many orange peels you have candied as well as if they are completely or only partially dipped.
Melt two thirds of the chocolate in a bowl over simmering water. Once melted, stir in the remaining one third of the chocolate (chopped) to temper. Tempering the chocolate enables it to retain a shine when it sets. Place the strips of orange rind on parchment paper to dry after they are dipped in the chocolate. If the orange peel strips partially dipped, the undipped portion can be sprinkled with granulated sugar after the chocolate has set. The dried overnight orange peels are equally delicious simply tossed in granulated sugar. Store and/or package Orangettes in sealed containers or in cellophane bags tied with a beautiful ribbon.
Don’t let the number of steps involved sway you away from making these blissfully ambrosial confections. Once you have experienced the deliciousness of a glistening Orangette, you will never look at an orange rind or the gift of an orange the same again. Of all of the gifts you give this holiday season, there may be none more symbolic of gratitude than these simple chocolate covered candied orange peels. Or a more delicious new tradition.
Orangettes aka Chocolate Covered Candied Orange Peels (inspired from a compilation of candied orange peel recipes)
5-7 large Navel or Valencia oranges (find the ones having the thickest rinds)
4 cups granulated sugar
2 cups water
2 Tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice
Caster or granulated sugar for finishing (recommend India Tree’s Caster Sugar)
1 1/2 pounds of semi-sweet or milk chocolate, chopped
Optional: Additional granulated sugar for rolling undipped or partially dipped orangettes
1. Wash oranges. Using a sharp knife, score the peel of the oranges into four wedges. Peel the thick skin wedges away from the fruit, discarding any of the loose pith fibers. Flatten each orange wedge and cut into strips in widths of preference. Note: Strips cut less than 1/4 inch may break when dipping in chocolate or rolling in granulated sugar.
2. Place orange rind strips in a wide, deep pan. Cover with cold water. Once the water comes to a boil, continue to boil for 2 minutes. Drain orange rinds. Repeat the blanching process two more times using fresh cold water each time.
3. Trim some of the pith away from each of the rinds without going all the way down to the rind as the pith is what retains the sweetness once the peels candied.
4. Combine water, granulated sugar, and freshly squeezed lemon juice in a wide, deep pan. Over medium heat, cook until sugar dissolves. Add trimmed orange rinds and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and continue cooking for 60-90 minutes (or until rinds appear glassy and translucent).
5. Using tongs, remove the strips of orange peel from the syrup and place on a wire rack to drain and cool (approximately 30 minutes).
6. When peels are cool enough to touch lightly toss in caster (superfine) sugar and return to a clean wire rack. Allow to air dry overnight.
7. Place two-thirds of the chopped chocolate in a bowl over simmering water. Once melted, stir in the remaining one-third of the chocolate to temper. Dip the strips of orange peel in the melted chocolate. Place on a sheet of parchment paper and allow chocolate to harden (set). Dipping options: (1) completely dip the entire orange rind; (2) dip half of the orange peel, allow chocolate to harden (set) and sprinkle granulated sugar on other half of the orange peel; or, (3) roll dried orange peels in granulated sugar.
8. Store in an airtight container or sealed cellophane bag at room temperature for up to 4 weeks or in the refrigerator for up to 3 months.
Note: Don’t throw away the candied orange syrup. Use it in your cocktails or drizzle over cake or ice cream. Store this incredibly delicious syrup in a covered jar in the refrigerator.