I am not a recipe developer by any means, but I do enjoy tailoring recipes and putting my own spin on things when inspiration strikes. Earlier this month my sister hosted her annual tree-trimming party and she requested I bring a fancy holiday cocktail. For her party last year, I made a spiced cranberry shrub which (per the recommendation of Marisa McClellan of Food in Jars) I mixed with bourbon and topped with champagne for a kind of Christmas cherry bomb. This year I didn’t have the time and energy to make a shrub, but I did have a whole bag of oranges and thought it would be fun to spice up the classic old-fashioned with candied oranges.
I chose Food and Wine’s recipe for candied oranges because it was the least complicated and took only 35 minutes. You really only need three ingredients: sugar, water, and a sliced orange. You can read the recipe yourself, but essentially you bring sugar and water to a boil, and simmer the orange slices until the liquid becomes a syrup and the oranges turn translucent.
On paper this sounds simple enough, and I started off well, but rather than getting a nice orange-flavored syrup at the end (which I planned to use as the sugar for the cocktail), I instead got hard orange-sugar candy. The second the syrup cooled it solidified. I notoriously have problems with recipes that call for simmering anything with a high sugar content for long periods of time. One time I tried to make grape ketchup and all I got were solid jars of oddly savory grape candy. Part of my trouble is the fact that I continually fail to understand the science and finesse of cooking sugar at high temperatures, and the other part is the recipes I consulted failed to warn me to be mindful of the fine line between making syrup and candy. “Moderate heat” can be fairly subjective and as an inexperienced candy-maker, I did not interpret that instruction well. I knew I was in trouble when the sugar water had reduced to almost nothing and the orange slices started to caramelize/almost burn, as you can see here:
I pulled the slices out and attempted to save the syrup, which again, was unsuccessful because it solidified into a sugary mass. Despite this complication, the slices themselves still turned out well enough. Some were more heavily coated in hardened sugar than others, but when you put them in glasses of bourbon, the extra sugar melts and adds the sweetness that the syrup would have provided. No harm, no foul.
In addition to adding candied orange slices into the bourbon, Andrew made bitters-infused ice cubes, so that when the ice melted, the bitters slow-released into the cocktail. This made for a cocktail with a flavor profile that changed as you drank it, the bitters, orange flavor, and sweetness slowly intensifying as you drank. It was kind of like an ever-lasting gobstopper, a cocktail with constantly changing flavors that unfortunately was not as ever-lasting as you wanted it to be because sadly your glass would eventually empty, your only consolation being the delicious, mildly boozy candied orange slice you got to eat at the end.
So if you go through the trouble of making candied oranges and bitters-infused ice cubes (which is just filling an ice cube tray with water and adding drops of bitters into the water before freezing), the recipe is a simple one:
- Pour the bourbon of your choice into a glass (however much you want because I never really measure, but 2 oz is probably good to start with)
- Add candied orange slice (you can muddle it a little if you’d like to excrete some more orange flavor, but you want to keep the slice in tact)
- Add bitters-infused ice cube
- Garnish with regular slice of orange (you can also play around with squeezing a little fresh orange juice into the cocktail)
As you can see, this is not the most precise recipe. Everything can be experimented with and adjusted to taste.