Tangerine Sorbet with Candied Peels–Valentines Day 2016 (part 2)

When I was planning my Valentine’s Day menu, dessert was not on my radar. I knew the dumplings were going to take up most of my time and I didn’t want to stress myself out by planning elaborate dessert. I was just going to do something simple like fresh berries with a little Grand Marnier (one of my parents’ go-to desserts). But a recipe for tangerine sorbet by David Lebovitz came into my inbox the Friday before Valentine’s Day and I thought, “This looks easy enough, tangerines are in season, it’ll go nicely with my menu, and I’m working from home today. I have time to do this.” So I took a mid-morning break from work and walked to my local produce market to pick up some minneola tangelos (though any tangerine or mandarin orange varietal would have worked, too).

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This recipe does require planning ahead (which for once I successfully did!). You have to juice the fruit, add sugar, some zest, and a little Grand Marnier, and let it chill overnight. Since I was working from home and didn’t have to take my 45 minute commute home, I was able to start on this right at 5 pm, perfect for stress-free prep, i.e. I am not juicing fruit at 9:30 at night. I busted out the juicer and juiced about 8 tangelos, enough to get 4 cups. The juicer is a pain to clean, so if you have a large citrus squeezer or a hand juicer, I recommend going that route. I have neither, so the juicer it was. I ended up with a little more than 4 cups of juice so I used the extra to make screwdrivers for happy hour. Another plus for starting this project at 5 pm.

The next day I took the juice from the fridge and put it in the freezer. Taking instructions from Lebovitz on how to make ice cream without a machine, I took the juice out of the freezer every half hour, for a couple of hours, and blended it with my stick blender (you can also mix with a hand mixer or with a spatula by hand). This allows for a smooth, consistent texture as it slowly freezes. Otherwise you’ll just have a big bowl of popsicle. While it would still be delicious, it would prove a bit difficult to eat.

Lebovitz also candied the peels of the fruit to serve alongside the sorbet. I thought that was a great way to minimize food waste, and decided to do the same. So I peeled the tangelos before juicing to candy later. However, Lebovitz’s recipe for candied orange peels is not available online, so I had to do some research for a recipe. To candy a citrus peel, you basically boil it in sugar water. But I found many methods to do this, with a variety of sugar to water ratios, boiling times, etc. Considering my history of candying fruit and trouble with boiling liquids with a high sugar content, I wanted to be careful about what recipe I chose. I didn’t want to make a sauce-pan full of hard candy.

What most recipes agreed on was cutting the peels of whatever citrus fruit you’re using (orange, lemon, lime, grapefruit, or a mix) into 1/4 inch strips.

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But that is where the recipes diverge. Some recipes blanch the peels a number of times to remove the bitterness, like Jacques Pepin does in his recipe (this video of his is also helpful). Others boil the strips once for 10-15 minutes, like Martha Stewart. I decided to go the multiple blanch route because that’s what I saw people do more often. After blanching, you boil the peels in sugar water for about 8-10 minutes, until they are translucent. Martha Stewart uses a 1:1 ratio of water and sugar. But Jacques Pepin uses a 2:1 ratio. I randomly decided that Jacques has more authority in this matter and went with the 2:1 ratio. I was also afraid of the 1:1 sugar to water ratio, reasons of which I stated previously.

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peels after their sugar-water boil

After the peels have been boiled, you toss them in sugar to coat. Martha’s recipe recommends letting them dry out for about an hour before coating. Jacques doesn’t. I went with Jacques’ method again, but found that the sugar clumped together more than I would have liked. Even after being left to dry for an hour, they were still pretty wet. Martha may have been on to something with her drying instructions.

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Although the peels turned out very tasty, I was not 100% satisfied with how these came out, and I am going to keep playing around with the recipe. I think a lot of the trouble has to do with how much peel you have and knowing how to scale the sugar to water ratio accordingly. Because you’re not always going to have 8 oranges worth of peel. Clearly, I do not have my magic method for candied orange peels yet, but my adapted recipe for this particular batch of peels is below.

I leave you with the final outcome of the sorbet, garnished and everything. Another good way to server it would be to chop the candied peel and sprinkle it on top so that you can have little bits of candied peel in each bite.

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Recipes

Candied Orange Peels (adapted from Jacques Pepin)

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 cups orange peels (or any mix of citrus peels), cut into 1/4 inch strips
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup sugar (plus 1/3 cup for coating)

METHOD

  1. Peel the zest of oranges, leaving off as much of the white pith as possible. Julienne the peels into 1/4 inch strips.
  2. In a saucepan, cover the strips in water and bring to a boil. Cook for 10 seconds. Drain peels in a strainer and rinse with cold water. Repeat one more time.
  3. Return the peels to the saucepan with 1 cup sugar and 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil and cook, uncovered, until the mixture starts to thicken and the peels turn translucent, about 8-10 minutes, though it took a little longer for me, probably becuase I simmered rather than boiled. I was scared of making hard candy. (This is the step where I need to make the most adjustments, perhaps in sugar to water ratio or cooking temperature.)
  4. Strain the peels, saving the syrup for another use (like cocktails or to sweeten tea).
  5. Spread 1/3 cup of sugar on a tray or medium sized bowl. Add the peels and toss, separating the pieces so that each strip is coated with sugar. Transfer the strips to a cooling rack and let stand for at least an hour, until dry. (Again, my peels didn’t really dry, so I will try letting them dry a bit before tossing in sugar.)
  6. Store in a jar or container with a tight-fitting lid. You can refrigerate or let it stand at room temperature.

Old-Fashioneds with Candied Oranges

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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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:

  1. 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)
  2. 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)
  3. Add bitters-infused ice cube
  4. 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.

Cheers!