by Mireille Bourgeois
A few years ago I was going through a heavy depression in a city and job I disliked, away from my friends and my budding relationship. I knew I had to find a way to get out of the depression or things would get a lot worst. I was in a danger zone that I’m happy I’ve never returned. I have a lot more respect for people who suffer from mental health issues long term.
For me, keeping busy was the answer. So one day I scraped myself off the couch (the hardest part really), and looked online for a random recipe to make. It was like uncorking the bottle. I baked, cooked, fed co-workers, family and friends. I made so many sweets and delicious dishes that I considered leaving my job and starting a baking business. I may still do that one day 😉 I baked straight up from morning, until night time. I’d time marinating and the baking process of complicated dishes around my job, hurrying home to continue my obsession. I can’t say that baking took my depression away, but it kept me relatively sane, and not getting any worse, until I got a job in the city I wanted, moved away and began a new, happier life.
This recipe is one of the recipes that was a big success at the time, and I make it every year. It tastes like xmas, and it feels good to make now that I’m so much happier. I hope you enjoy the process and the end result as much as I do.
I bake/cook like a hunter hunts. I try to use every last bit of the ingredients I use and repurpose them to make other delicious treats. This is one of the amazing recipes for that.
Start with a thick skinned orange. The below recipe is for 4 oranges which should give a nice batch of candied peels. I like to make a large quantity however and give these as gifts to pretty much everyone at Xmas time, so I used 16 oranges for my recipes (which gives about 50 treat bags of 6 peels each).
I use this recipe with a couple of changes.
Candied Orange Peel
4 thick skinned oranges
4 1/2 cups water
2 cups white sugar
1 tsp vanilla
First you want to wash the oranges with a hard bristle brush. If your oranges are organic, you’re in good shape, otherwise, wash those oranges really well! Next, peel the oranges really gently. I use a paring knife and make 4 incisions lengthwise just into the peel, not the orange itself.
Then I take a small spoon and slip it under the skin and gently run it along the peel until it’s released from the orange. Once you have all the peels removed, cut then lengthwise again in thin strips.
Peeling all the oranges means you will have lots of oranges to eat! I separate mine into segments and freeze them for morning smoothies.
Fill a large pot with water, and put the peels in. Bring to a boil, and then pour out after one minute of boiling. Dump your water. Fill pot again and repeat the boiling of the peel for another one to two minutes. This boils out the bitterness, leaving the wonderful orange rind taste. If you want your peels to be really subtle, you can do a third boil. I find two is enough. Dump water and fill pot with the 4 1/2 cups of water. Add the sugar and vanilla and stir until dissolved. Then add the orange peels to the water bath. Simmer on low for up to two hours, until the white part of the peels are somewhat transparent. Take off the burner and let cool. Once cooled a bit, put pot with orange peels still in it, in the fridge to cool/soak up the sugar overnight.
The next day, take the orange peels out of the syrup one at a time (don’t drain the liquid, you will need it for your brandy syrup), and toss in a nice pile of sugar. I just use my hands, it’s a lot quicker that way. Once rolled in a good amount of sugar, place on cooling rack or in food dehydrator to dry. Let it dry until the peels are’t wet anymore, but just a nice tackiness, and then roll them again in another good amount of sugar. Watch that your dehydrator doesn’t dry them too fast, you don’t want to miss that second sugaring.
It will take a couple of days for the peels to get to that the perfect texture. You want the outside to be chewy and the inside like a soft jujube candy. Do not discard your sugar pile, you will need it for the Orange Dust.
You don’t have to cover or dip the peels in chocolate, but there really is no better pairing than orange and chocolate. I half-dip them and it’s a great ratio or orange and chocolate. Simply melt your chocolate at low heat in a heavy bottom pot, and dip the orange peels.
Orange Brandy Syrup
Take the reserved orange syrup from the candying process and bring to a boil. Reduce the liquid until you get a nice syrup consistency. You want a low-to medium simmer so that you don’t over boil or burn the syrup. Once the syrup coats a spoon, remove from the burner and let cool completely.
Put in fridge until cold. Add a dash of brandy (I added 1/2 ounce of Brandy for about 4-4 cups of syrup). Stir to combine and bottle. This syrup needs to stay in the fridge but will stay good for many months. I drizzle a bit in the bottom of a fancy glass and fill with cold soda water. It’s a really delicious italian soda flavour. You can opt out of the brandy flavouring and it would make an elegant alcohol-free drink for dinner party guests. A friend of mine used the syrup to make meat marinades (without the brandy) by adding a soy sauce, some spices or using it as a glaze.
Orange Sugar Dust
When you toss the orange peels in the pile of sugar, you’re flavouring the sugar with orange essence. The sugar will be a bit wet, so you need to let it dry in a bowl and crisp up again. Once dry, I fluff it up with a fork, add dried orange peel to the mix and fill a spice bottle for a little added xmas gift. You can sprinkle on buttered toast, on cookies before baking, or in coffee/tea.
So there! Nothing left but beautiful treats!