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Author Notes: As much as a girl can love gin and tonics, sometimes you need to shake things up a bit. The easiest, and cheapest, way is through the addition of beautiful garnishes and a colorful, flavorful simple syrup. Making this recipe was a truly sensory experience, from the aromatic pot of simmering water, sugar, and orange slices to the resulting translucent slices that shone like stained glass when held to the light. Make it at the end of winter, when fresh citrus is readily available, as both the infused syrup and the candied slices can be stored for several months. Then, come June, dig them out from the back of your fridge and take a simple cocktail to a whole new level.
After reading "Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History," by Sidney W. Mintz, I got to thinking about the historical uses of sugar. Before it became accessible to the western masses, sugar was used by the elite as a spice, a medicine, and a preservative. Not having much of a sweet tooth, I rarely bake or use sugar at all. After a bit too much coffee and a few hours in the library, however, I came to the conclusion that it was time to change that. As much a culinary adventure as it was a time warp, this recipe was developed in order to use sugar like the European nobility of the 14th century intended it: to make blood oranges immortal.
This recipe is an amalgam of bits and pieces from numerous ones I found online. My major sources were:
A simple ingredients ratio from Grace Parisi: http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/candied-orange-slices
The Repressed Pastry Chef's well illustrated instructions: http://therepressedpastrychef.blogspot.com/2008/07/candied-orange-slices.html
As well as those from Confessions of a Bright Eyed Baker: http://www.brighteyedbaker.com/confessions101/diy-candied-orange-peel/
And the idea of repurposing the syrup from Valerie Rice: http://eat-drink-garden.com/2013/12/candied-orange-slices/
And, finally, some helpful dehydration advice from a Chow Hound forum: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/673884 —Cannibalivia
Makes ~20 candied slices and ~1/2 liter of simple syrup
- 2 Blood Oranges
- 3 cups Water
- 1 cup Sugar (or more to taste)
- -SLICE- Thinly slice your oranges, aiming for slices about 1/4 inch thick. Use the poles of each orange (the top and bottom wedges that are difficult to continue slicing thinly) to make half slices, rather than complete circular ones.
- -BLANCH- Blanch the orange slices. Immerse slices in a pot of boiling water for 30 seconds, then transfer to an ice bath. The reason for blanching is to remove some of the bitterness from the citrus pith. If the pith is thicker (ie: grapefruit in comparison to clementine), repeat this step one or two more times.
- -MAKE SUGAR SOLUTION- In a saucepan, bring the 3 cups of water to a low boil. Lower the heat and begin to stir or whisk in the sugar. Add sugar gradually and in batches. Once sugar is fully dissolved, add the blanched orange slices.
- -COOK SLICES- Simmer the orange slices in the sugar solution over low heat, taking care to keep the syrup from reaching a boil. All slices should be immersed in the solution. If you are using a smaller pan, and the slices are forced to overlap, simply turn them over several times during the cooking process.
- -GET READY TO DRY- While the slices cook, prepare a wire cooling rack over a sheet of parchment paper. If you don't have a wire rack, simply set up a double layer of parchment paper on which you can let the slices cool.
- -FINISH COOKING SLICES- Cook slices until translucent. Depending on their thickness, this could take anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes. I found that an easy way to test their translucence, without the disturbance of removing them from the solution, was to gently slip a dark, metal slotted spoon under the slice. If I could see the spoon (however opaquely) through the pith, the slice was done. When done, remove slices and set on wire rack/parchment paper to cool and dry.
- -STORE SIMPLE SYRUP- After removing the slices from the solution, pour the syrup into a clean glass container (i.e. a mason jar, a well washed glass bottle). To facilitate this transfer, and keep from spilling sugar water all over my kitchen, I made a simple funnel out of parchment paper. Fold a long sheet of paper in half (so that it is doubly thick) and roll into a cone, keeping a hole at the tip slightly smaller than the mouth of your glass bottle. Use tape to secure the paper in this shape. Place the bottle or jar at the base of your sink, hold the paper funnel in place with one hand, and pour the syrup out of the saucepan with the other. Allow the syrup to cool slightly before capping the bottle or jar. If it is too hot, the contained pressure (from sealing the top of the container) could potentially break the glass.
- -DEHYDRATE SLICES- After letting slices sit at room temperature for several hours, place on fresh paper or clean rack atop a baking sheet and transfer to an oven preheated to the lowest allowed setting. For me, this was 175. Allow slices to dehydrate in the oven for several more hours. Check occasionally (every 1/2 to 1 hour) and test stickiness by lightly pressing the top of the slices with your finger. Turn over slices that are no longer tacky to touch and return pan to oven. Dehydration serves as a way to further preserve the slices by removing the excess water. Additionally, it keeps them from sticking together when stored. The resulting pieces are still chewy and flexible (think fruit leather), but less so than if they were not dehydrated and rather tossed with additional sugar once dry, as is often done with candied orange peels.
- -STORE SLICES- Once dehydrated, the orange slices can be stored more or less indefinitely. Mine have always been consumed within the first few months, so I can't speak from experience, but other sources have cited anywhere from 6 months to a year when kept in a cool, dry place. For personal use, I suggest a glass container such as a mason jar. As long as the slices are no longer sticky, the glass will keep them protected from moisture and humidity. If you wish to share the candied slices with a friend, an easy, pretty way of presenting them is layered between sheets of parchment paper. Cut circles from the paper slightly larger than the circumference of the slices, and stack the oranges on top of the. Make sure there is a paper circle on the top and the bottom of the stack, and tie with twine the way you would tie ribbon on a present. A stack of 6-10 slices should fit perfectly in one of the smaller mason jars, keeping the candied protected in transit and allowing the recipient to store any (hypothetical and unlikely) leftovers.