I've been trying to find more goodies to make this year that are good for packing up in a little cello bag or jar. Holiday cookies are a great gift, but they don't always arrive in the best (or freshest) shape when your friends and family are scattered across the country (or across the globe!) So when I saw this beautiful recipe for spiced candied orange peels on Savory Simple, I knew I had to give it a try!
The original recipe calls for vanilla bean, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon sticks and black peppercorns. Peering at my cabinets, I thought well, I'll just substitute pink peppercorns since I have so many, and they're so pretty! (I used at least double the amount of the pink because black peppercorns give more of a bite.) Then, looking at my pile of spices, I thought well, I have to add some star anise, they're so beautiful, go so well with the other spices and I just want to put them in everything this time of the year. And everyone knows orange + ginger is a match made in heaven. And thus I ended up using my entire masala chai recipe to spice the orange peels!
2 1/2 cups sugar
2 cups water
1 vanilla bean, split down the middle
approx. 20 whole pink peppercorns
6 cardamom pods, smashed
4 cinnamon sticks
3 clove buds
2 whole star anise pods
about 1-1/2 to 2 tbsp grated or pureed fresh ginger (or use frozen ginger cubes!)
1 cup sugar for coating
1. Cut the orange into quarters. Use a spoon to scoop out the fruit but be sure to leave as much of the white pith attached as possible. Slice the peels into thin slices about 1/4 inch thick or smaller.
2. Place the orange peels in a large saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 3 minutes. (Try not to keep getting distracted and wandering off while waiting for it to boil like I did.) Drain and repeat this process 2 more times using fresh water each time (do not skip this step because it removes the bitterness from the peel).
3. Clean the saucepan with soap and water. Add the water, sugar, vanilla bean, peppercorns, cardamom pods, cinnamon sticks, cloves, star anise and ginger. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Reduce to a simmer and add the orange peels. Simmer on low heat, stirring every 10-15 minutes, until the peels become slightly translucent, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
|check out that vanilla bean action|
4. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place a cooling rack on top. Using tongs, remove the orange peels from the syrup, shake off any excess liquid and move to the rack to finish draining. Don't discard the syrup, it's wonderful in drinks. Allow the candied orange peels to dry overnight. Toss with sugar before serving. If it's taking an excessively long time for your peels to dry (like two days,) you can toss them in the sugar and lay them out on sheets on top of a hot oven (while you're doing more baking, cause I always am) to gently dry them a bit more.
The smell when these peels are simmering in the spices is heavenly. It actually smells exactly like my favorite fancy tea from my days working in a tea shop that I've been trying and failing to recreate ever since... further experimentation needed to see if I can apply this discovery successfully to a tea blend!
Now, this was a bit of a tedious process. Scraping all the fruit out of the peels without losing the pith, and then taking each piece out of the syrup individually with tongs, laying it on the rack and picking off any large spice chunks that are stuck to it (I now put my spices in a sachet to avoid this step,) are both major time sinks. And there's plenty of waiting around both while it simmers and while the peels dry for 10+ hours. But believe me when I say, it's worth it! The flavor is fantastic- bright, sweet and a little spicy with a finish that's somehow quite floral. The scent, taste and presentation are festive and beautiful for the holidays. I love seeing the little flecks of vanilla bean all over the peels. Anyone would be delighted to receive this handmade candy as their gift!
And if you really don't want the candymaking process to end with these, you can always dunk them in chocolate too! I might try that later, in fact - I think it might be enough to convince Jay to help me finish them off. You can also thinly slice some ginger root and candy them along with the orange peels - which, in addition to giving you a second candy, makes the peels extra spicy.
These peels are fine in a sealed bag at room temperature for a couple of weeks, depending on humidity - plenty of time to send them to friends, but they will eventually get moldy, and unsealed they dry out, so keep them in a sealed bag in the fridge for long-term storage.
They're also great to have on hand to use in baking- chop up a few handfuls of these and mix them into brioche dough with some soaked dried cranberries and you've got your own pannetone. Several of my friends like to drown them in tea, which gives your drink a great citrusy spice, and leaves a prize at the bottom of the mug!