Kitchen Experiments: Orangettes

Orange is definitely one of my favorite flavors. Along with the other citrus fruits, oranges are full of freshness and flavor. One of my favorite things to do is actually peel an orange by hand. I like to get my fingers in there and just pull back the peel, and watch the orange oils just leak out and get all over my hands. It’s like nature’s perfume! Obviously I’m no stranger to oranges but it wasn’t until recently that I experienced a dark chocolate covered candied orange peel. I instantly fell in love. I was never really one to eat any kind of fruit with chocolate; not even the super popular chocolate covered strawberries. It just wasn’t my thing. I liked my fruits and chocolate separate when I was a kid, and never thought to try them together until adulthood. Blame the ‘refined palate’ I’m now claiming because I’m game to chocolate with fruit, and the darker the chocolate the better.

Back to the candied orange. It was definitely an experience and an eye opener. With the whole “do it myself” kick I’ve been going through, I knew I could probably pull this off. I used this recipe as a guide and got going.

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Making orangettes is super simple but very time consuming. It can take all day, but the majority of the process is just waiting. To get started, grab some oranges and carefully remove the peel off in segments. I like to cut off the top and bottom of the orange; trying to take away as little as possible of the actual orange. We just want a little opening into the pith. From here, I score the peel four times around the orange, and then use my hands to carefully remove the peel. Oddly enough, we actually want the pith. Ideally, when eating an orange the pith isn’t edible but for this purpose, we need it as it helps hold the sugar and gives the orangette its structure.

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After peeling the whole orange, slice the peel into strips. Try to make them as even as possible, but don’t fret if they’re not. I find that the thicker the slice, the better but this also takes longer to dry later. Play around with the sizes and thickness until you find what you like. After you have your strips ready, bring a pot with water up to a boil. Place the strips into the boiling water and blanch for five minutes. Rinse the peels and repeat the process two more times. This process is done to get rid of the bitterness found in the peel, and helps soften them up for the next step. For this part, I changed out the water each time and blanched them a total of three times. I’m sure it isn’t necessary to change the water each time, but I did for extra security.

After the last blanch, place an equal amount of water and sugar into your pot and bring to a simmer. Essentially, this is a simple syrup, and is what turns regular orange peels into orangettes. Amounts of water/sugar can vary, depending on how many orangettes you plan on making. For the one orange I used, I made my simple syrup using two cups of water with two cups of sugar. I did this for two reasons; one of which was because of my failed first attempt. The first time I tried to make these, I didn’t use enough water and sugar; the strips were touching the bottom of the pot. On top of the fact that they were sticking, I had the heat a little too high and ended up with caramelized orange peels. It could’ve been good but it was NOT what I was looking for.

Peels in syrup

Peels in syrup

When the syrup is at a simmer, put the peels in the pot and keep at a simmer for an hour. Yes, I know. A whole hour. Don’t stray too far from the pot, either. It needs to stay at a simmer or else you’ll end up with my first attempt’s result. Not good. While you wait, eat the orange you now have laying around if you haven’t already. This is also a good time to think about what kind of chocolate is best to dip the finished orangettes in. Personally, I’m a fan of dark chocolate. In this case, it goes very well with the orangey sweetness of the orangettes against the bitter tones of a dark chocolate. Bittersweet and semisweet also work extremely well, but you can use what you like. For this instance, I used semisweet.

Now that the peels have been simmering in the syrup for an hour, it’s time for removal. Carefully lay out each orangette atop of a cooling rack. Place a baking sheet under the rack to catch the syrup drippings. Right now, you should have a pot full of orange simple syrup. That was reason number two! Save the syrup and use it to sweeten tea, cocktails, or even lemonade.

Here comes the hard part: more waiting! The orangettes need to be completely dry before dipping in chocolate. For me, it took several hours; I didn’t really note how long it actually took. After they’re completely dry, they should be a little sturdier and less sticky. Melt the chocolate of your choice, either on a double boiler or carefully in the microwave. Dip each orangette, and place on a baking sheet lined with wax paper. At this point, you have creative license to dip them however you want; either completely, halfway, or a simple drizzle. For the non-chocolate lovers (ahem, my folks), toss the orangettes in some granulated sugar but only before serving! The orangettes tend to soak the sugar up and they get kind of wet and sticky; not cool.

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Orangettes are just plain awesome.  They’re sweet, chewy and intensely orange. The slight bitterness of the semisweet chocolate goes so well with the sweetness of the orangette. I mean, chocolate and orange just love each other. Pity it took me this long to figure that out. Now that I think of it, these would make an awesome gift. Honestly, I’m just thinking ahead to Christmas! Too soon, maybe.

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I’m positive this method isn’t just limited to oranges, and could produce awesome tasting candied lemon peels (lemonettes?) or lime peels (limettes, obviously). Try them with different combinations of chocolate; like limettes covered in white chocolate or lemonettes in milk chocolate. The options are endless and sure to produce a delicious result.

Orangettes – adapted from Handle the Heat

  • 1 large orange
  • 8 cups of water, divided
  • 2 cups of sugar
  • 4-8oz of semisweet chocolate chunks, melted
  • 1/4 cup of sugar (optional)

Directions:

  1. Cut the top and bottom off of the orange. Score the peel four times, rotating the orange after each score. Gently remove the peel with your hands, trying to get the peel to come off in one piece. Slice the peels into uniform strips.
  2. Set a medium sized pot, and bring two cups of water to a boil. Blanch the peels in the boiling water for five minutes. Pour the peels into a colander, and rinse off with cold water. Replenish the pot with two more cups of water and bring to a boil again. Repeat the above process for a total of three times.
  3. In the empty pot, combine two cups of water and two cups of sugar over low-medium heat. Stir the sugar until it is dissolved, and bring to a simmer. Place the blanched and rinsed peels into the simmering syrup and continue to simmer for an hour.
  4. Carefully remove each peel and place on a cooling rack over a baking sheet. You can discard the syrup or keep it to sweeten drinks or tea; just place in a jar or other container and cool before refrigerating. Allow the peels to cool and dry completely, which may take several hours.
  5. After the peels have dried out, melt the chocolate over a double boiler or gently in the microwave. If you’re microwaving, melt the chocolate in 30 second increments; stirring each time. Do not scorch/overheat the chocolate. Dip each orange peel in the chocolate, and set on a baking sheet lined with wax paper. Allow the chocolate to set before enjoying.
  6. Alternatively, toss the dried orange peels into granulated sugar, instead of chocolate, before serving.

Lucy’s Tips:

  • This is a whole day kind of project. Start early!
  • Again, I don’t think it’s necessary to change the water after each blanch. If you test this, please let me know!

 

Homemade Samoas

Tis the season — for Girl Scout cookies! It’s that time of year again; when adorable little girls peddle their green boxes of awesome, in exchange for some cash for their troop. Many of you probably grew up with these cookies, or were even a Girl Scout! I did not.

I was born and raised in New York City, in a neighborhood all the way uptown. The Girl Scouts were something I only heard about on TV. I almost thought they were just some made up thing that didn’t exist, as I had never seen a Scout in real life. When I was in high school, I became aware of their existence through teachers, friends and the Internet. All everyone ever mentioned about the Girl Scouts were the cookies; the Thin Mints in particular. The way people talked about Thin Mints, I thought they were the only cookie they sold. After a little bit of my own research; because really, when someone mentions cookies or any kind of popular sweet treat, I NEED TO KNOW MORE. Anyway, I found that there were several different kinds and flavors of cookies. All of them sounded absolutely delicious, but sadness set in when I realized that there were never any being sold near me.

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I didn’t get to taste a Girl Scout cookie until a couple of years ago. One of my mom’s friends somehow got a box of Samoas (or Caramel deLites) and offered us some. OH MY GOD, it was amazing. That was the first and last time I had a Girl Scout cookie. Sad, right? Well, no. I kept hearing about the cookies year after year but it never occurred to me that I could possibly make them myself. I saw a few knock offs online, and just decided to take the plunge. The only caveat was that I had to figure out how to make the cookie as close to dairy free as I possibly could.

I used this recipe as a guide. The shortbread cookie recipe was fantastically easy, so I didn’t change that. The caramel/coconut topping in the recipe was semi-homemade; using packaged caramels. I looked online for a homemade, dairy free replacement and just decided to sub the coconut milk for the heavy cream. This was both a good and bad idea. It was the first time I attempted that caramel candy recipe, as well as a coconut caramel so I had no idea what to expect or if it was even going to turn out. Despite the uncertainty, I think they came out pretty well.

The shortbread was really simple and easy. The dough comes together in a flash, and is easy to roll out; so long as it’s not too soft! The cookies held their shape pretty well after baking and didn’t crumble under the coconut caramel’s pressure. I used a biscuit cutter and the plastic cap off the soy milk container to make my cookies into the doughnut shape. It was fairly easy but a doughnut cutter is even easier if you own one. Once all the cookies were done, I moved on to the caramel.

For the caramel recipe, I went to TheKitchn. I’ve made caramel sauce before but since I needed a chewier consistency that held its shape; I had to get a new recipe. I followed it pretty much verbatim, except that I used full fat coconut milk in place of the heavy cream. Everything was going fabulously until I poured the caramel into a bowl. There was an oily film that rested on the caramel’s surface. I had heard of separation but I thought I’d get lucky. I didn’t but because I didn’t want to waste any ingredients, I tipped the bowl and got rid of the excess oil. It sounds gross but the caramel itself was still tasty!

After that was ready, my sister and I assembled the cookies. I got more cookie bases than anticipated, so I left a few without any topping. My parents were pleased. After topping with coconut, we dipped a few in melted semisweet chocolate, and used the rest of the chocolate for the drizzle. Despite the fact that I forgot to toast the coconut, these cookies came out tasting amazing. The coconut flavor in the caramel gives that deep nutty taste. The cookie wasn’t overwhelmingly sweet and didn’t interfere with the coconut caramel. All together, the cookie is a crispy, chewy and extra coconutty. They may not look like the real Samoas but they are still fantastic. Even though there still aren’t any Girl Scouts near me, it’s good to know that I can still enjoy the season (and the cookies) at home!

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Homemade Samoas – adapted from Just a Taste

Makes about 40 2-1/2″ cookies

For the cookies:

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 Tablespoons milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or a medium sized bowl with a hand mixer; cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
  2. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. In three increments, add the flour mixture to the creamed butter, mixing between each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add the milk and vanilla extract, blending until combined and the dough begins to come together in large pieces.
  3. Use your hands to divide the dough in half, pressing it together to compact it into two disks. Wrap the disks securely in plastic wrap and refrigerate them until firm, about 1 hour.
  4. Once the dough has chilled, roll each disk out onto a lightly floured surface until it is 1/8-inch thick. Cut out as many cookies as possible using doughnut-shaped cookie cutter, or a circular cookie/biscuit cutter and a smaller cookie cutter (or the plastic cap off a carton of milk). Place the cut-out cookies on a Silpat or parchment paper-lined baking sheet and repeat with remaining dough.
  5. Bake the cookies for 10 to 12 minutes, rotating the baking sheet half-way through, until the cookies are pale golden brown. Transfer the cookies to a wire wrack to cool completely.

Coconut Caramel Topping – adapted from TheKitchn

  • 1 1/3 cup full fat coconut milk
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cup white granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 cups shredded coconut, toasted

Directions:

  1. Melt the butter in the coconut milk. Over medium heat, warm the cream, butter, and salt in the 2-quart saucepan until the butter melts. Remove from heat, but keep the pan close by. Make sure your coconut is toasted and set aside before you begin. NO MULTITASKING.
  2. Combine the sugar, corn syrup, and water. In the larger 4-quart saucepan, combine the sugar, corn syrup, and water. Stir until the sugar is evenly moistened and you form a thick grainy paste. Wipe down the sides of the pan with a damp pastry brush so there are no sugar crystals above the surface of the sugar mixture. Clip the instant-read thermometer to the side of the pan so that the heat sensor is immersed in the sugar. Do not stir the sugar after this point.
  3. Cook the sugar syrup. Place the pot with the sugar mixture over medium to medium-high heat. Let the sugar syrup come to a boil without stirring. At first, you will see small bubbles around the edge of the pan, which will eventually move inward. Around 250°F, the sugar syrup will turn transparent and boil rapidly. Around 320°F, the syrup will darken slightly and smell caramel-like. You can proceed to the next step any time after the syrup reaches 250°F and before it reaches 325°F.
  4. Whisk in the cream and butter (WEAR AN OVEN MITT WHILE STIRRING! The steam is REALLY hot). Turn off the heat under the sugar syrup. Slowly pour the warm cream and butter mixture into the sugar syrup while whisking the sugar syrup gently. The sugar syrup will bubble up and triple in size. Stop whisking once all the milk and butter mixture has been added.
  5. Heat the caramel to 245°F – 250°F. Return the pan to medium to medium-high heat. Let the caramel come to a boil without stirring. It will start off as a soft buttery yellow and eventually darken to reddish-brown caramel. Remove from heat when the caramel reaches 245°F to 250°F.
  6. Quickly whisk the vanilla into the caramel. Pour the caramel over the coconut and stir until coconut is completely coated.

Assembling the Samoas:

  • about 8oz dark or semisweet chocolate, melted
  1. Melt the chocolate over a double boiler. Set aside.
  2. Carefully spread on a small amount of the coconut caramel on each cookie, taking care not to press down too hard onto the cookie. Continue until all the cookies are topped or until you run out of coconut caramel. If caramel is getting too hard to spread, you can try to reheat it a bit in the microwave to soften.
  3. Let set for about 15 minutes; the caramel should begin to harden pretty quickly.  Dip each cookie bottom into the melted chocolate; scrape off some of the excess if desired. Place dipped cookies onto a baking sheet lined with wax paper. Repeat with all of the cookies.
  4. Drizzle the remaining chocolate over the cookies in a striped pattern. Original samoas have equally spaced and organized stripes. Feel free to freestyle your drizzle!
  5. Place in the fridge for 30-60 minutes, or until chocolate is set. Alternatively, you can leave them out to set at room temperature. To store the cookies, I’d recommend placing them in an airtight container at room temperature. You can also store them in the fridge but make sure they sit out for a couple minutes to soften before eating!

Lucy’s Tips:

  • For a detailed explanation on how to make the caramel (with pictures!), please visit TheKitchn by clicking the link above. 
  • If you don’t have a lactose intolerant family member, use the packaged caramels or make the caramel using heavy cream. 
  • I also added 1/3 more coconut milk than the recipe asked for because I wanted the caramel to be soft and chewy instead of firm, like the original recipe describes. Up to 1/2 cup more cream/milk can be added to the caramel (1 1/2 cups of liquid total) but any more and it’ll become a caramel sauce. Not what you’re aiming for!
  • Just to reiterate, please wear an oven mitt to stir in the milk (or cream) into the sugar syrup. The steam that comes off of the pot is ridiculously hot and you may burn yourself. PLEASE BE CAREFUL!
  • I made over 40 cookies using a 2 1/2″ biscuit cutter. Sizes obviously vary, depending on the size of your cutter. 
  • USE WAX PAPER! For the love of God, use wax paper. I only had parchment and a few of the ones I dipped in chocolate got stuck to the parchment. When I finally lifted the cookie, almost all the chocolate stayed on the paper. 
  • Also, don’t forget to toast the darn coconut. 

Crunchy Peppermint Bark

I feel like Christmas pretty much snuck up on me this year. It’s weird because when I was a kid, we’d count down the days til Christmas, dreaming of the gifts and the good times with family. For some reason, that holiday spirit is diminished this year. Seemingly without any warning, Christmas is only a few days away. In a desperate attempt to get into the holiday spirit, I walked myself into my kitchen to create some of my own.

I always tell my sister that my holiday spirit lies in my tree. I decorate it every single year by myself, and am in charge of taking it back down. I leave the tree up for as long as possible, until after my birthday; hoping to grab on to every last bit of that good feeling. I put up my tree this year but it left somewhat of a lackluster feeling. Seeing as how that wasn’t enough, I wanted to make as many festive cookies as possible. Evidenced on this blog, I made sugar cookies, coconut macaroons, and gingerbread cookies; which included a very poor attempt at a gingerbread house. It certainly made me feel better about the holidays but it wasn’t enough.

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Between all the hustle and bustle of holiday shopping, life got in the way. As much as I hate to be in a negative state of mind during a time where everyone should be happy, this is real life. When no one is in a holiday mood for whatever reason, it’s hard to bring it back up. Why am I telling you all this? Besides this being a way to get it all out, I also wanted to show that the holidays should be enjoyed; even when life gets in the way.

One of the last ways I wanted to spread some Christmas cheer was with some candy. I have never attempted to make my own candy, so I knew I wanted to do something I could handle. I saw this recipe for peppermint bark over at Shutterbean, from the lovely Tracy. Peppermint bark is one my favorite holiday candies. I always make it a point to get at least one square of the Ghirardelli Peppermint Bark from the drugstore during the holiday season. I was attracted to this recipe for three reasons: it looked easy to make, the ingredients weren’t completely unattainable, and it looked amazing!

I want to build a house on this

I want to build a house on this

Now, I’ve never really messed with chocolate because of its temperamental nature (har har) but I moved forward, with much success. If you can melt chocolate, you can make this. Tracy’s bark is unique because it has a cereal base. This way, it’s not super cloying. She uses crispy rice cereal but since I didn’t have any in the house, I subbed Rice Chex with great results. I also drizzled some 72% dark chocolate over the top for added an added chocolate dose. This bark is definitely a cross between the traditional peppermint bark and a marshmallow crispy rice treat, sans the mallows of course. The sweetness from the white chocolate contrasts the crunchy cereal and bits of candy cane. The drizzled dark chocolate is subtle, which doesn’t make the bark overwhelming. I packaged some of it up in some cute takeout boxes for gifts, and am keeping the rest for Christmas night.

I hope everyone remembers to share their holiday spirit because you never know who may need it. A small token of appreciation can make a big difference. Happy holidays!

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Crunchy Peppermint Bark – adapted from Shutterbean

Makes about 35 pieces, depending on size

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound (16 oz) white chocolate, chopped (use GOOD white chocolate chips)
  • about 3 cups of Rice Chex, slightly crushed
  • 6-7 candy canes, unwrapped
  • 1 small bar of dark chocolate (1.65 oz), melted (optional)
  • nonstick cooking spray

Directions:

  1. Spray a 10-by-15-inch rimmed baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray; line with a piece of waxed or parchment paper. Crush candies in a Ziploc bag—strain out the powder.
  2. Place white chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over (not in) a saucepan of simmering water. Heat, stirring occasionally, until smooth, 4 to 6 minutes. Alternately, you can melt in a microwave safe bowl in the microwave. Heat for three 30-40 second intervals on high power until melted. Remove from heat; stir in rice cereal.
  3. Transfer mixture to prepared pan; with a spatula, spread to edges of pan.
  4. Sprinkle with crushed candy; with a piece of waxed paper covering the entire surface, press in gently (paper prevents hands from sticking to candy and chocolate). Drizzle with melted dark chocolate. Chill until firm, 20 to 30 minutes (no longer, as candy will begin to soften).
  5. Break bark into 2-inch pieces. Store at room temperature in an airtight container, up to 1 week.

Lucy’s Tips:

  • Use the best white chocolate you can get your hands on. 
  • For the dark chocolate, I used a bar from a three pack of small bars from Trader Joe’s. 
  • Have leftover dark chocolate? Use a pair of plastic spoons to scoop it up. Garnish with sprinkles or mini chocolate chips and pop in the fridge to harden. Dip in warm milk or coffee for instant hot chocolate or an awesome caffe mocha.