Costco, Oranges and “Winging It”

Recently, I was putting in an order for a Costco delivery. I needed some oranges. So I looked up my choices. That was easy, there was one choice. Of course this was a Costco order so that one choice meant a large one. It was an 8 pound bag of naval oranges. Eight pounds is a lot of oranges for me and Tom (mostly me) to eat, so I started thinking. What could I do with some of those oranges? Eat them is the obvious choice, and I did. Slice them to add to a glass of Blue Moon, which I also did, but what else? It was then that I remembered a lunch out with two of my friends/coworkers that took place several years ago. We had consumed a delicious lunch of a barbecued baked potato, but what I also remember is that after lunch, we popped into the Vaughn Russell Candy Kitchen next door. My friend Robbie pointed out the freshly made chocolate covered candied orange peel. I have always loved the combination of chocolate and orange, so I decided to buy a couple of pieces and just as I thought, it was divine. Why not try making some candied orange peel? And as I recently divulged, I have a lot of fancy chocolate on hand. Why not try my hand at making chocolate covered or dipped candied orange peel? So, that’s exactly what I attempted to do.

I did a little research, and found that candied orange peel is a well covered subject on the internet and YouTube. Most of the information is similar, but there are some variations. One of the variations is whether to include the pith or use just the peel. Jacques Pepin encourages not using the pith, but my chocolates from Vaughn Russell had some heft to them. I was sure they had left the pith. Therefore, I was determined to include the pith. Most recipes call for using two naval oranges, but naturally I decided to use 3. In for a penny, in for a pound!

I also knew that the next step would be to boil the peel. Boiling helps to remove the bitterness of the pith. Most instructions suggest boiling anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes, rinsing and repeating the process a few times. The instruction that I paid the most attention to was the one that recommended doing this until the peel no longer tasted bitter. In my case, I boiled the peel for 20 minutes and then rinsed a total of 3 times.

Next came the exciting part – candying the peel. I went with the most popular method which was to mix 3 cups of water with 3 cups of sugar, stir until mixed, add the peel and bring to a simmer for 45 minutes. This appeared to go well, but as I was transferring the peel to baking racks to cool and drain I noticed about two thirds of the way through, the sugar in the pan began to crystallize along with the remaining orange peel. Perhaps I should have just used the 2 naval oranges that most people use? Yeah, perhaps. Still, I muscled through and just accepted that all my peels would not be of equal quality. Most candied orange peel sites recommend saving the remaining orange flavored syrup for use in teas, cocktails and baking. I returned the pot to the heat, added some water and stirred like mad and believe it or not, I rescued the syrup, which was a win.

After a couple of days of letting the candied peel dry out, it was time to assess the flavor. Wow. It was sweet. I don’t mean a little sweet, I mean I haven’t had anything this sweet since we had a tasting of ice wine on our trip to Canada a couple of years ago. Trust me, that is sweet. So, way too sweet. I had already planned to at least dip some of them in chocolate, but now I knew it had be fully immersed in dark chocolate to mitigate the sweetness. So I set forth to coat my creations in chocolate still holding on to my food memory from years ago. I chose to melt the chocolate in the microwave and tried to imitate behavior I must have seen on TV by adding a few pieces of solid chocolate into the bowl and mixing away. At this point I was truly just winging it. I managed to coat about half of my orange peel and then needed to melt some more chocolate. I don’t know what possessed me, but after retrieving the bowl of melted chocolate from the microwave, I splooshed a little half and half into the mixture. Of course my chocolate immediately seized. Damn! I actually know that! You just don’t do that, but I had done just that in a moment of “winging it”. So, I quickly grabbed my phone and discovered that adding boiling water a tablespoon at a time while frantically mixing can reverse the process. I did as instructed and recovered the chocolate. Actually, the peel that was covered with the botched round of chocolate was smoother and had a better sheen that the first batch.

In the end, I actually produced something that tastes pretty good. The dark chocolate does help balance the sweetness of the orange peel, but it is still sweet and can only be enjoyed a piece or two at a time, which is probably a good idea anyway!

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