Chocolate-Dipped Candied Orange Peel

by Maja Lukic


The technique is nothing new, of course, but I've been going through so many oranges lately that I thought I should learn how to make candied citrus peel. Verdict? Candied peel on its own is very nice -- sweet, chewy, slightly bitter, and would be a nice substitute for the awful candied fruit tossed into holiday fruitcakes. It could also be a gorgeous gift for someone if giving out homemade goods is your thing. 

But dipped in chocolate? Dark or perhaps even white? Oh, friend, now you're speaking my language. Because, rolled in sugar and then partly dipped in chocolate, the flavor falls somewhere between p√Ętes de fruits and a Jaffa Cake. But the good part of a Jaffa Cake, which, in my opinion, has always been the orange jelly filling and chocolate coating. As a kid, I would routinely scrape the top orange and chocolate layer off with my teeth and discard the dry biscuit. Insatiable sweet tooth and a basic lack of control in the presence of chocolate. I'm not proud of it. 

I grew up with those Jaffa Cakes and, consequently, still have a soft spot for them. Make no mistake: there is nothing nutritious about a Jaffa Cake. I don't even think the chocolate coating is real. It's probably some twisted conglomeration of sugar, milk fat, emulsifiers, and artificial food coloring. (If you've never had the pleasure, let me help you out). It's been years since I've actually had one of those cookies but the transcendent pairing of bitter chocolate and bright citrus is still a favorite.

To be fair, this candied peel is not exactly a detox item either. But think of it as an occasional treat and a healthier update on mass market junk food. If that looks like an outrageous amount of sugar, it is, but you need it to create enough simple syrup to coat the orange peel. And you won't actually consume the entire quantity of sugar required. In fact, after candying the peel, you should have at least a cup and a half of orange-infused simple syrup remaining for use in cocktails (highly recommended, especially with citrus bitters). 

For what it's worth, there are some positive aspects, too. There is no artificial food coloring -- that cheerful orange color comes from the peel itself. No preservatives or other additives. As long as your sugar and chocolate are vegan and gluten-free, it's a vegan and gluten-free candy. (I used Florida Crystals Natural Cane Sugar -- it's vegan, organic, and allegedly "less processed"). Basically, if you use organic ingredients and good-quality dark chocolate, you could have something roughly approximating a healthy sweet. But very roughly. 

Enjoy the sugar and stay warm. 

Chocolate-Dipped Candied Orange Peel

Makes approx. 2 cups

2 organic oranges

1  1/2 cups sugar, plus additional sugar for rolling

water

3.5 oz. organic bittersweet chocolate (70%)

Wash and dry the oranges and slice a 1/4" off the tops and bottoms. Then with the oranges positioned vertically, cut whole strips of peel peel off with a sharp knife, leaving about 1/4" of white pith attached to the peel. (Save the orange segments for snacking, salads, etc.). Slice the peel lengthwise into 1/4"-wide strips. 

Place the strips into a medium saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and continue to boil for about one minute. Drain and repeat three more times to reduce the bitterness. (The more times you blanch the peel, the less bitter it will be). Set the peel aside while you prepare the simple syrup.

In the same pan over medium heat, bring 1 cup of water and 1 1/2 cups of sugar to a boil, stirring often to dissolve the sugar. Reduce to a simmer and add the peel back into the pan. Simmer the peel for 45 minutes. 

Drain and reserve the syrup for use in cocktails and other recipes (store in the fridge for up to 1 week). Allow the peel to drain well -- for about 10 minutes or so -- and then roll it in sugar, carefully separating the strips. Lay the candied peel out on a baking sheet lined with wax paper or foil until completely dry -- this should take at least 4 to 5 hours but a full day is preferable.

To dip in chocolate, simply heat up a few ounces of dark chocolate in a small bowl. Dip each strip halfway into the melted chocolate, gently shaking to remove excess chocolate, and lay it out to dry on a wire rack. After 15 to 20 minutes, transfer to a baking sheet lined with wax paper or foil to dry completely. Store at room temperature or in the fridge. 

Note: Be sure to let the candied peel drain well before you roll it in sugar to prevent clumps or soggy peel. You can substitute white chocolate for the dark. Try this with lemon or grapefruit peel, too, but you may need to blanch the peel more times to get the bitterness out. For grapefruit, I would blanch five or six times. You can try to substitute alternative sugars but understand that brown sugar and coconut sugar may not candy the fruit properly and will almost certainly discolor the peel (speaking from my failed grapefruit peel/coconut sugar experiment). 


Gluten-Free Pumpkin Chocolate Buckwheat Muffins

by Maja Lukic


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It was only a matter of time before I got swept into the pumpkin spice madness of the season. Today, I am sharing a pumpkin muffin that would be a respectable addition to any holiday brunch or breakfast table. 

I have to confess that it took me a very long time to fully appreciate pumpkin puree and pumpkin-flavored treats. To be fair, up until a few years ago, my only associations with pumpkin were: a) the completely unnecessary Starbucks infusion of dairy, sugar, and artificial flavors known as the Pumpkin Spice Latte; and b) the trays of sugary, cracked pumpkin pies that regularly appeared at my local grocery stores around November 1 every year.

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But with age comes, I don't know, wisdom or at least something approximating wisdom. Having been exposed to some delicious pumpkin treats recently, I am now devoted to the sweet gourd. I do think that pumpkin benefits from a little chocolate (as do all things) so I often pair the two together. 

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And, so, this muffin -- the happy marriage of pumpkin, spices, walnuts, dark chocolate, and citrus makes for a perfect fall pastry. The walnuts lend a crunch, the chocolate chunks melt into rich, bittersweet ribbons throughout the batter, the spices are warm but not overwhelming, and it's all perfectly balanced with bright citrus notes. (The orange comes through nicely -- please don't leave it out). 

Do not let the long ingredient list put you off --  you probably have most of the ingredients at home and once you gather the various components, it moves fairly quickly. Also, you can substitute the individual spices with a few teaspoons of your favorite pumpkin pie spice mix. 

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As for texture, this will not yield a very crunchy muffin top, unfortunately. The crumb is soft and incredibly moist. I have a strong aversion to dry or overdone baked goods so I err on the side of underbaking everything. If you prefer a drier or more "done" pastry, simply extend the baking time by a few minutes.  

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Gluten-Free Pumpkin Chocolate Buckwheat Muffins

Adapted from Gluten-Free Apple Banana Nut Muffins

Makes 12 

1 1/4 cup almond flour

1/4 cup buckwheat flour (not buckwheat groats) 

1 tsp baking soda

3 eggs

1 cup canned pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie mix/filling) 

1/2 cup organic maple syrup

1/8 cup unrefined coconut oil

1 orange (juice and zest)

1 tbsp raw apple cider vinegar

2 tsp vanilla extract

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

1/8 tsp ground ginger

1/8 tsp ground allspice

pinch of ground clove

pinch of ground white pepper

1 cup raw walnuts, chopped

1/2 cup dark chocolate chunks  

1 tbsp chia seeds

a pinch of sea salt

Preheat the oven to 350 F and line a standard-sized muffin pan with paper liners.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the almond flour, buckwheat flour, baking soda, and a pinch of salt. (Whisking means you don't have to sift the flours!).

In a separate bowl, combine the liquid ingredients: canned pumpkin, coconut oil, maple syrup, three beaten eggs, the juice and zest of an orange, vanilla, and apple cider vinegar. Add cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice, a pinch of ground clove, and a pinch of ground white pepper. (If you're using whole peppercorns, two to three grinds of the pepper mill should do it.). 

Slowly incorporate the dry ingredients into the liquid batter, taking care not to overmix. 

Stir in the walnuts, chocolate chunks, and 1 tablespoon of chia seeds. Allow the batter to rest at room temperature for about 10 minutes or so.  

Spoon the mixture evenly into the lined muffin pan, filling each liner to the top (they will not rise much).

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until golden brown.

The muffins will stay fresh wrapped in plastic on the counter for a few days. For long-term storage, wrap the muffins individually and store in the freezer for up to 1 month.

Notes: Both the almond flour and the buckwheat flour should be stored in the fridge or freezer. Instead of the individual spices, you can substitute 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons of your favorite pumpkin pie spice mix. For a less sweet muffin, decrease the chocolate chunks to 1/3 cup. It's a fairly soft, wet batter but if it seems too wet, add in some more almond flour. Conversely, if the batter seems too dry, add in a little bit of almond milk. Extend the baking time for a drier, crunchier muffin.