Citrus Sweets

Chocolate-covered orange peel is one delicious way to help deal with the January blahs

Now that the holidays are behind us, everyone’s talking about diets. This is bad. Going cold turkey on treats is no way to launch into the dreary days of January. We don’t have to continue the pigfest of the past few weeks, but it’s important to keep our serotonin levels up, and scientists (bless them) say that one way to do that is by consuming chocolate. Chocolate-covered orange peel is a delicious way to get a boost, and making your own involves eating oranges, so there’s your health component.

You need the peel of four large navel oranges, a couple cups of sugar, and about 12 ounces of good quality chocolate — dark chocolate is best for the rich, sweet-tart contrast (I like bittersweet Ghirardelli, 60 or 70 percent cacao).

Cut the orange peel into strips, and trim them if you care about neatness. Put the strips in a pot and cover them with cold water. Bring the water to a boil, then dump it and repeat the process. This gets the bitterness out.

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Dissolve about two cups of sugar into two cups of water (enough to cover the peel), bring to a boil, add the peel and simmer for about 35 or 40 minutes. Check to make sure the syrup doesn’t boil away. Remove the peel, spread it on a rack and let it dry for several hours. I usually leave it overnight.

If you’re using block chocolate rather than chips, cut it into small, evenly sized pieces. Slowly melt the chocolate over low heat in a double boiler or in a bowl over a pot of simmering water, stirring. (Most pastry chefs use a metal spoon or plastic spatula — wooden spoons may hold moisture, which can make the chocolate grainy.) When it’s melted, dip the strips of peel one by one and let them dry on parchment paper, or on a rack, if you don’t mind little grooves in the undersides.

Tempering the chocolate keeps it glossy, but requires a little more effort. Melt the chocolate to about 110 degrees, then remove it from the heat, add a handful more chips (this is called “seeding”) and stir briskly. The goal is to get the temperature to about 90 degrees. Professional pastry chefs spread a little of the melted chocolate onto a marble surface to bring the temperature down, then swiftly scoop it up and add it back in. But the seeding method is fine for those of us who are less deft. I usually make a stab at tempering and hope for the best. Even if the chocolate isn’t glossy, it doesn’t seem to affect the taste.

The peels are delicious with coffee at the end of a meal, and two or three (or six) are just the thing to combat an attack of the winter blahs. They keep for about a week in the fridge, or so I’m told. Mine are usually gone before that.

What do you think about this sweet winter treat? Do you have a go-to comfort food this time of the year? Share your thoughts (and recipes) in the comments box below.

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