Jan 23 2015

Candied Orange Peels (Orengat)

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A couple of weeks ago, I did a small social media promotion where I asked friends to like and share Medieval Vegetarian’s FB page. The first one to do so got to pick the dessert I’d make for the next week. The person who won asked me to open up a poll; candied orange peels won by a huge margin.

10848830_376294519197855_7998666980084566258_o I was particularly excited by the result of the vote because my mother and I have made candied orange peels at the holidays for years. Neither of us knew that the recipe went back to the 14th or 15th century. If you’d like to skip a bit of the 20th century history and my nostalgia for these sweets, skip on down to A Little History (or, if that’s not really your thing, head on to The Process).

Recipes

Recipe used in this post:

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From Pleyn Delit; original recipe from Le Ménagier de Paris

 A version of the recipe in my grandmother’s WWII-era cookbook: (note the call to cut the peel with scissors)

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From the 1943 DeLuxe Edition Better Homes & Gardens Cook Book

Here’s the version of the recipe I grew up with, which has 33% less sugar involved. Scissors has upgraded to “shears.”

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From the 1968 Better Homes & Garden New Cook Book

Basically, the 20th century versions are orange peels rolled in sugar. Very tasty and very sweet and a favorite of mine growing up. This was the first recipe that taught me about being patient, as it took over a day to reach the end results! Because it took so long, we only made it a handful of times each year, but we almost always made it at Christmas. My mother makes ambrosia (various citrus fruits in large chunks tossed with shredded coconut) and we’d have enough citrus skins to justify the effort of making the candied peels. You never really do this with just one or two peels.

Comparing all the recipes, though, the biggest change is the use of honey in the medieval recipe versus refined sugar in the modern ones. This makes sense, given that refined sugar in the middle ages was considered a “fine spice” and very expensive.

A Little History

In the early to high middle ages in Europe, the only oranges they would have had access to would have been bitter oranges, which would have primarily been used for medicinal purposes. Sweet oranges were introduced in the late 1400s/early 1500s by the Portuguese. Oranges were originally from China and only introduced to Europeans during the Crusades. It’s unclear exactly how old this particular recipe is, but based on the dates I’ve found in my research it is very likely to be one of the earliest recipes developed to use the orange skin.

Oranges only kept for so long in transit, so the people who had best access to them were near ports, where ships could more quickly get the products to the cities. They also would have been an item mostly available to the wealthy, due to cost – although members of the small middle class could have certainly acquired a bushel for a rare treat. This means that the cooks of import cities – Paris and London, for example – would have been instructed not to waste a single bit of the fruit, if they could manage it. I imagine that’s why this recipe was developed.

 

The Process:

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I used navel oranges. Although the flesh itself is sweet, the rinds can have a bitterness to them. Because they were sweet, I did not do the overnight soak, although now I wonder if this would have cut down on the bitter finish to the candies.

These oranges were originally going to be used for a medieval holiday take-home gift at my Yule party – the plan was to pierce the skin with cloves to create a pomander. This preserves the oranges for a very long time, and if you hang them on a ribbon near a heat source, it will make your apartment smell like mulled cider for weeks!

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I have a clever citrus peeler tool – it has a sharp “fin” that deftly cuts through citrus rind without piercing the flesh of the fruit and a narrow, spoon-like edge that lets you pry the skin from the flesh. This is very handy, by the way, for getting whole orange slices prepped for school or work lunches.

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There was a lot of pith (that white part of the skin) on the inside of the orange peels. I did some quick research and found mixed feedback on whether to remove them or not. I opted to use a zester to remove the pith from half the rinds so that I could compare and contrast them afterward.

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This was a massive amount of effort. I probably wouldn’t bother with the zester in the future. Besides, the pith has a lot of natural fiber in it – and about the same amount of vitamin C as the actual flesh of the orange. It’s worth keeping! (Side note: I used the flesh to make homemade orange juice, which I froze in ice cube trays to use in future endeavors.)

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I used a large chopping knife to slice the peels as thinly as I could. If you try this at home, make sure to pull the knife towards you as you slice; you’ll get better, cleaner, faster results. I recommend getting the slices as narrow as you can manage; they candy up very nicely this way.

I then put them all into the pot, covered with water, and simmered for 15 minutes. No problem.

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All spread out on my high-absorbency paper towels. I use a second layer to press down on top to squeeze out the extra water – then did it again!

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Time for the honey phase! The flavor of the honey REALLY affects the flavor and quality of the orange peels. Make sure you use one that you love. I actually had some orange blossom honey from a local apiary (link), which was lovely. This recipe calls for good amount of honey and I didn’t want to use up all my tasty orange blossom honey, so I added a little bit of some generic clover honey to fill out the measurement – which tastes fine, but is nothing like the quality of the orange blossom honey.

Definitely only use one kind of honey and try to make it a good, flavorful one.

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I opted to just toss the orange peels back into the soup pot rather than use my deep sauce pan; I don’t think it would make a big difference on something like this. At this point, my apartment began to smell amazing. I actually made this the same day as the onion soup, which turned out to be a great idea. Nothing drives out the lingering smell of onions like fresh oranges!

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I was never able to quite get the honey to the “soft ball” temperature called for in the recipe (235ºF/112ºC). The hottest I managed, according to my thermometer, was about 212ºF/100ºC. Incidentally, the boiling point of honey is about 160ºF/71ºC. I kept hoping I’d hit the requisite temperature, but eventually realized it was not going to happen. I ended up deciding to cut my losses at this point and turned off the stove.

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Using a set of tongs, I removed the candied peels and set them in a couple of large, shallow bowls to let dry.

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After about ten minutes, I transferred them to two silpats (reusable silicone mats), as I had no wax paper available. I sprinkled powdered ginger over one mat but left the other plain so that I could compare them.

IMG_2048.JPGI had to improvise a bit to cover them effectively. I used my cupcake carrier! I ended up covering them up sooner than I might have otherwise due to the fact that I have two cats and little interest in adding cat hair to the list of ingredients. I let them sit a week before trying them.

The Tasting

First of all, there were no noticeable differences between skins with or without piths. The difference between with and without ginger? Well, unsurprisingly, the ones with ginger… tasted like orange and ginger.

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These are truly candied – the skins are basically gelatinous and sticky. They are tasty but have a distinct bitter aftertaste. It’s not bad, but I think a modern American palate is unused to a sweet food having a bitter finish. I found that having a dark chocolate chip at the same time was the perfect way to balance the flavors (and we all know how tasty chocolate oranges are, anyway!).

These are about as far as can be from the sugar-coated orange peels my mother makes while still being, essentially, the same recipe. I liked them, though! I’ve used up more than half since making them, although I am not likely to just snack on them the way I would the modern candied orange peels.

I took them to a friend’s house for a (gluten-free, almost-vegan*) dinner and had my friends try them. A couple of people liked them, while the others politely ate theirs (at least no one spit it out!). Everyone agreed the texture was unusual – not bad, just unfamiliar, since we don’t really candy anything quite like this anymore. There was a general consensus that they would probably be really tasty on the chocolate cake and (soy) ice cream we were having later. A couple of us tried this and it was a good choice!

As a final application, I’ve been using both the plain and the ginger ones in hot water to make a mild orange tea. Bonus: citrus, honey, and ginger are all excellent to consume when you’re feeling under the weather, so it’s made a perfect mid-winter pick-me-up.

Honey is not considered vegan. My friends include several vegetarians, one person with a gluten intolerance, and two people who are severely lactose intolerant. Therefore, our gatherings are basically almost-vegan by default, but we still enjoy things like honey and certain hard cheeses.

Final Thoughts

If I were to make these again (and I very likely will!) I would take care to do a couple of things:

  • Only use one kind of honey – and preferably get more of that orange blossom honey!
  • Possibly do the overnight soak, even if the oranges are sweet. It can’t hurt.
  • Try doing the cold-to-boiling step three times, as the 20th century recipes direct.
  • Use the deep sauce pan, just in case that change would allow me to get closer to the soft-boil stage
  • Research orange varieties to find out which has the sweetest rind!
  • Possibly sprinkle refined sugar over the finished product (I think rolling them in sugar would just be too much)
  • It might be interesting to dip the orange peels in dark chocolate. However, this would not truly be a medieval recipe, as chocolate is a “new world” food and not introduced to Europe until the 1600s.

This is a great recipe to try if you’ve made something else that calls for lots of oranges!

WHEW. That was a long post! Thanks for bearing with me!

Thoughts? Comments? Did you try this at home? How did it go?

One comment on “Candied Orange Peels (Orengat)

  1. Pingback: You Spin Me Rind Round Baby Rind Roundf | Uncorked, Unwrapped

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