I’ve been working my way through a fruit drawer (and a cupboard stash) of citrus. Cara cara oranges, key limes, ruby red grapefruits, blood oranges, minneolas, meyer lemons…I’m definitely taking advantage of the best part about winter. I’ve had mixed success: I still have to find time to try and thin out the over-cooked and ridiculously thick and sticky meyer lemon vanilla bean marmalade I made up a few days ago…it’s yummy otherwise, but I apparently have an issue with overcooking any kind of jelly-type foodstuff I attempt. I have plans for other items, like that mesh bag of adorably tiny key limes has a future in mini tarts and mojitos, and those blood oranges will be joined by more soon so I can break in my rose-shaped bundt pan. We’ve been enjoying grapefruits with breakfast, and if you’ve never had grapefruit sprinkled with vanilla sugar, I highly recommend it. So much better than regular plain old sugar!
One thing I’ve managed to do decently enough is candy me up some peels! I also learned a few lessons in the process. The first one is, cara cara orange peels are just PERFECT for candying. They are thin with little pith and next to no natural bitterness. The second lesson is a slightly more tragic one…and that is to never leave a pot of simmering sugar syrup on the stove unattended for half an hour. The sugar will do things that you did not even know were scientifically possible, and it will take you two days to clean the pan.
If you are not familiar with cara caras, they are a type of navel orange, sometimes called the red navel. Though it is not uncommon to come across pink- or even red-fleshed cara caras, all the ones I’ve found have been a vivid orange. They smell more flowery than your standard navel oranges, and are more delicate with thinner skin, pith and membranes between the sections.
I’ve posted the method I use for candying peels before, but only as one step of a bigger, more complicated recipe. So, here it is again, adjusted very slightly for cara cara peels.
One thing to note is that, as long as you don’t mind eating lots of orange at once (or have someone to share with), the easiest way to get the strips of orange peel is to thinly slice each orange, slice the slices in halves and delicately eat the fruit. It will easily come off without you having to put your mouth all over the peel, though if you are worried about the sanitation of that anyway, it doesn’t matter – you’ll be boiling the peels twice before candying.
Candied Cara Cara Orange Peels
Peels of 4 cara cara oranges, sliced into thin slivers
1 cup granulated sugar, plus more for coating
1 cup water, plus more for blanching
Boil some water in a covered pot or large saucepan. Add peels and allow to blanch for up to five minutes. Rinse with cold water, drain and repeat. Rinse and drain the peels again and combine the cup each of sugar and water in the same pot/saucepan. Bring to a simmer and add the orange peels. Allow to simmer for an hour, keeping an eye on it to avoid a full boil and stirring gently and occasionally. Prepare a plate with a generous sprinkling of sugar, and place a cooling rack over some parchment or waxed paper. Turn off heat and remove peels with tongs to sugar, turning to coat evenly, then transfer to rack and allow to dry overnight. Store in an airtight container.
But wait! Don’t throw out the leftover orange syrup! It’s florally and sweet and lovely. Pour it into a clean jar, cover it tightly and refrigerate. I’m still coming up with uses for mine, but one common application for a flavored sugar syrup is in cocktails, though as you’ve seen with my use of rose syrup, you can flavor frostings, candies and other desserts (just cut the sugar a bit if you are using it as a replacement for something like an extract in a baked good or something). I have something in mind for the syrup sitting in the fridge now, but aside from that would love to make some orange marshmallows, once I learn how to make marshmallows that is!
I plan to venture outside my cake comfort zone and do something more regular cake-ish soon. The only problem is, I don’t have a single actual non-novelty can pan in the house! I’d love to break in the pans I do have, but my planned cake involves layers, and rose-shaped bundts and giant cupcakes do not make for stackable layers. This cake will also be the lucky recipient of the cara cara syrup. And if it turns out well, I’ll have to make two, as I have owed a cake of this type to someone for at least a couple of years now.