If you love simple recipes and delight in presentation that would make Martha Stewart swoon, this is the dessert for you. Remember simple syrup from my limoncello adventure? This is a citrus and simple syrup dessert that requires no more expertise than the ability to cut and stir.
The idea is a genius one for which I cannot take credit. It comes from a recipe I found on Epicurious by Chuck Williams, the founder of Williams-Sonoma. My adaptation began when my husband asked me to make the syrup less sweet. Then, after making a wonderful clementine cake from Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem cookbook, I realized that clementines would provide an interesting contrast when paired with the navel oranges specified in the original version. The result is what I would call a variation on the theme of oranges in syrup. It is lovely paired with madeleines or other simple cookies.
While precision is required to cut the orange peel matchsticks, the recipe is otherwise straightforward. The small knife must be sharp; use the tip as if it was an X-acto knife (for those who have used that tool.)
The fruit is the star of this show. If the oranges or clementines don’t taste like much when you eat them fresh, they are not going to improve by adding syrup.
While you can substitute some other types of oranges for navel, use a sweet variety that has skin that can be easily removed. A few specifics – The skin of Valencia oranges is thin and difficult to remove. Seville oranges have too many seed and tend to taste bitter. I haven’t tried Mandarin oranges; they are smaller than navel oranges and easy to peel, but their peel may not work as well for the candied matchsticks.
Navel Oranges and Clementines in Simple Syrup
Servings – 4 Cost – $5-6
- 2 navel oranges
- 4 clementines
- ½ cup water (plus extra for boiling the peel)
- 1 cup sugar (white, granulated)
- 1 tablespoon orange liqueur such as Grand Marnier or Cointreau
- Vegetable/fruit peeler
- Cutting board
- Small, sharp knife
- Larger serrated edge knife
- Measuring cups
- Measuring spoon
- Small pot
- Small strainer
- Heavy medium sized pot
- Heat-proof dish
- Using the peeler, remove the skin (zest) from the 2 oranges, using a light touch so that you get as little of the inside white pith as possible. (If you get any, gently slice it off the rind with the small knife.)
- Cut the zest into 1-2 inch long thin pieces, trim off the ragged edges and cut each piece lengthwise as thinly as possible into matchsticks. You’ll end up with about a heaping ¼ cup of matchsticks.
- Peel the clementines and take off as much as you can of the pith that was left on the peeled oranges. It may help to gently cut (called “scoring”) the white orange pith, but not through to the fruit itself.
- Slice each one into 3-4 round pieces – orange slices about ½ inch thick and the clementines about ¼ inch. Remove any seeds and place the slices in a heat-proof, non-reactive, flat bottomed bowl or pan, e.g. Pyrex, other glass or pottery that won’t crack when the hot syrup is added.
- Put the matchstick pieces of zest in the small pot, cover with water, and bring to a rolling boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Drain and repeat, then set the pieces aside, draining, while you make the syrup.
- Put the sugar and ½ cup of water in the heavy pot under medium heat. Bring to a rolling boil, gently stirring to help the sugar dissolve.
- Cook the sugar water on a low boil for about 5 minutes, then add the zest and cook for 5 minutes longer.
- Take the pot off the heat and add the tablespoon of liqueur. Pour the liquid over the orange and clementine slices and set aside, covered, cooling to room temperature.
If you have time, cool for an hour or so in the refrigerator before serving.