Ok, let’s start here: it’s two days before Christmas. You are frantically wrapping presents, bracing yourselves for your in-laws, decking your halls, scrubbing your floors, trying to plan various menus, and holding on for dear life to your sanity. If you have the tiniest bit of time to spare in the midst of all of this, may I suggest that you do the following?
Make these Chocolate Grand Marnier Truffles.
Then, if you have a little more time after that, there’s another thing too: make Orangettes—those sublime French confections that take the meager orange rind and elevate it to something that is nothing short of perfection; a confection that asks for bitterness and gives you sweetness instead; that seeks beauty when they should speak of mere hunger.
The thing about the truffles is that they are laced with booze. The other thing about them is that they are the easiest confection in the world to make. If you have chocolate, cream, and a little liqueur on hand (and who, I ask you, doesn’t?), you are ready to go. If you have ten minutes in which to chop chocolate and scald heavy cream, and mix these things together, adding a heavy splash or two of Grand Marnier—filling your kitchen with an aroma that will drive both man and beast to distraction—then you are really all set. That’s all you need. Your friends and roommates will praise you as being a confectioner-Goddess; they will moan as they bite into the silky smooth ganache, and praise the stars above once that little bite of liqueur comes onto their palates, kicking all of their senses into high gear. People do crazy things under the influence of these chocolates. Lovers reunite, enemies shake hands, a series of little violins and a mournful cello raise themselves into song. Something like that.
(I have a certain friend out there who is about to bake from my blog with his mother for Christmas (enter sighs of sweetness and a particular warmth filling my heart)—A., might I suggest that you two make these?)
Then, there is confection-heaven part two: Orangettes. A sublime French dessert of orange rinds dipped in semisweet chocolate. Those orange rinds are candied—they have simmered themselves into delicate, sticky, shining little things, after over an hour of bubbling away in a simple syrup. They simmer away on your stovetop and fill your house with the most beautiful citrus fragrance. It’s hard not to let the spirit of the season overtake you when you are in the midst of cooking Orangettes. Then, once the rinds have candied and dried, and are shimmering elegantly on a rack, curling this way and that, you dip those rinds in melted semisweet chocolate. I don’t need to tell you what to do after that. I’ll leave the part where they dance on your tongue in a dissonant, but entirely pleasurable, symphony of bitter and sweet up to your imaginings.
I know this post is emphatic, but hey, it’s chocolate: a cause worthy of poetic uproar. I want to revise my earlier statement and say this instead: whatever you are doing right now, drop it immediately, and make something chocolate-y laced with orange instead.
Let sweetness and warmth fill you up, body and soul.
And happy baking to all.
P.S. If you get tired of dipping your Orangettes in chocolate, you can also roll them in sugar, as shown above, for an elegant fruit glacé.
Chocolate Grand Marnier Truffles
Adapted from this recipe, originally printed in 1994
10-12 ounces semisweet chocolate (60 or 62% cacao; I used this)
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier (you can also use armagnac, brandy, or Frangelico)
Unsweetened cocoa for dusting the truffles
Chop the chocolate very finely and place in a metal bowl.
In a small saucepan, bring the heavy cream just to a boil. Pour the heavy cream over the chocolate and let it sit for 5 minutes.
Stir the chocolate; if it is not completely melted at this point (mine never is), place the bowl over a double boiler and stir constantly until it is silky and no lumps remain.
Chill until firm (overnight, or at least 3 hours).
When the ganache is firm, you may form the truffles: Scoop out 1/2 to 1 teaspoon spoonfuls of the chocolate at a time, and form the chocolate into small, imperfect balls. The truffles are, in my mind, most beautiful when they look like actual truffles from the earth---meaning they are misshapen and bumpy, rather than smooth and perfectly round.
Place the truffles onto a plate filled with unsweetened cocoa as you work; then, once you have 15 or so truffles made, roll them in the cocoa all at once, shaking off excess by gently tossing the truffles between your palms.
If your house is very warm, store the truffles in the refrigerator.
Adapted from here and here
4 large organic oranges (I used Cara Cara, but Navel oranges would work too; I think organic is important here since the only part of the orange you are consuming in this recipe is the rind)
1 cup of water (plus more for initial blanching and rinsing)
1 cup of sugar
12 ounces of semisweet chocolate (60-62% is ideal, any less will not be as rich and dark in color)
Fill a large saucepan or stock pot with 3 inches of water and bring to a boil.
While the water comes to a boil, prepare the orange rinds: Cut the top and bottom off each orange to make a flat surface on each side, leaving as much rind as possible lengthwise. Stand the orange upright on one of the cut ends, and cut from top to bottom with a serrated knife in such a way as to remove only the rind (trying not to cut into the flesh of the orange). The white pith should remain on the rind. If some of the fruit comes off with the rind, scrape it out using a spoon. Repeat with all four oranges.
Slice the large pieces of rind into thin, julienned strips. Plunge the strips into the boiling water and let them blanche for 4-5 minutes. Drain, and rinse with cold water. Refill the pot with 3 inches of water and bring to a boil again, repeating this process. (This blanching process is necessary in order to make the orange rinds less bitter.)
Drain the orange rinds and return them to the now-dry pot.
Add 1 cup of water and 1 cup of sugar to the pot with the orange rinds, stir gently, and turn the heat on to medium. When the mixture begins to bubble, turn the heat down to low, and allow to simmer for 1 hour, uncovered, stirring occasionally. The mixture should stay at a gentle simmer for the entire hour. After an hour, the liquid should have reduced and almost entirely evaporated, leaving a glossy syrup clinging to each orange rind strip.
Arrange the orange rinds in a single layer on a wire rack (the rack should be placed over a baking sheet to catch the drips), and allow to dry overnight (or at least 6 hours).
To finish the orangettes: Chop the chocolate and place it in a metal bowl. Set the bowl over a pot with 2 inches of water in it, and bring the water to a boil. Stir the chocolate until it has melted thoroughly and no lumps remain.
Dip each slice of orange rind in the melted chocolate, so that two-thirds of the orange rind is coated in chocolate. Place the rinds on a rack or on waxed paper. Allow to cool for 2 hours, or until the chocolate is set and can be handled.
You can also reserve some of the candied rinds for rolling in sugar to make candied orange glacé.
Store the orangettes wrapped in parchment in an airtight container.