Christmas Cookies & Candies

Sometimes I feel like I’m hosting cookie tryouts all year long to discover the perfect holiday cookies. But, inevitably, the bulk of trial and error happens in December, as I try and get the right colors and flavors in little boxes that we give to family and friends. Over the last ten or so years, the following cookies and candies have become my favorite, both for variety of taste and appearance, although I try plenty of new ones every year and I already have some I’m excited to post as soon as I get them photographed. Here are some great crowd pleasers! Merry Christmas!

White Christmas Dream Drops
Mint Chocolate-Covered Cookies
Brown Sugar Rugelach
Peanut Butter Toffee Cookies
Pink & White Pinwheels
White Chocolate + Citrus Cookies
Chocolate Crinkle Cookies
Mexican Wedding Cookies
Ginger Spice Cookies

Peanut Brittle
Favorite Caramels
Egg Nog Fudge
Candied Orange and Hazelnut Bark

Christmas box

Let the festivities begin!




Candied Orange Peel

candied orange peel
I’ve tried a few recipes for candied orange peel, and this is the one I like the best. It’s simple and it’s consistently good, though I have to admit I slightly botched it this last time, which is unfortunate since the photo is of this time. You’ll note the extra sugar on the orange peels–I let it go a second too long, and I must have had some sugar in the pot that hadn’t dissolved, hence my small problem. Luckily, it still tastes fine. This recipe comes from a great little book called Brittles, Barks, and Bonbons. Some more reasons I love making candied orange peel: you’re making something out of a product you would otherwise throw away, it can be stored for a long, long time in your fridge, and then I can make my favorite chocolate bark (see my last post). Win win, win.

Candied Orange Peel

5 medium navel oranges, preferably organic (you might also want to try a mix of grapefruit and lemon peels, too)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups water

1. Scrub the oranges. Slice the stem end off the orange and place the cut end on a cutting board. Make vertical cuts, about 1 inch apart, all the way through the peel. Carefully peel off the scored sections of rind. With a sharp paring knife, trim away as much of the white pith from the peel as you can. Cut each portion of peel lengthwise into 1/4-inch-wide strips.

2. Place the orange peels in a small pan and add enough cold water to cover. Bring to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Drain the peels and set aside.

3. Place the pan over medium-low heat and add the 1 1/2 cups each sugar and water. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Add the orange peels to the simple syrup and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until they are soft and translucent, about 40 minutes.

4. Place a wire cooling rack over a rimmed baking sheet lined with wax paper. Use a slotted spoon or tongs to transfer the peels to the rack. Let stand until still slightly tacky but almost dry, about 1 hour.


Candied Orange & Hazelnut Bark

Orange Hazelnut Bark

When I made holiday treats this year, I made a huge batch of candied orange peel, hoping to make panettone and other traditional breads. Well, all those breads never happened, leaving me with a good-sized amount of candied orange peel, which we enjoy on its own, a bit, but when I threw it on this bark I was making, we loved it. This simple candy has been repeated I think three times in the last couple weeks, and I can’t get enough. It takes about 20 minutes to put together, and then it’s pretty and delicious and has interesting flavors. I made it for book group and for a little gathering of friends, and it’s disappeared first of everything, both times. Definitely delicious.

Candied Orange & Hazelnut Bark 

8 oz. dark chocolate, my favorite are the semi-sweet bars of chocolate at Trader Joe’s, bought in one pound sizes
1/3 c. candied orange peel (I’ll post my favorite recipe, if you’ve never tried it)
1/3 c. hazelnuts
2 pinches of fleur de sel or sea salt

Preheat the oven to 350. Lay the hazelnuts on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Line another baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside for the chocolate. Once the oven is preheated, toast the nuts until fragrant and lightly browned, about 8-10 minutes. Let cool and then chop coarsely. Set aside.

Meanwhile, finely shave the chocolate with a knife. In a small glass or plastic bowl, melt half of the chocolate in the microwave at 30 seconds. Remove and stir as long as you can. If the chocolate doesn’t continue to melt as you stir, microwave it again for 20 seconds. Then, remove and stir until smooth.

Add a handful of the reserved chocolate shavings and stir until incorporated. Repeat until you have used all the shaved chocolate. It should take you about 5-10 minutes to add and stir. (This is one method of tempering chocolate. There’s a couple of ways to do this, so if you don’t like this one, just google another way!) By the time all of the chocolate is incorporated, your chocolate should be about 90-91 degrees, which is tempered. If you want to skip this all and quickly melt all your chocolate, the chocolate will taste fine, but could have white streaks or bubbles on the surface.

Pour the tempered chocolate onto the parchment-lined sheet and spread with a spatula to a thickness of about 1/4″ inch deep. Working quickly, sprinkle first the nuts, then the candied orange peel, and then the salt over the surface of the chocolate. Either set aside at room temperature or in the fridge to harden. When ready to serve, break the bark into wrist-sized portions. Can keep for 2 weeks in a airtight container, but mine has never lasted longer than one evening!