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Just Like Candy: #DIY Mixed Peel

DIY Mixed Peel at Wonderland Kitchen

On days like today, Google makes me cry for both confusingly uplifting reasons as well as the terrifying visions of the future its actions conjure in my head. But while this best-indie-movie plot line and/or Kafka tale develops, Google’s search engine reliably solves my problems. The latest: What the hell is mixed peel?

I went hunting with the goal of making this Alice in Wonderland-related Looking Glass cake. However, mixed peel not being an ingredient stocked at my local grocery, before the baking could begin it seemed I would need to DIY a key ingredient. The internet to the rescue, I was in business with a pile of citrus and a Googled recipe.

DIY Mixed Peel at Wonderland Kitchen

DIY Mixed Peel at Wonderland Kitchen

DIY Mixed Peel at Wonderland Kitchen

This is one of those super easy but several-day DIY projects that annoy the spontaneous among us. So make it now and then surprise yourself when you want to bake hot cross buns for Easter! (Note to self: Bake hot cross buns for Easter this year.) If you have the patience to cut up citrus peel and the skill to boil water, you are already pretty much done. Holiday goodies will definitely be kicked up a notch this season. (So yes, family, prepare for Wonderland fruit cakes this Christmas.) Anyway…

DIY Mixed Peel at Wonderland Kitchen

DIY Mixed Peel
Recipe via Best Recipes, desire due to The Alice in Wonderland Cookbook: A Culinary Diversion by John Fisher

Note: The original recipe calls for less fruit. I lived dangerously and added an extra lemon and one more orange. I was well pleased with the result, but be advised.

1 grapefruit
2 oranges
2 lemons
(or citrus combo of your choosing)
1 1/2 cups sugar

Peel citrus fruit, including as much of the pith as possible. Slice peels into approximately 1/4-inch pieces.

Place prepared citrus peel in a sauce pan and just cover with water. Bring to a boil and simmer for ten minutes. Drain and repeat, this time reserving 1/2 cup of the simmering liquid before draining.

Return boiled peel, 1/2 cup reserved liquid, 1/2 cup fresh water, and 1 cup sugar to sauce pan and stir to dissolve sugar while bringing to a boil. Remove from heat, cover, and let sit overnight (mine sat about 18 hours). The following day, add an additional 1/2 cup sugar and bring to a boil. Simmer for 15 minutes and then drain citrus peel thoroughly.

Line a baking sheet with parchment and spread out peel pieces to dry, tossing occasionally to prevent clumping. When peels are no longer wet (probably another 24 hours), place in a container with a tight-fitting lid and store in the refrigerator (or the freezer for a longer shelf life). According to my reading, prepared peels will withstand at least a month in the fridge.

Christmas Mead for Wassailing


I’ve worn a paper crown at Medieval Times and been to a Renaissance fair joust or two, but the Maryland Renaissance Festival takes the mutton leg for village size and patron dress-up commitment. A couple of summers ago while browsing the artisan wares, I spied a kit for “short mead” that I couldn’t resist after reading the tag line “if you can boil water, you can make mead in 7-14 days with this kit, two pounds of honey, and a gallon of spring water!” It was food science! It was $9! What was there to lose?

I brewed that batch and was hooked. Unlike the strawberry wine that I had made earlier in the summer, this was relatively little investment for a nice return–an effervescent fermented drink that was light and sweet and endlessly variable, depending on the type of honey and tea you used to spice it up. It wasn’t complex, it wasn’t refined, but it sure was tasty.

I’ve produced a few more versions since that first batch—all interesting, all drinkable–and the mulling spices I currently have on hand in the pantry seemed to demand that a Christmas mead be made. I bottled it on the early side (eight days) so it’s retained its honey sweetness, with distinct cinnamon and orange notes. I think it’s going to make for a lovely glass to raise around the tree next week.

Christmas Mead: process

Christmas Mead
based on the Ambrosia Farm Short Mead Kit

1 gallon spring water
2 lbs. honey
tea to flavor (the combos are endless and should be adapted to your taste, but I cut open 6 mulling spice tea bags for this venture)
5 grams champagne yeast
square of cheese cloth and rubber band to cap

Open the spring water and pour off 4 cups of the contents and discard. Pour out an additional 3 cups and place in a sauce pan. Recap the water jug.

Place the sealed honey jar and gallon jug of water in the sink and fill with hot water to warm the ingredients.

Meanwhile, bring the water in the sauce pan to a boil and simmer the tea for 10 minutes, covered with a lid. Remove pan from heat and allow to cool.

Once water and honey have warmed, remove the containers from their bath and pour the 2 lbs of honey into the gallon jug. Recap, and shake to mix thoroughly. Once tea has cooled slightly, add it (including all the lose tea) to the gallon jug as well.

When the temperature of the jug contents has been reduced to warm bathwater, sprinkle the yeast across the top of the liquid (do not mix) and cover the top of the jug with a square of cheesecloth secured with the rubber band. Do not recap! The brew must be allowed to breath. Place the jug somewhere dark but at least 70 degrees (I have an upstairs closet I like to use for this) and allow it to ferment for one week. At that point, you can begin tasting your brew; sweetness will lessen by the day.

When it has achieved the desired balance, bottle (pour off the liquid and leave the sediment behind in the jug) and store. This mead requires refrigeration, as the yeast remains active. If left capped under pressure in the refrigerator, it will pick up a pleasant carbonation. Uncap the mead if it must be left out at room temperature for any reason.

The Cowboy and the Lady (New Christmas Cookie Edition, Part 2)


So, as I was saying, Christmas 2011 is crying out for some new sweet treats, and I’m endeavoring to deliver. My first pitch was a peanut butter filled chocolate cookie, and though it had something of a utilitarian, PTA-meeting vibe to me, what it lacked in flash it more than covered for in tastiness. I had admittedly baked with skepticism, but I snacked with gusto.

As a counterweight to that, I selected a chocolate mint sandwich cookie which brought new meaning to the idea of multi-step baking. No step was difficult, but the devil was definitely in the details. Dried fruit needed to be chopped, dough needed to be chilled, rolled, and cut into identical squares. Chocolates were unwrapped and two different types melted–individually! There was baking and sandwiching and icing and drizzling. And finally, there was a house full of amazing, minty, chocolatey smells and a plate full of pretty cookies. They sure looked fancy; they tasted great. But I was so tired that all I really wanted to do was curl up under a blanket with a hot mug of coffee and a couple more of the peanut butter filled ones.

Chocolate Mint Cookie Sandwiches

Chocolate Mint Cookie Sandwiches
adapted from 1 Dough, 100 Cookies

2 1/4 cups AP flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder*
1/3 cup dried cranberries, finely chopped *
pinch salt
1 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg yolk
2 tsp. vanilla extract

15 after-dinner mints**
4 oz semisweet chocolate pieces
2 oz white chocolate pieces ***

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, cranberry pieces, and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar, then add egg yolk and vanilla and mix well. Add dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Divide dough in half, wrap each piece in plastic, and refrigerate for one hour.

Once dough has chilled, preheat oven to 375°F and line two baking sheets with parchment.

Roll out and cut each piece of dough into 15 2.5″ squares (for a total of 30). I made 1.5″ squares and simply ended up with quite a few additional cookies. Bake each sheet for about 10 minutes (until cookies are firm). As soon as you remove them from the oven, top half the squares with a mint and cover with remaining cookies, pressing lightly. Transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool completely. Your kitchen will now smell amazing, attracting the attention of family members and pets, so monitor your cookies with care!

Chocolate Mint Cookie Sandwiches

When cookies have cooled, melt the semisweet chocolate pieces in a bowl over a pot of simmering water. Allow to cool and drizzle over the sandwiches. Once the semisweet chocolate has set, repeat the process with the white chocolate. Enjoy the fancy sweets.

*I tossed these two ingredients in my small food processor and whirled them around for a minute. It made quick work of the chopping, and the powder kept the dried fruit pieces from sticking together in a clump.

**I used Andes chocolate mints, but made smaller cookies so I broke 28 of them in half. The left over pieces I just tossed in with the semisweet chocolate when I melted it for the glaze.

***My white chocolate was very dry when melted. A small amount of vegetable oil thinned it to a drizzle-able consistency.

A Vegetarian At Thanksgiving


Even though I’m a vegetarian, as a fan of all things cooking and presentation, holiday meals are high priority–even ones designed around a dressed up roasted bird (or perhaps bourbon brined and fried?). Over the years as an invited guest at the feasts of others, I’ve contributed my share of wild rice and dried fruit side dishes or defaulted to pie baking duty. Considering 2011 has been my year of bread, however, for this year’s round I went looking for an appropriate holiday loaf.

Which brings me to my second “even though,” because even though I am not Jewish, I have been addicted to braiding up dough ever since trying my hand at challah–and I haven’t even gotten to the double-decker celebration version yet!

All of this preamble gets us around to how I ended up landing on this King Arthur recipe for Holiday Pumpkin Bread and declaring it a perfect candidate. Featuring fall flavors, it’s not too sweet yet unusual enough to stand out, plus its round celebratory braid reinforces the sentiment of love and community gathered around the table for more than just an average Thursday night meal.

I found the construction of the bread to be straightforward, and even mixing the somewhat sticky dough was a snap since I just piled all the ingredients in a bowl and let my stand mixer go to work. Most of the required investment is simply in time while waiting out the two rises. A little oil on your hands and your counter space keeps the soft dough from adhering to anything while forming the circular braid, and the lovely smells of pumpkin and spice even before the baking begins are enough to keep the baker motivated. Once the rounds hit the oven, good luck keeping attracted family members from devouring them before your holiday meal. Luckily, the recipe makes two loaves.

On a personal note, a nifty thing I discovered as a result of my broken oven and the paging through the instruction manual I did in an attempt to troubleshoot: this appliance is way fancier than I realized when we moved in and it even has a proofing feature! This is going to make winter bread baking–which can be a little tricky in our sometimes drafty, radiator-heated home–a lot more efficient. I bet this might work for yogurt making as well…

Spiced Pumpkin Celebration Bread
adapted from King Arthur Flour

20 oz (4 3/4 cups) AP flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 1/2 ounces (1/3 cup) brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon instant yeast
15-ounce can pumpkin
2 large eggs
1/4 cup melted butter

*additional egg, beaten with water as needed, for egg wash

Place all the ingredients (except for the egg wash) in a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer and mix and knead until smooth. The dough is somewhat sticky, but take care not to add too much additional flour so that the bread remains moist and light. Transfer to an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and allow to rise for about 90 minutes.

Once dough has puffed up (but not really doubled) lightly oil your workspace and hands and divide the dough into six even pieces. Working with three at a time, roll each into a log about 1.5 inches thick and braid, pulling the loaf into a round and joining the individual ends together. Lightly oil a 9-inch cake pan and place the braid in the center. Repeat the process with the remaining dough, then cover both with a sheet of greased plastic wrap. Allow to rise again, 60-90 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. When second rise is complete, gently remove plastic and brush each loaf with the egg wash. Bake for 30 minutes until golden (or until the center of the dough registers 190°F). Remove loaves from the pans and place on a wire rack. Cool completely before slicing.

***I’m not sure this recipe meets the requirements for Cathy Elton’s call for heart healthy T-day recipes, but at least it’s homemade so no weird additives! If you’ve come to Wonderland looking for such nutrition-conscious festive dishes, perhaps a batch of Celeriac and Lentils with Hazelnut and Mint will suit.

Baby, It’s Cold Outside


So, the next time I’m standing outside in a snowfall at 8 a.m. staring at the Waverly market mushroom stall and wondering why I want a couple of those reasonably priced boxes of sliced portobellos and shiitakes so much, I must remember this. Basically, if you have dried mushrooms (you know, the ones you bought in Queens in 2006 and always wonder if you should throw out when you re-discover them in the pantry, but then see that chemical pack in the plastic container and know that science prevails!) and, and, oh, right, the point…get a mixed pound of fresh at the market, you can make a half order of this, which will melt all hearts within radius. I always use milk–since cream would require going outside (again!) in the cold–and it’s still super lush. It’s also supper, in under an hour.

Only slightly related: Goodbye, holiday season 2010. It’s time to pack it up…