holiday baking: 7 posts

Candied Orange Peel (Pierre Herme Recipe) : Star Anise and Vanilla

Candied peel2

The Sugar Plum Fairy bade Marie and Nutcracker sit down while a feast was brought before them: teas, cakes and the rarest of fruits. The food was the feast, first for the eyes, then for the palate… Marie hardly had time to nibble at her sweetmeats before the next diversion was presented: the music abruptly changed to an adagio tempo. Arabian dancers dressed in gauzy veils garnished with gold medallions and jewels swayed hypnotically past… The rich aroma of coffee drifted past.  –from E.T.A Hoffman’s The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.

The last days of each year are invariably orange hued for me: an evening spent peeling the stubborn orange peel with orange stained fingers and tossing the curls into the fire; the delicious icy chill of mandarins brought home from an outdoor winter market; the vanilla-orange sweetness of vin d’orange and slender orangettes dipped in chocolate. As I set the ingredients to make candied orange peel, I am once again a little girl watching her grandmother making this confection. To prevent me getting near the boiling sugar syrup, I would be given a large illustrated volume of E.T.A Hoffman’s The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. To this day, the scent of oranges conjures visions of fairy kingdoms, groves made of candied fruit and coffee scented dancers.

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Almond Crescents and Splendid Fin de Siecle Vienna of Katharina Schratt


The weeks leading up to the winter holidays are intensely aromatic for me, as I start experimenting with new recipes for pastries and cakes. I hardly even need to wear perfume because as it is, everything gets permeated with the scents of vanilla, lemon peel, ginger and rosewater. Winter holiday baking is a relatively new tradition for me, but I plunged into it with zeal. I strongly associate winter holidays with Vienna, where I spent some of my student days: Christmas decorations glittering in the snow covered streets, the seductive bitterness of hot chocolate, Strauss concerts at the elegant Kursalon Wien, the light-hearted exuberance of being exam free!

As much as I love the modern city, I also have a passionate interest in the Vienna of the fin de siècle when the Hapsburg Empire lost much of its grandeur. No longer the capital city of a powerful empire, Vienna became an imperial residence. It is fascinating to consider that this period of political and social crisis in Vienna produced some of the most extraordinary movements in art, music and psychoanalysis and attracted a fascinating mix of artists.

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