Fresh orange slices bathed in a butterscotch caramel sauce — is simply divine, bright, and bold. Known as “aranci caramellizzati” in Italy, it was first introduced by food writer Elizabeth David in her 1954 work, Italian Food. who wrote appreciatively of caramelized Sicilian oranges. This stylish confection was popularized in the 1970s in a cooking course published as a monthly magazine by London’s Le Cordon Bleu. Exotic and sweetly astringent, they were a standby of posh dinner parties throughout the Commonwealth, the sort of dish that was not particularly difficult to make but still signaled a home cook’s understanding of elegance. Similar desserts were all the rage on London dessert carts during the ’80s. Today, there are a number of modern recipes for this dessert by British cooks such as Nigel Slater and Sophie Grigson. Even Nigella Lawson offers a similar recipe in Forever Summer and suggests serving the oranges with yogurt. If yogurt is not your style, this dessert is versatile enough that you can accompany caramelized fruit with a slice of pound cake or vanilla ice cream, if you desire. Also, think about serving it over meringues to make it an caramelized orange pavlovas.
Adapted from Matthew Card
Milk Street Magazine, 2017
4½ pounds of clementines or 8 navel or cara medium oranges
1 cup sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
2 tablespoons salted butter
3/4 cup fresh orange juice
A splash of triple sec or Grand Marnier
Pistachio nuts, for garnish (optional)
Plain Greek Yogurt
Carefully peel the clementines and slice crosswise, into thirds. If using oranges, cut the top and bottom ½ inch off of the oranges. Stand each orange on one of its flat ends and use a sharp knife to cut down and around the fruit, peeling away all the skin and pith. Thinly slice the oranges crosswise. Evenly shingle the sliced fruit in a 9 x 13-inch baking dish.
Combine the sugar, ¼ cup of the orange juice, and the cinnamon sticks in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, 2 to 3 minutes, and cook, swirling the pan occasionally, until the sugar begins to color around the edges, 3 to 5 minutes. Note that the bubbles should go from thin and frothy to thick and shiny. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, swirling the pan often, until the sugar is coppery-brown, 1 to 3 minutes.
Remove the pan from the heat, add the butter, and whisk until melted. Add a splash of the remaining orange juice and whisk until smooth. Note that the mixture will steam and bubble vigorously, then add the remaining orange juice and triple sec and whisk until fully incorporated. If the caramel separates and sticks to the bottom of the pan, return it to the heat and simmer until the hardened caramel dissolves. Pour the caramel evenly over the oranges, cover with plastic wrap, and allow to stand for 25 minutes.
Using a slotted spoon, transfer the oranges to a serving platter or individual plates. Remove and discard the cinnamon sticks and whisk the caramel to recombine. Pour the caramel over the oranges. Cover with plastic wrap and allow the fruit to stand at room temperature.
To serve, spoon a large dollop of yogurt into a bowl and top with the fruit and lightly drizzle with the caramel sauce. Garnish with a sprinkle of pistachio nuts.
Don’t think about the caramel’s color for the first few minutes. The sugar mixture will melt, froth furiously as the heat increases (and moisture evaporates), and finally subside into larger, shinier bubbles before coloring. If the sugar browns too quickly, slide the pan off heat and whisk steadily to incorporate cooling air.
You can also use an assortment of citrus fruits instead of just oranges. The differences in size, acidity and sweetness make the dish all the more fascinating.
Also, to switch up the flavor, replace the cinnamon sticks with two star anise (our favorite) or six cardamom pods (lightly crushed). Use granulated white sugar, not a “natural” sugar, since the latter will make the color of the caramel hard to judge. Unsalted butter and a pinch of salt replaces salted butter. You also can serve the oranges with ice cream, pound cake or topped with a handful of toasted and chopped nuts.
The original recipe calls for the dessert to be served cold, but we liked it more at room temperature, where the fruit seemed more flavorful.