Ah, end of the first week of the new year. Plum pudding? Done. Custard sauce? Jar licked clean. Cookie tin? Cleaned and put away (okay, so it’s in the drying rack).

Sweet tooth? Still there.

There is still chocolate left in this house, very good chocolate. This season is so wonderful for citrus, though, that my thoughts drift toward a dessert I loved to make in the mid-1990s: Clementines soaked in muscat wine. Back then, I worked for Hay Day Country Farm Markets. Clementines were extremely seasonal, arriving from Spain after Thanksgiving. Great excitement when the produce manager gave the nod: The clementines had met his quality standards. Those standards meant there was an end to the season too, with the crop eventually running too small and sour for Hay Day to carry. Now clementines are ubiquitous — and are still a great midwinter treat.

The wine I first used was Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise, a not-too-sweet fortified French dessert wine with enough acidity to keep the floral overtones from taking over. Now I make this with an American cousin of Beaumes-de-Venise, an orange muscat wine called Essencia made by Quady Vineyards in California.* I’m giving you both options because who knows how easy it is to find either one where you are. Whichever you use, the blend of clementines with wine is virtuous enough to pass for post-holiday dessert deprivation while still being a wonderful sweet.

I made this dessert often when I was working for Hay Day and living in downtown Greenwich, Connecticut. Southern New England winters can be icy and dark. One particularly snowy, cold and gray winter, I fought back by leaving little white Christmas lights strung around my glassed-in porch until the spring time-change. My pals Eliza and Doug were passing through — January, maybe, or the dread February — and stopped for dinner. I don’t recall the main part of the meal, yet I remember serving them clementines, slightly warm, plumped up with a mixture of orange juice and Quady’s Essencia. We sat in the sparkle of candles and those fierce little stringed lights, looking at a dark and snowy streetscape, smelling flowers and tasting sunshine.

Sunny Clementines from Baking Family

Sunny Clementines

Serves 4

  • 5 or 6 clementines, peeled and sectioned, as much white pith removed as possible
  • 3/4 cup muscat dessert wine such as Quady Essencia or Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise
  • 1/4 cup fresh orange juice

Before dinner, put clementines and wine in a saucepan and stir together; heat over medium heat JUST until liquid starts to simmer. Turn off heat, add orange juice and cover the pan. At the end of dinner, remove the pan lid, ladle clementines and sauce into small fancy bowls and serve alongside a glass of the wine you used in the dessert. (If when you go to serve them you find the clementines have cooled too much, turn on the heat for a couple of minutes. Make sure that the mixture does not come to the boil.)

*Quady now also makes something called Electra, which I ran into when a wine-shop owner insisted that it was “the new Essencia.” Uh, no, it’s not. Electra is a pale, light-alcohol ghost of the good stuff. Leave it on the store shelf.

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