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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.

You called for the orange icing, and here ’tis. In its original form, this is family legend. Dad’s birthday cake was always Cordon Bleu cake with orange icing. Grammy made the cake, Mom made the cake, I made the cake. No matter who made this combo, the icing — cheery yellow with flecks of orange peel — dripped determinedly down the cake’s sides.

It still does. This is a soft icing that will set up somewhat once you’ve had it on the cake for a while. I’ve adapted it for today’s cook: The adaptation consists of removing a raw egg yolk from the recipe, replacing it with dried pasteurized egg whites reconstituted with orange juice. The yolk made the icing richer and yellower, but had no central irreplaceable function. (While I have no problem with raw eggs in recipes, I understand that some people are not keen on them. So if a raw egg is gratuitous, it’s gone.)

You may feel like you’re not making quite enough icing, but fear not. You will easily cover your two-layer, 9-inch cake. One of the tricks to making the spreading process happier is a tool that I lack: An offset spatula. (More on that in another post.) If you’re really worried about coverage, add more orange juice by the teaspoonful to thin the icing.

Orange icing

Orange Icing

This is a soft-set icing. Yes, it will run off and you will wish to scoop it up with your finger. That’s half the fun.

Makes enough for a two-layer, 9-inch cake

  • 3 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 3 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 2 teaspoons pasteurized egg-white powder
  • 6 tablespoons orange juice (grate oranges first, then squeeze juice)
  • Grated rind from 3 large oranges
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice

In a medium bowl, cream butter and add about a half-cup of confectioner’s sugar. In another bowl, reconstitute the egg white with 2 tablespoons of the orange juice, smoothing out the lumps as well as you can. Add egg white, rest of orange juice, lemon juice and rind to the butter mixture. Mix until smooth. Add rest of confectioner’s sugar in half-cup increments, stirring to incorporate, until icing is ready to spread.

I’m writing this as little snippets of snow try to find their way earthward. No serious falling, more meandering — distracted snowflakes.

It’s winter, and the holidays are gone, and we’re in for three months of cold. Time to turn to citrus.

Gram had several dessert recipes that featured oranges and lemons. Before the advent of any fruit at any time from anywhere in the world, citrus fruits were welcome bright spots in the winter grocery. I picture Grammy going to (I think) Gristede’s, right around the corner from her apartment in New York City. “I’m going to do the marketing.” She’d poke around the produce bins, seeing which lemons and oranges were heavy and shiny. She’d check out and go on her way, sure in the knowledge that her groceries — always delivered in old New York — would follow her home in due time.

These cookies are light, delicately flavored and semi-virtuous by way of a handful each of oats and nuts. If you have a strong honey, like chestnut or manuka, this is a great place to use it. Don’t sweat it if all you’ve got is the little bear-ful of clover honey.

The recipe’s quantity is a nice fit for a midwinter dinner: You’re making 30 cookies, not doing a massive 8-dozen holiday bake. I had an oatie orange with a big navel orange as an after-dinner sweet, having fun with the play of orange-on-orange. And I put the cookies on the good china, too, just for fun.

Oatie Orange Cookies

Makes 30 cookies

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons strong-flavored honey, or regular if that’s all you have
  • 1 egg
  • Grated rind of one large orange
  • 2 tablespoons orange juice
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1-1/4 teaspoon double-acting baking powder
  • 1/2 cup oats, either quick cooking or old fashioned
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped or broken walnuts

Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, cream together softened butter, sugar and honey. Beat in egg and orange rind. In a smaller bowl, combine flour, salt and baking powder; add flour mixture and juice to the butter/orange mixture and mix well. Stir in oats and walnuts.

Drop cookies by large rounded teaspoonsful onto parchment, leaving about 2 inches between them (they’ll spread, but not much). Bake for 9-11 minutes, until edges are lightly browned. Use a spatula to transfer cookies to racks to cool completely.

Recipe and photo copyright 2010 Garside Group LLC

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