Friday, January 25, 2013


Orange and Nut Toffee

   This buttery brittle features candied orange peel, walnuts, and cashews for a bright twist on toffee.

Orange and Nut Toffee

  • 1
    Candied Orange Peel, recipe below, or purchased candied orange peel, coarsely chopped
  • 2/3
    cup coarsely chopped cashews
  • 2/3
    cup coarsely chopped walnuts, toasted
  • 1
    cup butter
  • 1
    cup sugar
  • 3
    tablespoons water
  • 1
    tablespoon light-colored corn syrup
1.Prepare candied orange peel, set aside. Line a 13x9x2-inch baking pan with foil, extending the foil over edges of pan. Sprinkle 1/3 cup cashews and 1/3 cup walnuts in pan. Set aside.
2.In a 2-quart heavy saucepan melt butter over low heat. Stir in sugar, water, and corn syrup. Bring to boiling over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Avoid splashing side of saucepan. Clip a candy thermometer to side of pan. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until thermometer registers 290 degrees F, (soft-crack stage), about 12 to 15 minutes. Mixture should boil at a moderate, steady rate with bubbles over entire surface. (Adjust heat as necessary to maintain a steady boil and watch temperature carefully during the last 5 minutes of cooking, as temperature can increase quickly at the end.) Remove from heat; remove thermometer.
3.Carefully pour corn syrup mixture into prepared pan; spread evenly with a spatula. Sprinkle with candied orange peel and remaining nuts. Let stand at room temperature several hours. Use foil to lift toffee out of pan; break into pieces. To store, layer toffee pieces with waxed paper in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks. Makes 24 pieces.

  • Best Ever
How to avoid gritty candy:
  • When melting and cooking sugar, take care when stirring not to splash the mixture onto the sides of the pan. Sugar crystals can form on the sides of the pan, then fall into the mixture and cause the sugar to recrystallize in the candy, giving it a gritty, sugary texture. If sugar does splash up the sides of the pan, "wash" it off by lightly brushing the sides, as the mixture cooks, with a pastry brush dipped in water.
Toffee Sticks:
  • Layer two 12x12-inch squares of heavy duty foil. Pinch up foil about every 1-1/2 inches to form raised edges, making four long troughs to pour the toffee into. Fold up edges and ends. Place on a rimmed baking pan. Divide 1/3 cup cashews and 1/3 cup walnuts among the 4 troughs. Pour in the toffee; sprinkle with remaining nuts and the candied peel. Let stand as directed in the main recipe, then peel back the foil to pull up the toffee sticks.

Candied Orange Peel

Yield: 1 cup
Prep 30 minsCook 15 minsStand 1 hr
  • 2
  • 1 1/3
    cups sugar
  • 1/3
    cup water
  • 1
    teaspoon cayenne or 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
1.Remove peel from 2 oranges with a paring knife by cutting peels into lengthwise quarters, cutting to the surface of the fruit. Reserve fruit for another use. Pry back the quartered peel and pull away to remove. With a spoon scrape away the white pith inside the peel. (If pith is left on, peels will be bitter.) Cut peel into thin strips.
2.In a 2-quart saucepan combine the sugar, water, and cayenne pepper or rosemary. Cover and bring to boiling. Add orange peel strips. Return to boiling, stirring constantly to dissolve sugar. Reduce heat. Cook, uncovered, over medium-low heat. Mixture should boil at a moderate, steady rate over entire surface. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes or until peel is almost translucent.
3.Using a slotted spoon, remove peel from syrup, allowing syrup to drain off of peel. Transfer peel to a wire rack set over waxed paper (discard rosemary, if using). Set cooked peel aside until cool enough to handle but still warm and slightly sticky. Roll peel in additional sugar to coat. Continue drying on the rack for 1 to 2 hours.
4.Store, tightly covered, in a cool, dry place for up to 1 week. Or freeze for up to 6 months. Makes about 1 cup.


The Battle of the Oranges is a carnival and festival in the Northern Italian city of Ivrea, which includes a tradition of throwing of oranges between organized groups. It is the largest food fight in Italy.

History of the Festival

    The festival's origins are somewhat unclear. A popular account has it that it commemorates the city's defiance against the city's tyrant, who is either a member of the Ranieri family or a conflation of the 12th century Ranieri di Biandrate and 13th century Marquis William VII of Montferrat. This tyrant attempted to rape a young commoner (often specified as a miller's daughter) on the eve of her wedding, supposedly exercising the (possibly fictional) droit de segneur. His plan backfired when the young woman instead decaptated the tyrant, after which the populace stormed and burned the palace. Each year, a young girl is chosen to play the part of Violetta, the defiant young woman.

    Every year the citizens remember their liberation with the Battle of the Oranges where teams of "Aranceri" (orange handlers) on foot throw oranges (representing ancient arrows and stones) against Aranceri riding in carts, representing Arduino's allies. During the 19th century French occupation of Italy the Carnival of Ivrea was modified to add representatives of the French army who help the miller's wife. The carnival may have started in the 12th century and also includes a large bonfire.

The Celebration

    The core celebration is based on a locally famous Battle of the Oranges that involves some thousands of townspeople, divided into nine combat teams,who throw oranges at each other....with considerable violence...during the traditional carnival days: Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. The carnival ends on the night of "Fat Tuesday" with a solemn funeral. Traditionally, at the end of the silent march that closes the carnival the "General" says goodbye to everyone with the classical phrase in dialect "arvedse a giobia a 'n bot", translated as "we'll see each other on Thursday at one", referring to the Thursday the carnival will start the next year".

Miller's Daughter

    One of the citizens is elected Mugnaia. The legend has that a miller's daughter (a "Mungnaia") once refused to accept the "right" of the local duke to spend a night with each newly wed woman and chopped his head off. Today the carriages represent the duke's guard and the orange throwers the revolutionaries. Spectators are not allowed to throw oranges, but visitors are allowed to enlist in the teams. if they wear a red hat they are considered part of the revolutionaries and will not have oranges thrown at them.

    Originally beans were thrown, then apples. Later, in the 19th century, oranges came to represent the duke's chopped off head. The origin of the tradition to throw oranges is not well understood, particularly as oranges do not grow in the foothills of the Italian Alps and must be imported from Sicily. In 1994 an estimated 580,000 pounds of oranges were brought to the city, mainly coming from the leftovers of the winter crop in southern Italy.


ultimate baking kitchen

Anyone who's ever baked five dozen cupcakes for their child's school, Christmas cookies for a crowd, or (heaven help us) a wedding cake knows that in many ways, the average home kitchen isn't designed for a big-batch, nearly professional baker. We turned to experts for their suggestions about the ultimate kitchen layout, tools, and equipment for committed bakers.
   When Alex Hitz, baking enthusiast and founder of the Beverly Hills Kitchen, a line of frozen Southern meals sold on HSN, opted to step back from the restaurant business and reinvent his career some years ago, the change also inspired a vision of another sort of makeover: the ideal baker's kitchen. Over time, Hitz developed a template that other avid bakers can follow to create their own.
   "Having had a restaurant kitchen, I knew what a dream home kitchen would be," says Hitz, whose favorite things to bake include biscuits, yeast rolls, and "a lot of Southern desserts, like caramel cakes and coconut cake and hummingbird cake, which I love."
   Today Hitz, whose first cookbook, My Beverly Hills Kitchen: Classic Southern Cooking with a French Twist, is scheduled to be published by Knopf this fall, has realized his dream and enjoys a space that functions pretty much like a commercial kitchen—but is too attractive to be mistaken for one.


ultimate baking kitchen equipment

Baker's Doubles

   Hitz has a set of double ovens, a commercial-grade Viking stovetop, and two dishwashers. Plus, his dream baker's kitchen boasts a Sub-Zero side-by-side refrigerator/freezer, as well as a second bottom-freezer Sub-Zero in the pantry—a model he prefers: "A side-by-side is not wide enough to store half-sheet pans," he explains.

Recently Hitz, who routinely hosts and entertains large numbers of guests, added a refrigerator in his laundry room for overflow supplies. "There can never be enough counter space, and there can never be enough refrigerator space," he says.

Twice the Power

As important as the major appliances, Hitz notes, is a strategic layout of electrical receptacles. In his kitchen, abundant outlets line the walls and the sides of the island so he can operate several standing mixers and a food processor at the same time.
"I went to town on that," says Hitz, who also insisted that his electrician double the power supply specified in the architectural plan. "I knew if we blew a fuse," he says breezily, "I would blow a gasket."

Maximize the Mixers

Hitz owns four KitchenAid mixers, and at least two are 20 years old. "The key to everything in life is the KitchenAid stand mixer," he continues. "They're all just excellent. I don't see how anybody can do anything without them."

Keep Tools Within Reach

Whisks and wooden spoons are kept on countertops in ceramic crocks, pastry cutters and other special baking tools in easy-to-reach drawers. The top drawer under the wall ovens holds two stacks of cookie sheets, one for quarter-sheet pans and another for half-sheet pans, the only sizes he has. "Having just two sizes keeps things orderly," he says.

Go Cookie Cutter

The second drawer under the oven is devoted entirely to cookie cutters and molds. "I use cookie cutters to cut everything," Hitz explains. "I bake quiches in sheet pans and cut them with cookie cutters to make them pretty. I cut brownies with cookie cutters. Anything with a crust on the bottom! So we have just that perfect fluted mushroom tart, in any size."

Get Industrial

Another essential piece of baking equipment is a speed rack, which Hitz stores in his pantry and rolls into the kitchen when he needs extra space for cooling cookies and cakes. "Baked goods must cool," Hitz notes, and a speed rack "gets them off your kitchen counters so you can still do whatever else you need to do." These racks, sometimes called pan racks, are available at local restaurant supply stores in an array of sizes.

Upgrade Your Trays

The final keys to Hitz's baking success, he says, are good-quality baking sheets. "This has been a whole epiphany for me," he says. "All those things we used to bake on in the old days are horrible. Thin baking sheets burn things and are useless. Throw them away. Invest in some heavy, commercial-grade sheet pans, and you will use them for the rest of your life."


ultimate baking kitchen layout

Isle of Right

At the heart of Hitz's kitchen is an enormous island measuring 4 by 9 feet. Even with a double sink in the middle, there are still two expanses, each about 3 feet wide, where he can roll out cookie dough, shape breads, and cut out hundreds of biscuits at the same time. "It's humungo," he says. "I use it for everything. Not only do I roll out Christmas cookies at that island but we can dust the flour off it and seat six people there for dinner."
There is also counter space on three walls, providing plenty of room for Hitz to bake with friends or hired help, which he brings in for large parties. "Ideally, I'd like to have counters on four sides," Hitz says.

Walk-In Pantry

Hitz devotes significant time to keeping his spacious pantry (7 by 9 feet) organized—a key piece of his strategy for a shipshape kitchen. "Whether it's for baking or for cooking or both, to really plan a kitchen correctly, you have to have a vision, you have to have experience, and you have to have a little touch of obsessive-compulsive disorder, too," he jokes. "You know, how many people think it's fun to sit around and label the pantry on a Saturday? The more you obsess about it, the better it's going to be."

Customize Counter Height

Carole Bloom, the author of 10 dessert cookbooks (with another on caramel due next year), says home cooks who are serious about baking should consider installing countertops at a custom height or lowering a section of an island so it's the right height for rolling out dough. "I'm short, and most counters are too high," she explains.

No Side-by-Side Fridges

Bloom suggests buying a bottom-freezer refrigerator with shelves that are wide enough to hold baking sheets. "Often times you have to put things in the refrigerator to chill, and it's really difficult to fit a sheet pan in a side-by-side refrigerator."


ultimate baking kitchen tips

Turn the Island Into Party Space

Hitz has a small slab of granite that matches the countertops to cover the sink so the island can be used as one long buffet for large parties. "The faucet becomes a piece of sculpture," he says.

Mixers at the Ready

Standing mixers and the food processor should be kept on the counter so they're easy to use.
Bloom also suggests purchasing at least two bowls for the mixer, and two each of all the attachments, like whisks and flat beaters—a rule she follows for her food processor, too. "That way you don't have to stop and clean them during various parts of a recipe."

Maximized Shelving

Pull-out shelves make it easier to find pans and access pantry items quickly. Bloom, like Hitz, also recommends organizing the pantry into specific sections, and has flours, sugars, chocolates, and flavorings each on their own shelf.

Wide-Mouth Containers

Another tip from Bloom's home kitchen in Southern California: Keep dry ingredients in wide-mouth containers. "It's much easier to scoop a cup measurement into them and get the ingredients out," she says.

An Organized Pantry

Make sure spices in cabinets or drawers are arranged so they are easy to see, and "preferably not right next to the oven, where they get hot and dry out," Bloom advises. Stack bowls and pans by size, and install pull-out drawers whenever possible.

Baker's Toolbox

Bloom considers a rolling pin display rack to be helpful but not necessary. A scale, on the other hand, is essential for weighing chocolate and other ingredients, she says.
Make sure important tools like measuring cups and spoons, thermometers, heat-resistant spatulas, timers, cutters, cake testers, and hot pads are kept where they are easy to reach, like an open crock or top drawer.
Bloom bakes so often that she removes measuring spoons from the ring and keeps them separated by size in small containers near her mixer and food processor. "You measure so many things in baking," she explains. "If you have to grab spoons by the ring, then you are always searching for the right one."