Go beyond the chocolate bunny this Easter

Daniel Neman
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

It is a fact universally acknowledged that chocolate Easter bunnies taste best when you start by eating their ears.

It’s part of the whole chocolate-for-Easter thing, a longstanding tradition that no one seems to know how it began.

This Easter, I resolved to make chocolate candies to give as Easter gifts.

Chocolate-covered orange peels have always struck me as sophisticated and elegant, the kind of treat that only appeals to a refined palate. That is not what they are like at all in actuality, but it is a pleasant thought when you are cramming them indelicately into your mouth.

What makes them so appealing is the intriguing contrast between the sweet chocolate and the faintly bitter peel. But you have to get the bitterness just right; you don’t want it overwhelming the chocolate.

If you cut a thin slice of peel, cutting shallow with a vegetable peeler to avoid any of the white pith, it is an easy matter. Just blanch the skin, boil it in sugar water and dry it in a bed of sugar. But some, including me, prefer a thicker piece of peel that includes the pith. In that case, you merely have to blanch it three times before continuing with the other steps.

I made it both ways, and with the peels of other citrus fruit, too: grapefruit, tangerines, lemons and limes. All were simply superb, and worthy of an Easter gift.

Candied Orange Peels (thin version)

2 large navel oranges, or an equivalent amount of grapefruit, lemons, limes, tangerines or mandarins, or a combination

13/4 cups granulated sugar, divided, plus more if necessary

4 ounces chopped milk chocolate, semisweet or bittersweet chocolate

Use a vegetable peeler to peel wide, long strips of just the orange part of the orange skin (or the green part of the lime skin, etc.). Try to get as little of the bitter white pith as you can; if you have too much, you can carefully scrape some of it off with a sharp knife.

Set a small pan with at least 1 inch of water over high heat to boil. Spread 1 cup of sugar across a plate. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or nonstick foil.

Place the fruit peels in the boiling water for 15 seconds, and strain.

In a small pan, combine 3/4 cup sugar with 1/2 cup fresh water over high heat. Stir until dissolved and bring to a simmer. Add the fruit peels and boil until the entire surface of the liquid is covered with rapid, small bubbles, about 10 minutes.

Remove fruit peels with a fork and immediately place in the plate of sugar. Flip the peels over so both sides are covered with sugar. Press the peels down into the sugar so they are thoroughly saturated with it. Cover with more sugar, if necessary, and let sit 30 minutes. You can reserve the fruit-flavored syrup for cocktails, if you like.

Place a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water; do not let the bottom of the bowl touch the water. Add the chocolate and stir until melted. Dip half of each candied peel into the chocolate and place on prepared baking sheet to set.

Without chocolate, the candied peels can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for a few weeks. With the chocolate, they can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 1 week.

Yield: 8 servings

Per serving: 190 calories; 6g fat; 3g saturated fat; 1mg cholesterol; 1g protein; 35g carbohydrate; 30g sugar; 2g fiber; 2mg sodium; 28mg calcium

— Recipe by Jacques Pepin

Candied Orange Peels (thick version)

2 large navel oranges, or an equivalent amount of grapefruit, lemons, limes, tangerines or mandarins, or a combination

31/2 cups granulated sugar, divided

8 ounces chopped milk chocolate, semisweet or bittersweet chocolate

Cut the fruit into quarters and peel the fruit, keeping the peels intact. Slice the peels into pieces about 1/8 inch wide. Set a small pan with at least 11/2 inches of water over high heat to boil. Spread 2 cups of sugar across a plate. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or nonstick foil.

Place the fruit peels in the boiling water for 30 seconds, and strain. Repeat twice more with fresh changes of water.

In a small pan, combine 11/2 cups of the sugar with 1 cup fresh water over high heat. Stir until dissolved and bring to a simmer. Add the fruit peels and boil until the entire surface of the liquid is covered with rapid, small bubbles, about 10 minutes.

Remove fruit peels with a fork and immediately place in the plate of sugar. Flip the peels over so both sides are covered with sugar. Press the peels down into the sugar so they are thoroughly saturated with it. Let sit 30 minutes. Discard the remaining sugar, but reserve the fruit-flavored syrup for cocktails, if you like.

Place a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water; do not let the bottom of the bowl touch the water. Add the chocolate and stir until melted. Remove from the heat. Working in batches, submerge a few pieces of the peel into the chocolate, remove with a fork and place on the prepared baking sheet to set.

Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 1 week.

Yield: 8 servings

Per serving: 321 calories; 10 g fat; 6 g saturated fat; 2 mg cholesterol; 2 g protein; 55 g carbohydrate; 48 g sugar; 4 g fiber; 4 mg sodium; 37 mg calcium

— Recipe by Jacques Pepin