Dried Orange Slices for Tea

Dried Orange Slices for TeaSometimes life is kind enough to bring a friend into your life at just the right time, in just the right place, and you have it and hold it dear to you for all the rest of your days. For me, that’s my friend Emily. Em came into my life my first year of graduate school when I had just moved to Minnesota knowing only one person in the entire state, as I was about to start a seven year program as a cohort of one. The first year of my Ph.D. program was a humbling experience altogether, but those first weeks were brutal. I sat in my classes stunned into silence by my peers and by students three and four years in with so much more knowledge and poise than I thought would ever be possible for me to attain. The community in my department was welcoming, certainly, but not having anyone with whom to share the vulnerabilities and doubts of the first few weeks was scary and isolating.

Emily was part of a cohort of first years in a neighboring department where we met in a class on gender, race, and class in American culture. They were all so nice and warm and I was lucky that they brought me into their fold as an honorary member as quickly and effortlessly as they did. I hate to think what the rest of that year would have looked like for me had they not taken me in. I got even luckier, though, when Emily and I discovered that we lived literally right on the other side of the block from one another – oh, kismet! Our friendship was sealed and we’ve shared many a memory and milestone together since.

Dried Orange Slices for TeaThough Em has long since moved back to San Francisco, I still miss her like she left yesterday. Which is why when I recently found myself with a brand-new mandolin slicer, my first thought of making a grilled zucchini lasagna was eclipsed by the idea of making some dried orange slices for tea and sending them her way. Emily is a tea connoisseur, you see. Prior to meeting her, I always just happily drank whatever bags I had gotten on sale last time I went to the grocery. I knew nothing beyond those sad, little pouches. Loose tea? Different brew times? Herbal vs. black? No clue.

What I learned through my friendship with Emily, though, and the inspiration I found as I tasted and learned about different teas through her and for myself, was that great teas are uncomplicated, sometimes not very fancy at all, and are best when left alone or, only slightly adulterated, by the tiniest squeeze of lemon or drop of cream. These very thinly sliced, dehydrated oranges and lemons – one snuck in to my slicing and drying! – are a wonderful addition to any old cup of tea. They add a subtle sweet taste of citrus to your brew and the aroma of them steeping in the hot water makes every sip feel really special.

Dried Orange Slices for TeaKept in a sealed container – I’m partial to a small jelly jar, but even a sealable plastic bag will do – they last forever. While they’re obviously great in hot tea, I’ve also enjoyed them in iced tea, cold water, and Em herself gave me the great idea to try one in a pint of wheat beer. So refreshing! These are a year-round staple, a great gift, and a sweet new way to enjoy a bunch of different beverages. I’m imagining them in a bevy of different summer cocktails as well!

Or, if you’re Bear, you can also dip them halfway in melted dark chocolate, let them set up on some waxed paper in the fridge, and then talk about how you’re a master chocolatier and have never tasted anything better in your life. Whatever your pick. You do you.

Dried Orange Slices
1 orange yields approximately 10 slices; recipe may also be used for lemons and limes

Ingredients
1 orange
1/2 teaspoon of sugar (optional)

Directions
Preheat oven to 200°F. Line a baking sheet with a silicon baking mat or parchment paper and set aside. Using a mandolin or a very sharp knife, carefully slice the orange – my mandolin was set on its thinnest setting, which is 1/16th of an inch. Arrange orange slices on the baking sheet in a single layer and sprinkle with sugar if desired – I skipped the sugar because my oranges were very, very sweet. Bake for 2 to 2-1/2 hours or until the slices are completely dry and the flesh is translucent. Remove carefully to a baking rack and allow to cool completely before storing.

Berry Scones with Orange Cardamom Glaze

I, easily, fall victim to the bounty of fruits and vegetables that flood the supermarket this time of year; sometimes, to the point of detriment. In that I’ll be so overwhelmed with all of the delicious, fresh offerings that I’ll buy a few too many tomatoes or an extra pound of peaches and then scramble for ways to use them as I notice them starting to go soft a week or two later. I always find something to do with them, but sometimes it makes for some mismatched meals.

Luckily, I always know what to do when I have berries on their way South, which is exactly the situation I found myself in this week after I had stocked up on some good strawberry and blueberry sales a week or so prior. I’d already eaten many of them on their own, dotted on top of cereal, blended into smoothies (some of which were actually milkshakes that I called “smoothies,” shhh!), and even in a balsamic vinaigrette I’d made poured over grilled chicken atop salad. Delicious! When I happened on their overripe siblings yesterday while searching for a snack, I knew I wanted to use them in a sweeter application, but also something that could handle and disguise the fact that they were past their prime.

Muffins? Sure, muffins are delicious, but why make muffins when you can have their sophisticated cousin, scones? Have you properly met? Scones are simple to execute, but sound and look special, maybe even snooty! Undoubtedly this is because of their being good, proper teatime fare. Scones, though, prove themselves worthy of the fuss. They have a much dryer crumb than the muffin, but in their airiness, they are also deliciously buttery and light all at once. With blueberries and strawberries folded in, they make for a slightly sweet breakfast treat on their own or accompanied with butter and jam for spreading. Better yet, spoon on some clotted cream and lose sense of everything else happening around you. True story: Bear thought I should make clotted cream to accompany this post. Like it was NBD. Like I should just get to it after I churn some fresh butter or something.

Anyway, these scones are delightful in their simplicity as is, but bumped up with the addition of a quick glaze of orange and cardamom that adds a different kind of sweetness and a bit of spice. When it hits the hot scones, the glaze gives off a wonderful scent of citrus with warm notes similar to ginger and cinnamon. The glaze is the perfect compliment to the roasted berry flavor and, because they’re a sturdier crumb, the scones hold up to the glaze well. This is a pairing of flavors I think I’ll come back to again and again.

Mixed Berry Scones with Orange & Cardamom Glaze
Yields 8 scones

Ingredients:
For the scones
2 cups of flour
1/4 cup of sugar
2 teaspoons of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1/2 cup of cold butter
3/4 cup of sour cream
1 egg
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1 cup of fresh berries of your choice

For the glaze
1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
2 teaspoons of orange zest
2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon of butter
1 small pinch of cardamom (a little goes a long way!)

Directions:
Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. Cut the cold butter into small cubes and then mix it into the dry ingredients with a pastry cutter or a fork. When finished, the mixture should resemble coarse crumbs. In a separate bowl, beat the egg and stir in the sour cream and vanilla. Fold the wet ingredients into the flour and butter mixture gently until just incorporated; if a bit of dry crumb remains on the bottom, that’s fine, you just don’t want to over-mix.

Dump the ingredients onto a lightly floured surface and pat the dough into a rough rectangle. Sprinkle the berries (I used blueberries and strawberries; with the latter, you’ll want to dry them a bit with a paper towel after dicing and before integrating them into the dough) in an even layer onto the dough and then fold it over onto itself. Repeat this process once more or until all berries are incorporated throughout the dough. Shape the dough into a disk, wrap in wax paper or plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

While the dough is refrigerating, make the glaze by combining the above ingredients and set aside. When you are ready to roll out the scones, preheat the oven to 400°F and transfer the disk of dough onto a lightly floured surface. Cut the disk into 8 wedges with a sharp knife or pizza cutter and assemble the wedges on a baking sheet lined with a silpat or parchment paper. Leave a few inches of space between wedges, as they will grow in size as they bake. Bake the scones for 18-20 minutes or until lightly browned. After 5 minutes, transfer to a baking rack to cool.

If planning to serve that day, drizzle glaze over warm scones and enjoy. If not, store the cooled stones in the refrigerator. When ready to serve, warm them and apply glaze before eating.