Dean Swift’s Burnt Oranges
Jonathan Swift's favorite orange dessert: intense citrus flavor with a sweetened whiskey burn

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Dean Swift’s Burnt Oranges

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4-6 Large orange Seville or bitter orange if possible
150 ml Sweet white wine
4 tablespoons Butter
6 tablespoons Granulated sugar
300 ml Fresh squeezed orange juice
2 tablespoons Irish whiskey Warmed

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    Jonathan Swift once wrote a slogan for a lady orange-seller to shout in the street as advertising — a “cry”, they called it then. It went like this:

    Come buy my fine oranges, sauce for your veal,
    and charming, when squeezed in a pot of brown ale:
    Well roasted, with sugar and wine in a cup,
    They’ll make a sweet Bishop when gentlefolk sup.

    — a Bishop being a standard name for a mixed drink like our modern mulled wine, scented with citrus and spices, and adding an orange, first stuck with cloves, briefly roasted in front of the fire, and simmered along with the wine, sugar and spices.

    Somewhere along the line the orange-based version of this recipe underwent a change, turning from a drink recipe into a dessert. The first Irish version of this is reported by the great cookbook writer and Irish food researcher Theodora Fitzgibbon, in Irish Traditional Food. With some adjustment for modern oranges, wines and tastes, it produces an edgy, buttery sweet, crunchy with caramelized sugar and enlivened with a breath of flamed Irish whiskey.

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    A note on the ingredients (meaning the oranges and the wine)

    The modern Seville-type oranges that most closely correspond to those used in Swift's time are still best for this recipe if you can get them. One warning, though: the wine paired with them needs to be a sweet one, such as a Sauterne, Muscat or Marsala. If you can't get the Seville oranges or prefer to use a sweeter eating orange such as a navel orange, a "medium" white wine will work fine if you prefer to substitute it for one of the sweeter ones.


    Preparing the orange zest and wine

    Using a fruit zester if possible, or a very sharp knife if you don't have a zester, remove all possible zest from all your oranges. (If using a knife, thinly peel off just the orange part of the orange skin and cut it into thin strips.) Put the zest in a bowl with the white wine and allow to steep gently.


    Preparing the oranges

    Peel the zested oranges and separate out the segments. Pull or scrape off as much as possible of any white pith from the flesh of the orange segments.

    Remove any seeds from the segments. If you're using Seville oranges, please note that they are not seedless: in fact they're some of the most seedful oranges you're ever likely to encounter. Once you've separated the segments, pick them up one by one and gently press the seeds out over a bowl, so as to conserve the juice that will be lost during this operation.


    Heat the wine and zest

    In a saucepan or cooking dish that can be used on the stovetop as well as in the oven, mix the orange juice with half of the sugar in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Lower the heat slightly and let the mixture cook and thicken until syrupy.

    When it has thickened and reduced, add the orange peel and wine mixture and bring to the boil again, then cook rapidly to reduce and thicken again.


    First cooking for the oranges

    Add the orange segments to the orange syrup and let everything simmer and bubble gently on the stovetop on medium heat for about 2 minutes.


    Into the oven

    Preheat the oven to 200C / 400F. Dot the oranges and orange syrup with the butter and sprinkle the whole mixture as evenly as you can with the remaining sugar.

    Put the dish in the oven and heat through until the sugar begins to caramelize and turn a golden brown. (If you can do this under a grill / broiler element, do so, but be very careful not to let the oranges actually burn.)


    Add the whiskey to finish

    Remove the cooking dish from the oven. Warm the whiskey gently on the stovetop or in the microwave. Pour it over the caramelized oranges and set it alight; let it flame until it burns itself out.


    To serve

    Serve either warm or cold, whichever you prefer. Heavy whipped cream goes well on top: so does thick pouring cream, or even sour cream or creme fraiche. A little orange zest on top looks nice too.


    I write for a living. But food is one of my favorite hobbies... learning about it, cooking it, eating it!

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