14 December 2013

Chocolate and Candied Mandarin Orange Bark for Armchair Journeys

Hazelnut and Candied Mandarin Bark

Many years ago, while flipping casually through a travel magazine, I saw a photo that took my breath away. It showed a ragged mountainside, lush and green and covered with golden hued buildings that seemed to crawl slowly down the mountain toward an incredibly azure blue sea. The beauty of it was staggering and remained etched in my mind. This was the Amalfi Coastline. 

For anyone who follows these pages you will know that this time last year I  arrived back home from a life-changing month (and a bit) in Italy. When I arrived in late October some of the  shops were all decked out for Hallowe'en and locals were celebrating All Saints Day with flowers andossi di morto. By the time I arrived back in Sorrento on my way back home Christmas was on everyone's lips and in every store window and alleyway.

My patio at Villa Sofia in Nocelle
Did the Amalfi Coast live up to my dreams? It goes without saying that I was struck by its beauty. As I travelled along the coast either by Sita bus or car each and every turn was a promise of a jaw-dropping sight more beautiful than the last. Pastel coloured villages were perched high on the cliffs or cascaded into the cobalt sea with its wash of green and blue hues.Tiny coves with ancient fishing cottages and sandy pebbled beaches littered with brightly coloured wooden boats lay in hidden nooks and crannies along the twisted road. The sun gleamed on golden domes and colourful ceramic mosaics beamed on proud churches that stood sentinel over every small town. Winter was upon us but there were still many sun-drenched days perfect for strolling the cobblestoned streets and window shopping, or even swimming along the coast. I spent many an afternoon on a pebbly beach taking in the ambiance. I heard opera singing coming from the trattoria at the end of the beach, but, that is a story for another day...


The Amalfi Coast seduces its visitors not only with the wonderful panoramas and the intense blue sea, but also with the flavours and tastes of the local produce. Sheltered by plantings of olive trees bright orange and yellow lemons, oranges and mandarins dot the lush green landscape where almost every inch of space seems to be used.

The view from my room in Atrani with covered groves

I stayed in the small fishing village of Atrani just outside of Amalfi for a few nights. Eden-like gardens and surrounding citrus groves made lounging and dining al fresco even in late October and November a privileged experience. Freshly squeezed juices, homemade marmalades and pastries from the lemons and oranges growing outside my bedroom windows, were the end result of grove after grove on the steep and rocky cliff sides all along the peninsula. They said it couldn't be done this time of year, but, I picked ripe figs, lemons, oranges and olives right from the trees.

In season
Driving on the Amalfi Coast Road, you’ll spot terraces of lemon and orange groves climbing high up the steep cliffs. They are protected from winter winds by an elaborate armour of chestnut tree scaffolding and trellis systems. It is quite the experience to spot the bright citrus fruits caught somewhere between the majestic mountains and the blue sea.

In Italy there is a long list of tempting delicacies such as pasta, pizza, salami, Parmesan cheese and extra virgin olive oil, but, since we are in the Christmas season let's talk chocolate. Orange and chocolate are the perfect marriage of flavours in my eyes ever since I received my very first Terry's chocolate orange in my Christmas stocking when I was a little girl.

 Italy is home to some of the world’s finest chocolate companies, such as Caffarel, Ferrero, Pernigotti and Venchi.  In just one region of Italy, Piemonte, there are more master chocolatiers than in Belgium and France combined and the area between Florence and Pisa has been dubbed the Chocolate Valley. One reason Italian chocolate is so good is that Italians care so much about the purity of ingredients.

Staying in the quaint fishing village of Atrani the town of Amalfi was only a stones throw away through a tunnel under the main road.  If you’ve been in Amalfi’s lively Piazza Duomothen you’ve likely spotted the Pasticceria and CafĂ© Andrea Pansa, which is a fixture in the town’s piazza. The pasticceria (pastry shop) has been making chocolate along with Neapolitan staples, like the worlds best pastry sfogliatelle and baba for generations.

 Sfogliatelle and cannoli from Amalfi

As a chocoholic I swooned over the plethora of aromas wafting down the hidden nooks of a medieval alley outside this iconic building. Satisfying chocolate cravings since 1830, this decadent shop offers infinite Italian chocolates oozing with fillings like chestnut, ginger, and bacon. Bite into a chocolate-glazed cherry bursting with nearly a shot glass of liquor. Or try a crunchy and smooth torroni, laced with cocoa nibs and hazelnuts.

Inside Andrea Pansa in Amalfi 

I stepped inside and was tempted even more by the display cases filled with chocolates and one of the local specialties... candied lemon, mandarin, and orange peels dipped in chocolate. I found all types of chocolate bars, including excellent dark chocolate, milk chocolate and a very good white chocolate. Why I didn't bring them home for family and friends to try I will never know. The chocolate was some of the best I have ever had either plain or mixed with peperoncino, lemon, or whole nuts. My favourite was the hazelnut and orange peel which is the reason I have tried to replicate those flavours in this bark.

Since mandarin oranges are in season now all along the Sorrentine coast I thought candied mandarin peel seemed like a good bet for making my annual Christmas bark. Mandarin peel doesn't need the multiple blanchings of orange or grapefruit or even lemon to remove the bitterness. Mandarins have so little pith their skin is not really bitter at all.  Boiling them in the sugar syrup and tossing them in sugar once was enough to sweeten them up and made for a very quick, satisfying and extremely tasty addition to the recipe here today. Plus mandarins are overflowing this time of the year.

To complete my chocolate tour of Amalfi, I headed over to the nearby Piazza Municipio where I found another awning with “Cioccoclato” written across the top. This is where all the chocolate has been made for Andrea Pansa for the past 10 years. 

Merry Christmas from Sorrento

Chocolate bark is a great Christmas gift choice as well as being a fuss free addition to your holiday trays.  I love my seasonal White Chocolate, Pistachio and Cranberry Bark but it was time for a change. Eating with the seasons in the true Italian way you can incorporate the flavours of orange and hazelnuts for the winter season. If we can't get to Italy for the holidays, why not bring Italy to you.

** Hazelnut and Candied Mandarin Bark**

1 cup whole or chopped hazelnuts
1 lb (500 g) milk chocolate ( I use 1/2 confectioners coating and ½ good-quality milk chocolate such as Bernard Callebaut)
1 cup dried mandarin orange peel (recipe to follow)

On baking sheet, roast hazelnuts in 350 F oven for 8 – 10 minutes or just until fragrant but not coloured. In top of double-boiler over hot (not boiling) water melt chocolate, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat, let cool to room temperature. Prepare mandarin orange peels following the instructions below. For the purposes of this recipe you can coat the dried peels in a final coating of sugar or not, your choice. Stir the hazelnut and mandarin orange peel into cooled chocolate reserving some of the hazelnuts and peels to sprinkle on top of the finished bark.

Pour mixture onto foil-lined baking sheet, spread into rectangle just under 1/2 –inch thick. Press reserved hazelnuts and peels into top. Refrigerate for at least an hour or until hardened. Break into pieces. (Can be refrigerated, wrapped in plastic wrap and stored in air-tight container for up to 1 week)

Makes about 1-1/2 lbs 

 ** Candied Mandarin Peel**

4 small mandarins
1 cup sugar
1 cup water sugar for dusting

Carefully peel the skin off of the mandarins. I found it was easiest to quarter them, then peel. Carefully use a knife to scrape off any white pith. Cut the peel into thin strips. A pair of scissors made easy work of this. In a saucepan, heat the water and sugar until just boiling, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Add the mandarin peel and cook over medium heat until the peel is soft about 15 minutes. Please note that while the syrup might thicken, it should not turn brown and caramelize. Drain the peels and allow to cool slightly. 

In a small bowl in small batches toss the peels with granulated sugar. Spread on a wire rack or on paper towels for 2 hours or more to allow them to dry. There will be leftovers which can be stored at room temperature in a sealed container. They are delicious dipped in chocolate or on their own. The next time I make this bark I choose not to coat the peel in granulated sugar...just a matter of personal taste since I prefer things less sweet.

You are reading this post on More Than Burnt Toast at http://morethanburnttoast.blogspot.com. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author/owner of More Than Burnt Toast. All rights reserved by Valerie Harrison. Best Blogger Tips


  1. What a truly wonderful post. Love the travelogue! Love the recipes! Wishing you and yours a sweet and joyous holiday season and a very Merry Christmas

  2. Thank you for taking me back to Amalfi. I was also there at Christmas many years ago but it seems just like yesterday. I Ioved the food in that little town. I loved especially the candied fruits unlike any I have seen except in a market in Paris.

  3. Your pics are fantastico!
    I can tell you would like a little Italian travel at the moment..
    So fun..exciting and superbly captivating..you have no time to think of anything else as it's all jaw dropping.
    I loved it..
    Happy Holidays..the bark looks delicioso.

    1. A friend just came back from 3 weeks in Venice, another friend is spending one month in Paris and 2 months in Spain. Yes I am definitely doing some armchair travelling right now.

  4. If I weren't in Paris right now I'd be totally jealous of the markets and views from your trip to Italy. These kind of experiences stay with you for a lifetime. I just missed a full day chocolate class at the Cordon Bleu and they were making candied orange peel, one of my favourite flavours. I have to try it with the mandarins. Sound like a good idea.

  5. I will eternally be jealous of your month in Italy!! Everything is so gorgeous. This bark is quite a beauty also!

  6. Wonderful holiday pictures. This bark looks and sounds exquisite.



  7. I think I would have tried to figure out a way to never come back home after seeing your amazing photos of Italy. What a sophisticated bark with the mandarins. Happy Holidays Val and I'm so glad you took us along on your arm-chair travels.

  8. I have a friend who loved on the Amalfi Coast for a few years. It sounds like a beautiful place to visit, but a little difficult to live there!

  9. I've joked with you before that this is the trip that keeps on giving -- but, seriously, you really lived the dream!
    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and your family. Is 2014 the big wedding year?

    1. Yes memories were made Joan. And yes the wedding is in Mexico in 7 weeks:D


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