11 December 2012

Chocolate and Mandarin Orange.. a Match Made For Italy

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 I recently 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 and ossi 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. In upcoming posts I don't know that I will ever be capable of describing all that I discovered, experienced, tasted, learned, accomplished, or even felt, but, as I wrap my head around this experience come along for the armchair version of another amazing adventure. In our armchair adventure we won't break 3 suitcases, get lost, or have airline delays...I promise.

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 Duomo, then 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 like my good friend Jerry 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 and or owner of More Than Burnt Toast. All rights reserved by Valerie Harrison. Best Blogger Tips


  1. Lovely pictures! I'd love to visit Italy.

    This bark looks divine!



  2. I love reading travel magazines and imagining myself on foreign shores.

  3. I just stopped by for a quick visit which just won't do this post justice. I'll be back with a cup of coffee later to savor your prose, photos and chocolate and mandarin bark!!


  4. The Alamlfi coast is beautiful Val. You made a wonderful choice in places to stay. How could you tear yourself away to come home with the pretty Christmas decorations and the gorgeous food markets?

    Your bark looks delicious with the chocolate and the oranges giving it amazing color. Happy holidays and welcome home.

  5. Val these pictures look absolutely awesome and love the recipe sounds delicious!!!

    fantastic plce Val I love Italy!;)

  6. I'm so glad your trip lived up to expectations my dear!

  7. So beautiful! Thanks for sharing a bit of Italy in your post today- I needed a little vacation this evening. The bark is lovely too- orange and chocolate are hubby's favorite!

  8. This looks delightful! Orange and chocolate just go together.

    I am loving your stories of travels in Italy~ Jerry and I do Traveling Tuesdays. It is always a fun way to share our Italy photos!!

  9. Dear Val, I had an exhausting day and came home utterly bedraggled only to find your wonderful, wonderful post. :-) I couldn't stop smiling look at your gorgeous photos and reading about your experiences. I am amazed at the fantastic weather you had and absolutely love the chocolate recipe. Yum!!!

  10. candied orange peel is surprisingly good! lovely treat, val!

  11. I don't often swoon but am swooning. What a lovely remembrance of Italy (I want to live in the photos). And saving this. Orange and chocolate will live happily ever after in my kitchen because of you.

  12. Gorgeous photos of a breath-taking place. I would happily devour this orange and hazelnut bark.

  13. I had my recent trip to Chianti and when I was in high school I did a tour if Italy for the major cities, but never went farther down the southern coast than Naples. This is an area of Italy I would love to explore (wonder if there are horseback tours down that way - must investigate). I do envy your beautiful trip!

    You have me longing for Italian food- especially the chocolate. There is a new market in my area that sells a lot of imported Italian candies. I should just make your bark instead though.

  14. Loving your photos, Val! The one of the market with all those oranges was fun and I so enjoyed the scenery. Beautiful.
    Your bark is such a perfect combo and better yet, you've used dark chocolate. The best!

  15. Thank you so much for stopping by my blog and leaving such a lovely comment. I am so glad you did because it led me back to your wonderful blog. This might be my first visit but certainly not my last. I don't know how you tore yourself away from that balcony.

  16. wow, these pictures are amazing! I'm ready to go! :)

  17. I have always wanted to go to Italy. Beautiful! The bark looks tasty too.

  18. I looked at all of your photos and rejoiced for you that you got to spend that much time at your dream destination. I'm sure those memories will last you a lifetime. Lovely recipe, Val. Welcome home.

  19. Love this post; bring the beauty back in our dreary world.Great combination of the chocolate and the orange.

  20. I showed my husband this post and say I want to go! He said put it on the list and I did (top).

  21. mandarin in bark, yes of course.
    heavenly combo.
    Good idea Val.
    Those photos should be real photos on the wall!

  22. Beautiful photos from one of my favorite places to visit-the view from your room was spectacular!
    Italy is always on my places to visit list- I never get tired of visiting;-) I'm a huge fan of hazelnuts so endless to say your bark looks over the top delicious to me!

  23. Oh Val - what a glorious trip you must have had!! I have wanted to go to the Amalfi Coast for the longest time and your photos have just tempted me some more (I'll skip the broken suitcases etc etc though LOL!) Chocolate and orange are just made for each other at Christmas time, aren't they? Great recipe!

  24. Nice photo! I think Italian pastries are the best, and of course one could say I am biased, but then again, aren't they? Just look at those sfogliatelle and cannoli! Happy Holidays, Val!

  25. This post is absolutely dreamy. I so want to go to Italy! Love the recipes too!


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