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Addition of Florida citrus to baked goods, salads and more is a Christmas delight

We have a Christmas morning tradition in our home that requires a juicer and a step ladder.

This time of year, the backyard Honeybell tangelo tree is laden with fruit that provides the juice for our Christmas breakfast. (We save the ruby reds for New Year's Day grapefruit bellinis.) Yes, there are special holiday glasses and even a matching pitcher in which to store the lush nectar. This year's crop is a bit paltry compared to last, and the lack of a cold snap just might affect sweetness, but nevertheless, I'll be comforted by the electric whir of the old juicer on Christmas Eve. That's my husband's job.

More and more, I've been noodling with ways to incorporate citrus into a variety of dishes that go beyond the eye-opening morning drink. From baked goods to glazes to salads, I've found some lovely recipes that celebrate citrus season and are also perfect for the holiday table.

There are a multitude of ways to use backyard or store-bought citrus that don't require cooking, plus you could drop one or two perfect specimens into a Christmas stocking. That's an old-school tradition but one that gives a nod to Florida agriculture. In colder climates, a delivery of Florida oranges during a dreary winter is certainly a bright spot, even though the days are gone when summer fruits were scarce in December. Global imports provide blueberries and strawberries year-round.

But back to citrus, the tropical ambassador to the world.

The sweet-tart taste of citrus, especially oranges, is an amiable companion with many ingredients. Key lime juice is great in marinades for pork, lemon is perfect with seafood and grapefruit and orange enhance beef. The fruits' acids tenderize meat while injecting flavor. Citrus juice can be used in place of vinegar for salad dressings and the combination is especially tasty on salads of greens and fruits.

It seems that the biggest flavor punch comes from the zest of the fruit, where essential oils are found. Make sure to peel off the color and leave the bitter white pith behind. Add zest to muffin and quick bread batters and cookie dough, or whip into softened butter, goat or cream cheese to use as a spread. Even pancake and waffle batters get a boost from zest.

Of the recipes I've gathered for today's story, the Sticky Coconut-Orange Ring is the showstopper. Serve this on Christmas morning and they might just forget that you "forgot" to buy them iPhones. Shredded coconut, sugar and lots of orange zest — I use plump store-bought navels — are rolled up in flattened wedges of the dough before baking. To double the citrus power, a glaze that includes sour cream, orange juice, sugar and butter is draped on the just-out-of-the oven ring. More coconut and a few shaves of orange zest garnish the heavenly scented sweet bread.

I make no apologies for encouraging you to make yeast rolls from scratch, nor will I tell you that you can toss this baked delight together in minutes. It will take time, but the effort is more than worth it. You could experiment with refrigerated crescent rolls, which will be just fine if you've never tasted the real deal.

To ensure success, read the recipe through a couple of times. Also, make sure the expiration date on your yeast package isn't too near (stale yeast doesn't give dough a good rise) and heed the warnings not to let the liquids get too hot, which will kill the rising power of the yeast. You can also prepare the recipe halfway through the day before, let it rise one last time on Christmas morning and then bake so that you can serve it warm. (The recipe includes make-ahead instructions.) The delicious aroma of the orange will fill the house.

Cranberry-Orange Loaf Cake With Apricot Goat Cheese calls for fresh cranberries and the surprising addition of chopped dried apricot in the batter. Tangy goat cheese spread on the bread is a savory counterpoint to the bread's sweetness. I added more chopped apricot to the softened cheese, and you could even add more zest. A drizzle of honey puts it over the top. A cup of tea or a latte from your new coffeemaker is a comforting accompaniment.

Orange French Toast gets a double dose of citrus from juice in the coating liquid and its addition in the syrup. You can use French or Italian bread but I like challah, the braided Jewish egg bread. I find it in the bakeries of most Publix stores. The soft crumb lends itself to a lighter French toast.

For Christmas dinner, consider Winter Citrus Salad With Honey Tarragon Vinaigrette, a melange of tangerine, grapefruit and orange slices. The photo with this story shows how you might assemble it for a single serving. Another nice presentation is to layer the fruit on a platter and let diners take as many or as few slices as they want.

The trick with this recipe is to peel the citrus with a knife so that you get the most out of the fruit's brilliant color. If you peel the fruit by hand, you'll leave the thin white membrane, which is fine to eat but doesn't look pretty. For this recipe, cut a thin disc from the top and bottom of the fruit, which allows it to sit squarely on a cutting board plus allows you to see where the flesh starts. Using a sharp knife, cut away the peel and membrane, going from top to bottom in strips. Then slice the fruit in wheels.

Red onion is a traditional accompaniment with citrus, adding bite and texture. This time of year, I like to scatter pomegranate seeds over the salad instead. Fresh tarragon is more refreshing and flavorful in this salad than dried, though the recipe calls for either.

Last, consider the simple recipe for Orange Dijon Glaze for your spiral ham. It's sweet-tart thanks to a glaze of brown sugar, orange juice, orange marmalade and a healthy dose of Dijon mustard, and it's simple to put together.

Florida citrus and Christmas are a natural pairing. Tis the season to get juiced.

Janet K. Keeler can be reached at jkeeler@tampabay.com or (727) 821-3161.

>>MODERATE

Cranberry-Orange Loaf Cake
With Apricot Goat Cheese

Butter or spray for greasing loaf pan

1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

½ cup sugar

2 cups all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon ground cardamom (or cinnamon or allspice)

¼ teaspoon ground mace (or nutmeg or cloves)

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup chopped dried apricots

¾ cup fresh orange juice, strained

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 egg, beaten

1 cup fresh cranberries, coarsely chopped

Fine zest of ½ orange

For apricot goat cheese spread:

½ cup soft goat cheese

2 to 3 tablespoons finely chopped dried apricots

Honey for drizzle (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9?½- by 5-inch loaf pan. (If using spray, do this right before adding batter.)

In a large bowl, combine the sugars, flour, cardamom, mace, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir in the dried apricots. Pour in the orange juice and oil and stir just to moisten. Stir in the egg, cranberries and orange zest just until blended.

Spoon into the prepared loaf pan and bake for 45 to 50 minutes or until the loaf is golden brown on top, pulls away slightly from the edges and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool for 15 to 20 minutes then remove from the pan and put on the rack to cool completely. Once cool, it can be sliced and served or wrapped in plastic to store overnight. If kept longer than overnight, store in the refrigerator, where it will keep for several days.

To make apricot goat cheese, mix softened cheese with chopped dried apricots.

Serves 10 to 12.

Source: Adapted from Allrecipes.com

>>EASY

Orange French Toast

¼ cup sour cream or plain yogurt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 tablespoons honey, preferably orange blossom

2 large eggs

1 ¼ cups freshly squeezed orange juice

1 loaf French bread, challah or Italian bread, 2 to 3 days old, sliced ½ inch thick

Unsalted butter for cooking

Orange-maple syrup:

1 cup maple syrup

¼ cup freshly squeezed orange juice

In a small bowl, whisk the sour cream or yogurt with the cinnamon and honey. Add the eggs and beat until smooth. Gradually beat in the orange juice and continue to whisk until well combined and frothy.

Dip the bread slices into the mixture a few at a time, soaking them thoroughly, but not so much that they fall apart.

Melt about 3 to 4 tablespoons of butter in a skillet over medium-high heat and saute the slices until golden brown on each side. Do no crowd the slices in the pan. Add more butter as needed.

While toast is cooking, make the syrup. In a small saucepan over low heat, combine the ingredients, stirring often until heated.

Serve French toast immediately with warm syrup or honey or hold briefly in a warm oven until all slices are done.

Serves 4.

Source: Citrus by Ford Rogers (Simon & Schuster, 1992)

>>EASY

Winter Citrus Salad
With Honey Tarragon Vinaigrette

2 blood oranges or tangerines

1 pink grapefruit

1 navel orange

Salt

½ small red onion or 1 shallot, chopped (see note)

For dressing:

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar (see note)

½ teaspoon honey

Lime or lemon juice to taste

¼ teaspoon freshly chopped tarragon or a pinch dried.

Peel citrus, removing as much pith as possible, and slice into wheels. Remove any pits, layer fruit on a serving dish, sprinkle with salt and garnish with chopped onion.

Whisk together olive oil, vinegar, honey, lime juice and tarragon until well combined; taste, adjust seasoning as needed and drizzle over salad.

Serves 4.

Note: If you don't have sherry vinegar and won't use it again, substitute 2 teaspoons of white wine vinegar and 1 teaspoon of port or Madeira. Or you can use all white wine vinegar. For a festive holiday touch, substitute pomegranate seeds for onion. You'll get plenty of crunch and more sweetness.

Serves 4.

Source: Mark Bittman, New York Times

>>MODERATE

Sticky Coconut-Orange Rings

While the techniques are not difficult for these homemade
yeast rings, the process does require time. Read the recipe through first to make sure you've got the time and patience
to prepare it.

For yeast dough:

¼ cup warm water (105 degrees to 115 degrees)

1 tablespoon dry yeast (about ½ a standard packet)

3 teaspoons sugar, divided

1 cup milk

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for greasing baking dishes

½ teaspoon salt

3 to 3 ½ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading

2 teaspoons vegetable oil

For filling:

1 cup sugar

½ cup flaked sweetened coconut

Zest of 1 orange

For glaze:

¼ cup sugar

¼ cup sour cream

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

To make the dough, combine water, yeast and 1 teaspoon sugar in a small bowl; stir to combine. Let stand in a warm place until small bubbles form on the surface, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat milk, butter, salt and remaining 2 teaspoons of sugar in a small saucepan over very low heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until sugar has dissolved and butter has melted. Do not let the mixture become hotter than 115 degrees or it will kill the yeast. Remove from heat and pour into a large bowl; add the yeast mixture. Stir until combined. Add 3 cups flour and stir until mixture forms a soft dough. It may be necessary to add the remaining ½ cup flour.

Transfer mixture to a lightly floured work surface and knead until the dough is smooth, 5 to 8 minutes.

Lightly oil a large bowl, and place dough in bowl. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, 30 to 45 minutes. (At this point, dough may be stored, tightly covered, in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.) Allow dough to reach room temperature before proceeding with the recipe.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter two 9-inch round glass baking dishes; set aside.

In a small bowl, combine sugar, coconut and orange zest; set aside.

Divide dough in half. Using a rolling pin, roll half of dough into a 12-inch round, about ½ inch thick. Brush with melted butter. Sprinkle ½ of sugar-coconut-zest mixture evenly over dough. Cut into 12 equally sized pie-shaped wedges. Beginning at the wide end of the wedge, roll up wedges. (Think crescent roll.) Arrange wedges in a circle pattern, pointed end side down, in prepared baking dish. Cover with a clean kitchen towel, and let rise until doubled in size, about 30 minutes. Repeat with remaining dough and filling to make second ring.

Bake in a 350-degree oven until golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes.

While rings are baking, make glaze by combining sugar, sour cream, orange juice and butter in a medium saucepan. Cook, stirring, over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat to high, and bring mixture to a boil. Cook, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes more. Let cool slightly and it will thicken.

Drizzle glaze over baked rings. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Make ahead: Can be made the day before through the point of placing rolls into baking pan. Cover and refrigerate. Let sit loosely covered on counter or warm place for 60 minutes before baking.

Makes 2 rings (12 rolls in each ring).

Source: Marthastewart.com.

>>EASY

Orange Glazed Spiral Ham

1 fully cooked spiral-cut ham (about 8 pounds)

1 cup brown sugar

¼ cup orange juice

1 (12-ounce) jar orange marmalade

¼ cup Dijon mustard

Sliced orange to garnish

Heat oven to 375 degrees.

Place ham, cut side down, on a rack in large roasting pan. Pour 2 cups of water into roasting pan. Cover ham with aluminum foil.

Heat for 1 hour and 30 minutes.

While ham is heating, whisk together brown sugar, orange juice, marmalade and mustard. Set aside.

Remove foil and brush ham liberally with about ¾ cup of the orange glaze. Heat uncovered for 30 minutes or until ham is nicely colored and internal temperature registers 140 degrees on an instant-read thermometer.

Let ham stand 10 minutes before serving. Serve with remaining glaze on the side. Garnish with orange slices, if desired.

Serves 15 to 20.

Source: Family Circle

>>EASY

Grapefruit Bellini

½ cup grapefruit juice

½ cup frozen peaches, thawed

2 tablespoons honey

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

Pinch of cinnamon

4 ounces Champagne, prosecco or sparkling wine

2 thinly sliced grapefruit segments, for garnish

In a blender or food processor, combine the grapefruit juice, peaches, honey, nutmeg and cinnamon. Pulse until well blended.

Pour 2 ounces of Champagne into each glass. Add half grapefruit mixture. Top the glass with the grapefruit segment.

Makes 2 bellinis.

Source: Skinnychef.com

>>MODERATE

Citrus Pound Cake

2 cups sifted cake flour (not self-rising; sift before measuring)

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup granulated sugar

1 tablespoon grated orange zest

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

2 sticks (1/2 pound) unsalted butter, softened

4 large eggs, at room temperature 30 minutes

2 teaspoons fresh orange juice

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Confectioners' sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 325 degrees with rack in middle. Grease an 8?1/2- by 4? 1/2-inch loaf pan.

Sift together flour, baking powder and salt.

Mix together sugar and zests with an electric mixer at low speed until sugar is evenly colored, then add butter and beat at high speed until pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes.

Beat in eggs 1 at a time at medium speed, scraping down side of bowl frequently, then beat in juices and vanilla. At low speed, mix in flour mixture until just incorporated.

Spread batter in loaf pan and rap pan several times on counter to eliminate air bubbles. Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean, 1 to 1?1/4 hours. Cool in pan on a rack 30 minutes, then run a knife around edge of pan and invert cake onto rack. Cool completely, top side up.

Note: Cake improves in flavor if made at least 1 day ahead and can be made 5 days ahead and kept, wrapped tightly, at room temperature.

Serves at least 12.

Source: Epicurious.com

Addition of Florida citrus to baked goods, salads and more is a Christmas delight 12/20/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 21, 2011 7:05am]

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