Fancy cocktail bars and beverage-focused social media accounts (looking at you, TikTok) put a great deal of time and attention into making cocktails that both taste great and look great. If you’re determined to craft a mixology-level libation at your own home bar, then it’s time to get comfortable with the idea of garnishing your drinks.
Garnishes can certainly be simple—a lime wedge here, a lemon slice there—but a slightly-more-special accent elevates your drink from a standard happy hour tipple to a genuine craft cocktail. One garnish that’s well-worth the extra effort is a dehydrated orange slice. Here’s how to prepare a stash in your own kitchen.
Start by slicing the oranges very thinly.
When slicing your oranges for dehydrating, make sure to keep the slices thin “so they’ll take less time to dehydrate,” advises Lydia Martin of Liquor Laboratory. Martin recommends using a sharp serrated knife or mandolin, both of which will give you control over the width of the slices.
Although the orange slices should be thin before dehydrating, Chris Bidmead of Bar Methods warns against slicing them too thin as that can cause the oranges to become too brittle or even to burn. He specifically recommends slicing the oranges to ⅛ of an inch, but also acknowledges that it might take a bit of trial and error to find the perfect orange slice size for your purposes. Don’t be afraid to play around with different thinness levels to find the one that works for you!
Next, soak the slices in simple syrup.
After the oranges are sliced, Oliver Sovol of Observatory 11 at The Westin New Orleans advises home drink-makers to soak them in simple syrup for a few hours to extract the oils. Reducing the oils in the orange slices helps them to dry out more effectively in the oven or dehydrator and also brings a level of sweetness to the finished product’s flavor.
If you don’t have time to soak the orange slices in simple syrup, Bidmead suggests tossing them in some granulated sugar. “Just a light dusting of sugar will mix with the natural juices in the oranges, giving them a glossy finish and a sweeter flavor when dehydrated.”
Let the orange slices dry out in a dehydrator or the oven.
Our experts generally agree that a dehydrator—an appliance used specifically to remove water from fruit, vegetables, and meat—is the ideal means of getting great dehydrated orange slices. But because dehydrators are expensive and aren’t a regular fixture in most home kitchens, we’re happy to report these garnishes can also be made in the oven.
If you’re going the dehydrator route, use a paper towel to dry the slices (especially if you’ve been soaking them in syrup!) then lay them down on the dehydrator tray with space between each slice. Bidmead suggests running them in the dehydrator at 145℉ for 18-24 hours or at 200℉ for 4-5 hours. Keep an eye on the color of the orange wheels: higher temperatures may caramelize some of the natural sugars in the orange and darken them, so if you notice your orange slices turning brown, then it’s time to lower the dehydrator temperature.
To make the wheels in the oven, preheat the oven to 200℉ and place your tray on the middle rack. Dry the slices with a paper towel, place them on a baking sheet, and let them bake for at least 2 hours and up to 6 hours, flipping them over every 30 minutes or so.
You’ll know that the dehydrated orange wheels are done when they break cleanly if bent in half. “If they bend or if the broken parts still have some moisture or softness, keep them going longer until they break when bent,” says Bidmead.
After removing all of the slices from the oven or dehydrator, allow them to cool to room temperature and store them in an airtight jar with a silica gel pack to help keep the moisture out. When they are dehydrated and stored properly, citrus wheels will keep for years!
Make a cocktail that’s well-served by a dried orange garnish.
Any cocktail with hints of citrus can be well-served by a dried orange garnish. In the opinion of bar manager Michael DeNicola of Harold’s Cabin in Charleston, South Carolina, sangria and mulled wine especially shine with a dried orange garnish. “By adding a dehydrated orange slice [to sangria], the garnish will take on the flavor and color of the wine to make for a yummy, boozy treat once the sangria has been enjoyed, all while mimicking the base-flavor profile of the orange itself,” says DeNicola. As for mulled wine, “I use the technique of adding spices like clove, allspice, and star anise to the orange slice while it's dehydrating to ultimately give the wine a boost of flavor once it is reintroduced to the beverage.”
Martin swears by skipping the lime wedge in a gin and tonic and adding a dehydrated orange slice instead: “It offers a sweet-and-citrusy taste to the classic concoction without the added liquid squeeze from the lime!” As for Bidmead, he likes to garnish his margaritas with dehydrated orange slices to help bring out the orange notes of the drink itself.