Zingy

Valerie Confections' hazelnut-orange tea cakes. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Lemon-myrtle, lavender-Earl Grey, hazelnut-orange -- the selection of tea cakes from Valerie Confections screams spring.

Assistant Food editor Betty Hallock is a fan: "They're moist, dense and not too sweet -- and not overly precious either," she says. "The hazelnut-orange tea cakes are rich with nutty flavor and bright with candied orange peel. And that citrusy-crackly-zingy glaze is, well, the icing on the cake."

In the batter, Valerie uses candied Seville orange peel from junetaylorjams.com. You also can make candied orange peel; included below is a recipe from test kitchen director Donna Deane. If you're also making your own hazelnut paste, the recipe requires some advance prep. But these amazing little cakes are worth the time and effort -- and you'll have plenty of them for a party.

Valerie's hazelnut-orange tea cakes

Total time:
1 hour, 10 minutes plus cooling time (not including time for the hazelnut paste and candied orange peel, which requires overnight drying)

Servings: 36 cakes

Note: Adapted from a recipe by Valerie Gordon of Valerie Confections. You can use purchased hazelnut paste (available at www.lepicerie.com and www.bernardcallebaut.com) and good-quality candied orange peel. This recipe calls for 2 1/4 -inch cannelé or 2-inch baba molds (silicone or metal). Cannelé molds are available at Sur La Table stores, Surfas in Culver City and at www.cheftools.com, www.cooking.com and www.amazon.com. Baba molds are available at Sur La Table stores and at www.cooking.com and www.amazon.com.

Hazelnut paste8 ounces roasted hazelnuts, coarsely chopped

2 1/2 tablespoons egg whites (from about 2 eggs)

1 cup powdered sugar

1 teaspoon hazelnut liqueur

In a food processor or blender, finely grind the nuts until mealy (in batches, if necessary). Add the egg whites, powdered sugar and liqueur and blend until fully combined and a paste forms. Remove the paste and store, tightly wrapped in plastic, in the refrigerator. It will keep for up to 2 weeks. Makes 13 ounces.

Candied orange peel

2 California navel oranges

4 cups sugar

1. Bring three 3-quart pots of water to a boil. Use a small knife to score the oranges into quarters (cut through the peel and pith but not through the fruit). Remove the peel; set aside the fruit for another use.

2. Add the peel to the first pot of water and simmer 2 minutes and then drain. Repeat two more times in a new pot of boiling water.

3. Drain the blanched peel on paper towels and pat dry. When cool enough to handle, cut the ends off each piece of peel so that you have straight edges, then cut it crosswise into quarter-inch strips.

4. In a large pot, combine 4 cups sugar and 4 cups water. Bring to a boil and simmer 5 minutes, until clear. Add the cut-up peel to the simple syrup and simmer gently 2 hours until the fruit looks translucent. As the peel is simmering, skim off any foam from the syrup.