1. Using a citrus zester or potato peeler, pare the rind from two of the oranges in narrow strips without any white pith attached. If using a potato peeler, cut the peel into very thin julienne strips.
2. Put the strips into a small saucepan and barely cover with water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Drain the strips and reserve the water.
3. Cut away all the white pith and peel from the remaining oranges using a very sharp knife. Then cut horizontally into four slices. Reassemble the oranges and hold in place with wooden cocktail sticks. Stand in a heatproof dish.
4. Put the sugar and water into a heavy-based saucepan with the cloves, if using. Bring to the boil and simme gently until the sugar has dissolved, then boil hard without stirring until the syrup thickens and begins to colour. Continue to cook until a light golden brown, the quickly remove from the heat and carefully pour in the reserved orange rind liquid.
5. Place over a gentle heat until the caramel has fully dissolved again, then remove from the heat and add the liqueur or brandy. Pour over the oranges.
6. Sprinkle the orange strips over the oranges, cover with clingfilm (plastic wrap) and leave until cold. Chill for at least 3 hours and preferably for 24-48 hours before serving. If time allows, spoon the syrup over the oranges several times while they are marinating. Discard the cocktail stick before serving.