A man ought to carry himself in the world as an orange tree would if it could walk up and down in the garden, swinging perfume from every little censer it holds up to the air.
- Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887)
I so looked forward to winter. Everyone I meet oohs and ahhs over my great good luck of having grown up in Florida, having spent my childhood a mere five minutes walk from the beach, imagining me tanning lazily under the blazing sun. It would have been lucky and quite a happy childhood if I had loved the heat and the beach, swimming pools and surfing. But I didn’t. I waited impatiently through every hot Springtime, every steaming, humid Summer, every boiling Autumn for the kiss of Winter. The temperature would finally drop and that chilly December and January would come hand in hand with brilliant sunshine, a reprieve from both the stifling heat and the flash storms. Sunday mornings I would wake up to the divine smell of oatmeal simmering on the stove and, wrapped up in robe, feet tucked cozily in big fluffy slippers, I would fill a bowl, watch as a pat of butter would melt into a gorgeous puddle of gold, sprinkle on brown sugar, toss on a handful of raisins and I’d be in heaven. Winter meant Hanukkah, the streets lit up with gorgeous, gaily colored holiday lights and garish Christmas displays, yards dripping with sparkling crystal icicles frozen on sprinkler systems left on overnight, dark mornings dawning into brilliant afternoons. After 8 months straight of being stripped down to the bare minimum though never leaving the house without a sweater (always and forever armed against the violence of indoor air conditioning), burning car seats, sizzling sidewalks and the constant threat of hurricanes, it was joy to wake up in the morning faced with graceful, cool days, snuggly warm blankets and a month of Christmas specials on TV followed quickly by my birthday.
Winter also meant citrus fruit. We lived in the land of the Florida orange – and grapefruit and tangerine – the orchards happily lined up along the water’s edge just across the river, a short hop and a skip over the bridge and we were there. Sundays we would pile into the station wagon and head on over to pick our own, filling brown paper grocery bag after brown paper grocery bag with sunshine yellow grapefruits or perfect navels, their “bellybuttons” never failing to make us giggle, or golden juice oranges or, my absolute favorites, tangerines. As soon as we got back home, the bags would be unloaded from the back of the car and lined up along dad’s workbench in the garage, the Winter chill keeping them fresh until the bags emptied, one by one, and it was time to take yet another trip back across the bridge. Sometimes we would swing into one of the many gas stations that lined South Patrick Drive and pull up in front of one of the multitude of ramshackle wooden stalls dropped higgledy-piggledy in those gas station parking lots, stalls filled with locally grown tomatoes and watermelons all summer long and piled high with citrus come winter. We would then grab mesh bags of citrus and lug them over to the car where they too would end up on dad’s workbench.
The Indian River Orange is not to be mentioned in the same breath with ordinary oranges. It is a delicacy by itself, and which Spain need never attempt to rival.
- Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, 1890
And eating fruit was never simpler! Although my mom had her share of Florida Citrus Growers pamphlets chock full of gourmet recipes using, well, Florida Citrus, recipes such as Chalet Orange Soufflé, English Muffins L’Orange, Baked Snapper Citrus, Breast of Chicken Tropical and Chicken, Island Style, oranges and grapefruits chez moi were best, and usually eaten as is, pulled off the tree and peeled, each sweet, tangy section popped straight into the mouth. The fanciest we may have gotten would be to place a tiny, glistening and shockingly red maraschino cherry daintily in the center of half a grapefruit which would then be quite simply dusted with sugar, the sections sliced out with our wonderful double-serrated, gently curved grapefruit knife and served as first course. Oranges and tangerines were meant to be grabbed by the handful on the way in through the garage after school and eaten, one, two, three, in front of the TV, fingers sticky, juice dribbling down arms and chins.
Lemons may have been made into pies piled high with meringue, but only at restaurants. Or squeezed onto crab legs, rock shrimp or lobster on one of our family outings to Peg Leg’s or The Lobster Shanty. Slices of fresh tangerine or mandarine orange from a can may very well have been found nestled in colorful jello molds in garish reds, yellows, greens and oranges, sitting patiently alongside mini marshmallows and tiny jewel-like pineapple chunks, or folded delicately into strawberry-tinted whipped topping, but those very-Sixties dishes were never for me. No sir! I was a eat-‘em-fresh kind of girl and I still am. Peel ‘em or slice ‘em but give ‘em to me raw! And though the oranges and clementines now come from Spain, I still wait expectantly for Winter to draw near so I can fill my basket with these beauties and carry them home happily from the market and spend all winter eating them one after the other. Grapefruits still come with that familiar Indian River sticker on the bright yellow, dimpled skin and, armed with my good old Florida grapefruit knife, I still eat them simply halved and dusted with sugar.
Now Jamie, you may say, we can ignore the baking and cooking you’ve done with lemons, the pudding and tart, the cake, the risotto and the chicken, but you have made orange cake and orange dressing for salads. So you do sometimes cook with oranges. Come on, ‘fess up! Well, yes, but this is all something new. And sometimes it is just imposed. Take the Daring Bakers. The dessert chosen for each month’s challenge is always a surprise and this month’s was no different. The 2010 March Daring Baker’s challenge was hosted by Jennifer of Chocolate Shavings. She chose Orange Tian as the challenge for this month, a dessert based on a recipe from Alain Ducasse’s Cooking School in Paris. I was actually pleasantly surprised. Fresh orange slices drenched in orange syrup and placed lovingly atop a froth of whipped cream, a layer of homemade orange marmalade and all atop a cookie crust. With the fresh oranges calling my name, no problem with whipped cream or tangy, slightly bitter marmalade and, dreaming of the wonderful combination of orange and chocolate making my pâte sablée flavored with a dash of cocoa powder, this Orange Tian turned out a dream! JP declared it not only scrumptious but “restaurant quality”.
An orange grown in Florida usually has a thin and tightly fitting skin, and it is also heavy with juice. Californians say that if you want to eat a Florida orange you have to get into a bathtub first….In Florida, it is said that you can run over a California orange with a ten-ton truck and not even wet the pavement.
- John McPhee in The New Yorker, May 7, 1966
Citrus season, that lovely, graceful Florida season sandwiched somewhere between the last of the summer’s peaches and the best of Florida’s sugar sweet, ruby red u-pick-‘em strawberries, the season of gentle charm and clear skies. A simple town in a simple era, far from the flamboyant, luxurious lifestyle found a day’s drive further down the coast as different as a foreign land, we found our joy in running barefoot and shooting baskets, playing ball in the street and board games indoors. Bundled up in sweaters, meandering through the orange groves, picking the ripe fruit right off the branches or visiting one of the many orchard shops lined up and down the main stretch of road through Old Florida where we were allowed to pick up a box of chocolate-dipped coconut patties along with the sacks of oranges, these were the pleasures, the magic of my childhood. I hold an orange in my hand and caress the smooth skin, breath in the sharp fragrance, the scent of my youth. I press my thumb deep into the skin in one quick movement, trying to avoid the joyous spurt of juice that hits my face and pull off the skin to reveal the beautiful, voluptuous, delectable orange. I bite into that first segment and I’m home again.
I know that the season will soon come to an end and with the last of the oranges piled high in that market stall, as I say good-bye to the last of this season’s citrus I’ll be one season further away from my childhood, the magic slipping out of my fingers so bittersweet.
¼ cup + 3 Tbs (100 ml) freshly squeezed orange juice
1 large juice orange for the orange slices (I used a blood orange)
Cold water to cook the orange slices
1 tsp (5 g) pectin *
granulated sugar: use the equivalent weight of the cooked orange slices
* if you don’t have pectin, simply save seeds from citrus fruit: oranges, lemons, grapefruit, and wrap them in muslin or, as I did, a very clean stocking foot, and immerse in the cooking marmalade.
Finely slice the orange (without peeling it!). Place the orange slices in a medium-sized pot filled with cold water. Simmer for about 10 minutes (this is blanching), discard the water, refill with cold water and blanch the oranges for another 10 minutes. Replace the water one more time and blanch the orange slices a third time. This process removes the bitterness from the orange peel, so it is essential to use a new batch of cold water every time when you blanch the slices. Once blanched 3 times, drain the slices and put aside to cool to room temperature.
Once cool enough to handle, finely mince the blanched orange slices either by hand or in a food processor. Weigh the slices and then measure out the same weight of granulated sugar. If you do not have a kitchen scale, simply place the minced orange in a measuring cup and use the same amount of sugar.
Place the minced orange and the sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the orange juice and the pectin of the small bundle of seeds. Cook gently until the mixture reaches a jam consistency, about 10 to 15 minutes, stirring.
Place in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap or place in a clean jelly jar (it makes about a cup of marmalade) and refrigerate until assembling the dessert. I prepared the marmalade a day in advance with the cookie dough.
CHOCOLATE PÂTE SABLÉE
2 egg yolks, room temperature
6 Tbs + 1 tsp (80 g) sugar
½ tsp vanilla
7 Tbs (100 g) unsalted butter, more or less chilled as it works better for you
1/3 tsp salt
1 ½ cups + 2 Tbs (200 g) flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 Tbs cocoa powder
Put the flour, baking powder, cocoa powder and salt in a bowl. Rub in the cubed butter until there are no more lumps of butter and the mixture is like sand.
Beat the eggs yolks, vanilla extract and sugar in a separate bowl with a whisk until the mixture is pale. Pour the egg mixture in over the dry ingredients.
Stir vigorously with a fork until the dough just comes together. If you find that the dough is still a little too crumbly to come together, add a couple drops of water and process again to form a homogenous ball of dough. Form into a disc, cover with plastic wrap and leave to rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
Preheat your oven to 350°F (170°C).
Roll out the dough onto a lightly floured surface until you obtain a ¼ inch thick circle.
Using a round cookie cutter or your metal ring mold (if you are using ring molds to build the Tian), cut out circles of dough and place on a parchment (or silicone) lined baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes or until the circles of dough are just set and baked. Remove from the oven and gently slide off of the baking sheet to cool on cooling racks.
This can be done the day before assembling the dessert. Simply store the cookies under foil ot in a metal tin.
You will need 6 – 8 oranges, depending on how many desserts you want to make. I made 6 and used a bit extra whipped cream in each individual Tian and found it ideal.
Cut the oranges into segments over a shallow bowl * and make sure to keep the juice. Add the segments to the bowl with the juice.
* Slice the two ends off of each orange until you have a flat surface and no white pith covering the fruit. Sit the orange flat on your work surface on one now-flat end. Using a very sharp knife, carefully slice down and around the fruit of the orange just underneath the white. Turn the orange and, following the white pith, continue uncovering the membrane-free fruit. Once you have a totally naked orange, hold the orange firmly in the palm of one hand over a bowl (to catch the juice and the slices,) and carefully slice out each section just inside the membranes.
1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar
1 ½ cups + 2 Tbs (400 ml) freshly squeezed orange juice
Place the sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat and begin warming it.
Once the sugar starts to foam and bubble around the edges, slowly add the orange juice. If the sugar starts to re-solidify, don’t worry, as the juice heats it will re-melt. Stir as needed. As soon as the mixture begins to boil and all of the sugar is melted, remove the syrup from the heat and pour half over the orange segments in the bowl.
Reserve the other half of the syrup to make a caramel to be spooned over the finished Tian before serving.
WHIPPED CREAM (Stabilized)
1 cup (250 ml) heavy whipping cream
3 Tbs hot water
1 tsp powdered gelatin
1 Tbs confectioner’s (powdered) sugar
1 Tbs of your Orange Marmalade
Place a glass mixing bowl and clean beaters in the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes before making the Whipped Cream. The cream should also be very cold.
Place the gelatin with the hot water in a small bowl and allow to sit for 5 minutes to soften the gelatin. Place over very low heat and, stirring, heat just enough to dissolve all of the gelatin.
Whip the cold cream in the cold bowl with the cold beaters on low to medium speed until thickened and soft peaks start to form. Add the confectioner’s sugar and continue beating on medium-high speed until the beaters leave visible trails in the cream. Slowly add the cooled gelatin while continuing to beat. Beat until the cream is whipped light and fluffy.
Fold in the tablespoon of marmalade.
Assemble the Orange Tian:
Make sure you have room in your freezer for a flat baking sheet. Have your 6 or 8 individual ring molds ready. Line the baking tray with a sheet of parchment paper and then cut or rip out small squares of parchment so each Tian is sitting on a separate square. This simply makes it much easier to turn them out onto dessert plates when serving.
Using your ring molds, place each mold on a cookie round and trim excess cookie using a serrated knife. The cookie circle should fit inside a ring.
Spoon the Orange Segments out of the syrup/juice using a slotted spoon and dry on paper towels or a kitchen towel.
Place a ring mold on each square of parchment on your parchment-lined baking sheet. Arrange the Orange Segments carefully (and decoratively if possible) inside the ring molds on the bottom. Make sure the segments touch or overlap, leaving no gaps. Don’t forget that they will end up being the top of the dessert.
Divide the Whipped Cream among the rings, spooning a couple of spoonfuls on top of the Orange Segments but leaving about ¼ inch at the top for the cookie base.
Spread about a tablespoon of the Orange Marmalade on each cookie circle and then carefully, marmalade side down towards the Whipped Cream, fit the cookie round inside the ring mold on top of the Whipped Cream.
Place the tray of Tians in the freezer to set for 10 minutes. If not eating them right away, remove them from the freezer and keep them in the refrigerator.
Have one dessert plate ready for each Tian.
Place the leftover syrup in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and allow to gently simmer until it turns a deeper golden color and thickens a bit.
Remove the Tian from the refrigerator and slide a wide spatula under the individual square of parchment paper under the first Tian. Place a dessert plate over the Tian (cookie side) and carefully flip the whole thing so the cookie is now down on the upturned plate. Pull off the parchment square. Slide a sharp knife down inside along and around the Tian along the side of the ring to loosen. Gently lift off the ring. If you need to, carefully stick the sharp knife cleanly straight down through the center of the Tian to press the cookie down onto the plate as you lift off the ring.
Spoon Caramel over the Tian and decorate with grated chocolate or chocolate curls in the center on top of the Tian.