Saturday, March 27, 2010

March Daring Bakers: Meyer Lemon-Honey Tangerine Tian

After prolonged contemplation, admiration, and prodding, I joined the daring baker’s monthly challenge. I reassured myself that I could handle whatever was submitted. After all, some of the challenges had been items I had already made on my own. No problem, right? In spite of this, I waited. I was concerned about some recipes involving a lot of time. As a result of Mel asking regularly if I’d signed up yet, I eventually registered.

I was really excited about the release of the first challenge. After reading the first few lines, my heart sank. 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.

Oranges? I like orange juice but not oranges. What’s a tian? A tian is a layered concoction that originated in France. It commonly appears to be prepared with vegetables but this challenge was to prepare a citrus dessert version. The base is a sort of a flat tart pastry called a Pate Sablee. The tartlike pastry is covered with a layer of homemade marmalade. A thick layer of whipped cream flavored with a hint of marmalade rests on top of the marmalade lined pastry. The finale is a layer of segmented citrus resting above the whipped cream. As I read further I panicked… Five required steps that took how long? How was I going to get this done and who did I know that would help me eat it? I thought maybe I’d skip it but I hated the idea of skipping the very first one. Who knew what would come next? Surely there were other options. Surely there was a way to prepare the challenge with something I thought I would like. As things turned out, reading the rest of the challenge did relax me a bit. I could use any citrus. Ok, great. I like most other citrus. The problem of all the steps could only be handled by starting a week before time to accommodate my schedule. I decided to prepare this as a dessert for the upcoming monthly cooking night.

March’s cooking night was an animated movie themed potluck. (Details will be posted in another entry.) Everyone was to bring a dish that was tied to an animated movie. This could be as clear as spaghetti and meatballs from Lady and the Tramp to chicken satay as a spin for roasted swamp rat from Shrek. I decided that since the baking challenge was a French dessert, it could be justified amongst the ambiguous desserts in Beauty and the Beast. Since everyone was supposed to prepare themed foods, there was no need to suspect that the tian also was a submission for the Daring Baker’s challenge.

I had a personal deadline set for preparing the tian but still had to decide what fruit to use. I like lemons, limes, and grapefruits but was concerned that the lemon and lime would be too tart for the topping of citrus segments. I wasn’t sure how many of my friends would eat tart grapefruit either. Although I peel and eat them, most people I know apply a fair quantity of sugar. In terms of appealing to a crowd, I realized grapefruit might not be a most popular preference. I’d heard about Meyer lemons from several sources but had never tried one. I checked a couple of local grocery stores and when I found out they were just coming into season, I switched to calling produce vendors. I eventually found them at Fresh Market (an organic grocery similar to Whole Foods but more slightly less expensive). Since I hadn’t had Meyer lemons before and I knew they were a bit on the expensive end (especially for a graduate student budget), I decided to pair them with another citrus that was sweeter and less costly. After checking out the citrus selection, I decided honey tangerines would be a good complement.

I started with preparation of the marmalade because I was most anxious about it turning out well. (I had made caramel, whipped cream, and pate sable (the tart like pastry) in the past and felt confident about them.) After some searching online, I found a recipe for Meyer lemon marmalade on Tea and Cookies. I substituted two honey tangerines for the two oranges. I soaked the sliced fruit in water for 10 -12 hours (while I was in the lab) then returned to finish the marmalade. I followed the rest of the details to every particular. However, the marmalade failed to set. I was thankful that I started a week in advance. The next night, I opened two of the four jars of liquidy “marmalade” and boiled them an additional 20 minutes. After cooling, the marmalade had become desirably viscous and the perfect marmalade consistency! Yay! I decided the rest could be boiled down later. I think I’ll reduce the boiling time for the rest to 10 minutes to have a texture closer to jam.

Sliced Meyer Lemon for Marmalade

Marmadlade Completed...Finally!

The next steps were prepared the night before serving. I started with segmenting the tangerines and Meyer lemons. The recipe called for 8 oranges. I used 4 Meyer lemons and 5 honey tangerines to make sure there was enough fruit. I learned that tangerines are relatively easy to segment in comparison to Meyer lemons. This is mainly due to the juiciness of the lemons and their small segment size. I sliced the ends off each fruit and cut along the sides leaving no white tissue. Then I sliced out the segments by making cuts to the side of every white line. It worked best when I waited to remove the segments until the whole fruit had been sliced. I prepared the Pate Sablee from the recipe posted on the Daring Baker’s challenge. I put together the dough, shaped it into a ball, and flatted the ball into a round disk. While the disk was chilling in the refrigerator, I prepared the caramel sauce. I used the Daring Baker’s suggested recipe for this as well. I poured half of the caramel sauce over the segmented fruit and placed the fruit and remaining caramel sauce in the fridge. By this point, I was tired. I decided to get up early to finish the Pate Sablee so that I would only need to prepare the whipped cream, arrange, and chill the dessert in the time between leaving the lab and going to the potluck.

The next morning, I rolled the Pate Sablee into a ¼ inch disk. Using the ring from my spring form pan as a cookie cutter, I cut out a ring of dough. I placed the dough in the spring form pan to bake. I removed the pastry when cooled.

Pate Sablee

When I returned late that afternoon, I prepared the whipping cream as directed. I folded in the gelatin, powdered sugar, and marmalade. I felt the whipped cream could’ve been sweeter and had more marmalade but decided that was a change I could try if I made it again. I was in a time crunch and didn’t have much time left to play. I placed the cream in the fridge and drained the citrus segments. I carefully arranged the segments into the base of the 9” spring form pan. Since I had two colors of fruit, I decided to make a star pattern. I added the whipping cream layer. Next, I spread marmalade over the Pate Sablee and inverted it onto the whipped cream. The spring form pan was placed into the freezer and I turned to cleanup the kitchen. I had 20 minutes to clean up, chill the dessert, change, and drive to my friend Capt. Mike’s (who had graciously offered to host the potluck in his spacious house). I was glad the dessert had extra time in the freezer and hoped it would be long enough for it to stay cold during the 20 minute drive.

Assembly: Citrus Arrangement

Whipped Cream Added

Pastry with Marmalade

Upon arrival at Mike’s, I slid the tian in the fridge and hope for the best. When we were ready for desserts, I slide a plastic knife around the edge of the dessert to help the release. It was a little soft but was holding together. Whew. I inverted it and it looked great. I was surprised that the whipped cream layer wasn’t thicker. I made a mental note that if I made if again, perhaps I’d double or at least make 1.5 times the whipped cream. I also thought that more than a single layer of fruit would be nice but frankly the amount called for was all the citrus I cared to segment. It would be easy to have more fruit with strawberries though. I had to force my mind back to the dessert before me. I poured the caramel sauce and started slicing. Due to the travel time, the slices were a little softer than I ideally pictured but they still looked good.

Tian before Caramel

Tian with Caramel

Slice of Tian

Tasting: After all that work, I couldn’t rave over it but I did like it. The sweet/tart combination was a winner. Some friends had no comment but the comments I got were good. Jon and Mike both really liked it a lot. Since they have pretty different tastes and both were happy, I was both surprised and please. Ruthann also liked hers and was vying for another piece after others had their opportunity. Awesome!

Final Analysis: Overall, I think this involved a bit more time than I anticipated but it was good. It definitely qualifies as too much work for something other than a special occasion but I think I’d make it again in the summer with strawberries. I made strawberry jam last summer that was excellent and I think between using strawberries and jam I’ve already prepared, the time will be significantly reduced. I think the orange caramel sauce (and I love caramel) was only ok. I wasn’t its biggest fan. If I prepared a strawberry version, I think I’d food process some strawberries and cook them briefly with sugar to make a syrup glaze for the top OR make a simple sugar glaze to soak the strawberries and glaze the dessert. I’m glad I completed the challenge and I’m looking forward to the next one…and to making the tian with strawberries this summer. Thanks for introducing me to something new!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Double Take: The Grinder

I recently tried a surprisingly delicious fig cake. (I was surprised b/c I normally dislike fresh and cooked figs.) The story behind the fig cake preparation was interesting. The baker began a challenge with her mom several years ago to cook through all the recipes in a cookbook together. After telling Mel about the cake and its story, she that it was a neat story and concluded that perhaps we should pick a cookbook to cook through together. Rather than one or the other of us preparing a recipe, she proposed we should cook the dish the same day (if possible) and compare the results. As a result, both our blogs will be featuring regular “double takes” on recipes from the New Ultimate Southern Living Cookbook.

The first recipe “The Grinder” was selected by Bender (Mel’s husband). Basically, it’s a toasty, cheesy, flavorful ham sandwich. Picture it. A French baguette sliced longways and layered with ham, tomatoes, bell peppers lightly cooked with garlic and onion salt, olive oil, oregano, freshly ground black pepper, and mozzarella cheese. The sandwich was baked in the oven to allow the flavors to meld.

1/6 of the Grinder sandwich


The sandwich was a little overly toasty for my and my cotaster’s (Ruthann) preferences even though we removed the sandwich prior to the specified time. We agreed that the inside was good with its soft texture, stringy cheese, and well blended flavors. As far as ham sandwiches go, this is probably one of the better ones I’ve had.

Regarding the recipe, I found the prep time overly optimistic. Assembly went smoothly but during baking, the melting cheese contributing to sliding sandwich top and filler. To prevent shifting in the future, I would insert 4-6 toothpicks through the sandwich to secure the layers. (That was Ruthann’s idea but I think it’s a good one.) To reduce the crispiness, I’d only bake the sandwich for 10-15 minutes. The only thought I have on flavor is to add fresh basil leaves on top of the tomato slices prior to baking. Overall it’s a good sandwich and I’m not a big sandwich person. I’d rate the sandwich 7/10 and the recipe 5/10.

Note: If you decide to reheat, I recommend using a toaster oven BUT be sure to place the sandwich on a low shelf. Its height will otherwise result in a blacked top before the insides are fully warmed. This is not to say that I have any personal experience with this, of course.

Be sure to check out the other side of the double take at Mel's blog !