Good Eats and Sweet Treats from My Small Boston Kitchen

March Daring Bakers: Tri-Citrus Tian

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.

When this challenge came out, I’ll admit I was less than enthused. Unfairly so, because I’d never even heard of a Tian, but I was nonetheless.

I didn’t even read through the recipe until about a week into March, but once I did I realized that it’s components would be comfortably challenging to me, and I’d have the time to do it, so why not? It’s something that gives me immense pleasure every month, and pushes me to do things I wouldn’t try myself, so I picked a weekend and wrote out a game plan.One of the best parts of the Daring Bakers challenge (since I’m still a relatively new member, I’m still discovering just how much I love it and why) is that it’s never a one-step dessert — there are always multiple components that can’t be completed in just one day, so you really have to think about how you’ll execute the dessert, and make a tentative schedule to achieve the best result. This time was no different, and I decided to split up the work across a Friday night and the next Saturday.

The groceries for this challenge were not cheap! I had to buy nine individual pieces of citrus, which included oranges, blood oranges, and a grapefruit, plus pectin, gelatin, and an assortment of smaller things. But I’ll be the first to admit, it was worth every penny. In addition to being on the expensive side, this challenge was time-consuming! And technique-intensive for someone who has never segmented a piece of citrus before. I think I stood at my kitchen counter for about an hour segmenting all of the fruit, but at the end I had a beautiful bowl of flawless fruit segments, and purple fingers from segmenting the blood oranges! It was a major success.

Next came the marmalade, which is something I have always disliked mostly due to the bitterness in the orange rind — I think it overpowers the sweet, citrusy side completely. I had some particularly awful marmalade when I was little, so I had always harbored a pretty strong resentment for it. But it was a part of the challenge, so I had no choice, and it actually turned out marvelously well. It firmed right up, and tasted sweet and delicious — no hint of bitterness at all. The recipe in the challenge makes quite a lot of marmalade, so I’ve since been indulging in AB&M’s (Almond Butter and Marmalade sandwiches — a mix-up of the traditional PB&J) and they are fantastic! I’ve also had some marmalade just plain on toast, and I have to say it’s been nice to be on better terms with the marmalade. I think we’re officially in the friendship phase at this point.

Next up was the caramel portion, which I decided to make tangerine-flavored. It was fantastic, though the process in getting the caramel from its initial ingredients to its end stage was tricky — my track record with making caramel just isn’t stellar, and this time was no exception. But in the end, it tasted wonderful, gave the desserts a pretty sheen, and nobody would have been able to tell it wasn’t the most perfect caramel there ever was.

When it came time to make the pate sablee, I was trying to do too many things in the kitchen (as so often happens — it’s really a wonder half of the things I attempt don’t fail completely), and after their buzzer went off and I determined that they needed a few more minutes, I forgot about them for many more minutes. When I finally remembered that they were still in the oven, the nice golden brown I had aimed to achieve had turned into a dark brown… oops! Fortunately, the baking gods were with me, because though the cookies were (much) darker than they should have been, and probably a considerable amount harder, they still tasted just fine. So I forged ahead.

Since I didn’t have multiple cookies cutters of the same size, I used a set of concentric circle cookie cutters that I found in the kitchen. Initially I was annoyed that they wouldn’t all be the same, but it was actually kind of fun having a variety of different sizes, plus the hungriest of the bunch could indulge in the bigger desserts! Assembly was fun, because I used at least one piece of each type of citrus to “design” what would become the tops of the tians. I was a bit worried about how they’d unmold, but once they’d had the chance to chill in the freezer for a little while, the whipped cream set up and they unmolded with ease. And they were so beautiful! They were actually quite exquisite to look at, though my normal camera was broken, so I had to revert back to me very old point-and-shoot, which doesn’t take the same quality pictures. You’ll just have to trust me on this one.

And more than their beauty was their flavor. I swear every month I do these challenges and they just taste better and better. I am continually blown away by the fruits of my labor, and this challenge was no different. The combination of flavors was more fun than your average dessert — the fruit and the whipped cream, and marmalade and cookie base. And the flavors played well too — the zingy citrus, and the silky cream, and the sweet marmalade, and the crunchy, buttery cookies — plus a generous drizzle of tangerine caramel too. It was literally like a party in your mouth — a friend of mine was over at the time, and between the two of us we polished off the biggest one I’d made, and still wanted more. Holy moly YUM. I don’t think I’ll rush to make this again because it was quite an undertaking, but it was worth every second of time, every penny I spent — all to see the smiles, hear the praise, and taste its deliciousness at the end. Baking only gets better and better.

With love, and sugar. Enjoy!

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