Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Salubrious, Celebratory Citrus (Triple citrus pound cake, citrus curd)

Hilariously overdue, I am loading the backlog of articles into the blog. Expect lots of updates, soon...

Now that Snowmageddon is but a fading memory, I'm ready to celebrate. This may seem somewhat incongruous, given my desire to go all-healthy last month, but every calorie-counter can find a way to make room for a little cake. If not for the pleasure of food, there's not much point eating, in the first place. Early spring is an interstitial season. For those in the northeast U.S., the first plants are just starting to perk up, leaving fresh & local food options a little thin on the ground. Spring greens like asparagus, fiddleheads, spinach, sweet peas, would all be appropriate, but I think they lack the right appeal for dessert. Instead, I opted for a melange of citrus fruits, which blend flavors I've always considered quintessentially summery, despite the most bountiful fruiting season being the dead of winter, splitting the difference for a spring theme. Triple citrus cake paired with citrus curd makes an easy, elegant dessert, appropriate for any time of year.

Inspired, I think, by my hatred of winter and consequential attempt to turn our home into a greenhouse in defiance of nature, friends and family have enlarged our citrus collection to include Meyer lemons, Persian limes, and calamondin oranges. Owing to my sometimes dubious hand at household horticulture, however, these often finish out the winter looking like they're on their last legs rather than fruiting with abundance. It's not that they're dead, it's just that they don't want to be alive, anymore. Using home-grown fruit certainly increases your bragging rights as your serve dessert, but I was forced to head to the market and supplement our supply.'

Store-bought is fine
While most people think of citrus juice as the primary product, it's the essential oils that give citrus fruits their tangy, slightly floral flavor. These are, like the fruit's pigment, most highly concentrated in the peel. Use a microplane in even strokes from stem to tip to zest citrus quickly and easily, making only a single swipe on each part of skin. While the brightly colored outer rind is rich in flavor, the whiter pith beneath is unpleasantly bitter. If your fruits' skins are too soft to microplane, it means they've begun to turn and are better off juiced and composted than used to bake with.

Zesting things up
The base framework of this dessert is a somewhat traditional pound cake recipe, but includes a non-standard ingredient in the form of baking powder: 100% true-to-form pound cake has no leavening. I think we all could stand to lighten up, a little, thus: leavening. Even lightened up a little, the cake's crumb is dense, moist, and velvety, given an extra dose of oomph from a shower of sugar syrup made with citrus juice for a little extra flavor. The fruit notes are deliberately heavy-handed, but not overpowering, teasingly tart rather than suck-in-your-cheeks sour. While I'm a huge fan of sweets, I prefer they not be too sweet, which is why scant cups of sugar figure so prominently in this recipe. Scanting is easy: just scoop up your sugar and level it off as normal (I use the back of a butter knife), then tip a little back out. While it may seem counterintuitive to give sugar short shrift, I maintain the end result is even more delicious.

Maximum citrus

Triple citrus pound cake, citrus curd

I made this cake to take into work, so it makes a loaf rather than a round. For the more dramatic presentation of a fluted Bundt cake, just double the recipe. As proof of the power of exposed surface area in cooking, the bake time should be relatively unchanged. Serves 12.

1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoons vanilla extract
2 lemons, zested
2 limes, zested 
1 ruby red grapefruit, zested
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar (scant)
4 eggs
2 cups cake flour
1/2 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt, finely ground
For the glaze:
lemon, juiced
1 lime, juiced
1/2 ruby red grapefruit, juiced
1/2 cup powdered sugar (scant)

Preheat an oven to 350 F and lightly grease a loaf pan, lining the bottom with greased parchment.

In a small bowl, stir the vanilla and citrus zest into the heavy cream and allow them to soak while you prepare the other ingredients.

In a large bowl or stand mixer, cream the butter until light and fluffy, then beat in the sugar until lightened in color.

Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until combined completely. Fold in the cream/vanilla/zest mixture.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a medium bowl, then gradually fold into the batter until just mixed, with no lumps remaining. 

Scrape the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake for 45-50 minutes, until the top has crested and springs back when lightly pressed.

Set on a wire rack to cool while you prepare the glaze.

To make the glaze, measure out 2 tablespoons each of the juices. Whisk in a glass bowl with the powdered sugar until completely dissolved. 

Use a wooden skewer to poke holes all over the top of the cake and drizzle with glaze while still hot in the pan. Cool completely.

Citrus curd
Adapted from Alton Brown
5 egg yolks
1 cup sugar (scant)
2 lemons, zested and juiced
2 limes, zested and juiced 
1 ruby red grapefruit, zested and juiced
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, chilled and cubed

To prepare a double boiler, fill the bottom of a small, heavy saucepan with water a few fingers deep and find a heavy glass bowl that nestles securely into the top of the pan, without touching the water below. Set the pan and water to warm over medium heat until simmering and reserve the bowl.

Whisk together the egg yolks and sugar in the glass bowl until the eggs are fluffy and the sugar dissolves, about one minute.

Pictured: fluffiness

Measure out the citrus juices to yield 1/3 cup, then add the citrus zest and stir to mix.

Whisk the juice and zest into the egg mixture and place the bowl over the simmering water. Cook until thick enough to coat the back of a small metal spoon (or use a candy thermometer to check that it's reach 160 F), about 8 minutes. 

Then, whisk in the butter, a cube at a time, and remove from the heat.

Allow to cool slightly and cover with a layer of plastic wrap, gently pressing it down right into the surface layer of the citrus curd to prevent a skin from forming. Citrus curd will keep in the refrigerator for about a week.

To serve, plate thin slices of pound cake topped with a generous spoonful of citrus curd and a dollop of whipped cream or mascarpone cheese.


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