It’s not often that I get to capture a season, a moment in time or a childhood memory in a dish that I created. This here is one of those though. It might not look like it, but for me, this dessert is pure Lebanese. It captures the beautiful fragrance of citrus blossoms from many a citrus (usually orange) orchard I had the pleasure of playing in or picking fruit from as a kid. What really started and inspired this dessert are the Meyer lemon blossoms from my backyard. The tree is ridiculously prolific and a few weeks ago it was full of very fragrant blossoms and the bees that come with them. Since I’ve made this dish we actually moved (that’s partially why I have not been updating this blog as much as I’d like) from our home of 10 years , the home that both of our boys came to as babies and grew up in. More than just a beautiful and delicious dessert that I am proud of, this now will always be a reminder of that Meyer lemon tree and all the amazing times we had in that house.
Sorbet was the best choice for the blossoms but I’ve never made that before and was not sure what the best way to capture the flavor would be. I also wanted to make a sorbet with a perfect smooth texture not just a beautiful flavor. After some research using Modernist Cuisine and Migoya’s Frozen Desserts I came up with a recipe that gave me exactly what I wanted. I steeped a couple of large handfuls of the Meyer lemon blossoms in warm not boiling-hot water for about 30 minutes or so. After straining the blossoms out, the resulting water was intensely fragrant of citrus blossoms and tasted very nice as well. I formulated a nice sorbet recipe (specifically based on Migoya’s “Method #3: Modern Sorbet Method”) using this water, Cara Cara orange juice and a bit of white wine. The actual recipe is at the end of this post.
I wanted a pistachio component for this dessert. In the Lebanese kitchen a huge number of recipes use pistachios in fillings. They are usually mixed with sugar, orange blossom water and rosewater. So it seemed like a natural for the aesthetic of this dish and for the taste and emotion I was trying to invoke. The Genoa bread (aka Pain de Genes) I made a while back was delicious and had a great sturdy, but not dry texture. Why not try and make a pistachio version? I used Migoya’s recipe from Elements of Dessert as a base and prepared the recipe with half almond paste and half pistachio paste. This came out wonderful as well and I am including the recipe at the end of the post. In hindsight, I could probably use up to 3/4 pistachio paste or even 100% pistachio paste. As it is though, it was both a lovely green color and a lot of pistachio flavor.
The Genoa bread is very easy to make. However, finding pistachio paste is not as simple as finding the Almond version. Almond paste is readily available in my local grocery store. I could order pistachio paste online, pay a good bit for it and have it delivered. Making my own though is cheaper and more interesting. So, I did a quick search and settled on using this recipe. I used all pistachio and none of the almond meal though. The recipe works great even if the end result is not as perfectly smooth as the store-bought version would be. Below is a picture of both the almond and pistachio pastes and you could clearly see the texture difference. The key to making nut pastes as far as I could tell is to blend the nuts thoroughly in a food processor with a liquid hot syrup (around 115 degrees C). Just blending the nuts alone or with sugar produces a nut butter. Delicious, but not what I was after. So, the only change I made to the recipe is to use a food processor to puree the ground up pistachios while drizzling in the hot syrup. Then I finished it by kneading well. The paste looked great and had a delicious flavor. I still have about half a recipe leftover in my freezer. I might use it to make some Madeleins soon.
In the Alinea book there is a recipe for flexible chocolate ganache where a mixture of sugar, cream and a few other ingredients is formed into a ganache that can be twisted like a ribbon of sorts. I wanted to go for the same effect but instead of chocolate, I wanted to use lemon curd. The problem is these types of preparations are finicky and ingredients are not easily substituted for others while maintaining the texture. I was ready to formulate my own recipe based on the Alinea version when a quick internet search lead me to a recipe by Johnny Iuzzini for exactly what I was looking for, a Meyer lemon “flexi-curd”. The preparation eliminates the eggs from the curd and uses a combination of Iota Carageenan, High Acyl Gellan, Agar and Pectin to get the desired flexible texture. The process is straightforward even without the Thermomix that the recipe specifies. I mixed the dry gums mixture into some heavy cream and then melted butter is added while the mixture gets heated to 185F and stirred all the time. Then I added fresh Meyer lemon juice from the backyard tree and the mixture is taken up to 212F before it gets poured into a plastic wrap lined square pan and allowed to set in the fridge. When ready to serve, the “flexi-curd” can be turned out on a cutting board and cut into strips. These are flexible enough to tie into a knot and the flavor is pure rich lemon curd.
The dish definitely needed some crunch. So, I added both crunch, a contrasting color and a different pistachio flavor by making a pistachio brittle. The recipe for this simple confection is straight from the Alinea cookbook. Sugar is heated till it caramelizes and then chopped roasted pistachios and baking soda are added in. The brittle is then poured on a Silpat to cool. I used a ruler to trace some lines on the partially cooled brittle. This made it easier to cut some of the brittle into even rectangles and the rest I just broke into random irregular pieces.
I plated the dish in a couple of different ways. I think my favorite was cutting the Genoa bread into neat rectangles and topping with a knot of the lemon curd and topping that with a few shards of the brittle. For garnish I had prepared a jar of candied kumquats (they taste great on their own as well or on top of ice cream or thick yogurt), so I used a few halves of those. They just seemed like a another natural citrus element that goes well with everything else. Other garnishes included more citrus; segments of peeled Cara Cara and blood oranges. I just wish I had the forethought to order some Pectinex enzyme. That would have perfectly peeled those segments and given them an even more elegant shape. I also used some pulverized pistachios and a few fresh Meyer lemon blossoms to finish the dish.
Meyer Lemon Flexible Curd
Adapted from Johnny Iuzzini
- 75 gr. Sugar
- 2.5 gr. Salt
- 1.5 gr. Iota Carageenan
- 1.5 gr. High Acyl Gellan
- 1.5 gr. Agar Agar
- 4.8 gr. LM Pectin
- 200 gr. Heavy Cream
- 50 gr. Butter, melted
- 150 gr. Meyer lemon juice
Line an 8 or 9 inch square pan with plastic wrap or use a flexible silicone pan with no lining. Combine the sugar, salt, Carageenan, Gellan, Agar and Pectin together and mix very well. Start heating the cream in a sauce pot stirring constantly. Slowly pour in the dry ingredients into the cream and keep whisking gently. When all the dry ingredients are incorporated completely, pour in the melted butter. Keep stirring and heat the mixture to 185 F, then slowly pour in the lemon juice. Heat the mixture to 212 F and immediately pour into the lined pan.
Allow the curd to set at room temperature. Once cooled, gently press plastic wrap on the surface of the curd an refrigerate till service time. When ready to serve, flip the curd out on a cutting board and with a very sharp knife (or pizza wheel) cut into shapes or strips.
Citrus Blossom-Citrus Sorbet
Based on Modern Sorbet Method #3 from Francisco Migoya’s Frozen Desserts
Yield: 1000 gr.
- Large handful of Citrus blossoms
- 500 gr. Water (enough to barely cover the blossoms in a narrow container)
- 222 gr. Sugar
- 50 gr. Atomized Glucose
- 3.6 gr. Sorbet Stabilizer
- 275 gr. Citrus juice (Orange, Madarin, Tangerine,…or a combination)
- 75 gr. Boiled white wine (Basically boil some white wine for a few minutes to burn off some of the alcohol BEFORE weighing it)
Put the cleaned and picked over (for bugs and such) blossoms in a small narrow bowl or pot. Warm the water to about 110 F and pour it on the blossoms. You want the water to barely cover the blossoms. Cover the bowl and let the water steep for 30 minutes. Stir the blossoms gently halfway through the steeping time. Strain the blossoms out and measure 376 gr of the fragrant water.
Whisk the stabilizer in with the sugar and glucose. In a pot, start heating the juice and white wine till it reaches 104 F. Whisk in the sugar mixture carefully and steadily and keep whisking. Let the mixture come to a 185 F while whisking and hold it there for 2 minutes. Cool the mixture down to about 40 F and stir in the fragrant blossom water. Let the mixture mature in the fridge for at least four hours before churning.
Pistachio Genoa Bread
Adapted from Francisco Migoya’s The Elements of Dessert
Yield: One 8 inch cake
- 90 gr. Almond Paste
- 90 gr. Pistachio Paste
- 116 gr. Eggs
- 16 gr. Trimoline
- 1.5 gr. Salt
- 28 gr. All purpose Flour
- 51 gr. Butter, melted
Preheat the oven to 350F. Spray an 8 inch square pan with baking spray (Pam for Baking is what I like to use).
Combine the the almond and pistachio pastes in a bowl and mix with a handheld mixer to get a homogenous mixture. Add the eggs a bit at a time and mix well. Add the Trimoline and and salt and mix to incorporate completely. Add the flour and mix slowly until just combined. Add the butter and also mix until just combined.
Put the mixture in the prepared pan and smooth the top evenly. Bake until the cake springs back when gently pressed, about 15 minutes. Cool the cake to room temperature and then refrigerate. It cuts much cleaner once cold.