Citrus Blossom, Pistachio, Meyer Lemon

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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.

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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.

Citrus Blossom-Cara Cara Sorbet

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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.

Pistachio Genoa Bread

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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.

Pistachio-Almond Pastes

Pistachio Paste

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.

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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.

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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.

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Citrus Blossom-Meyer Lemon-Pistachio

The Recipes

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.

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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.

Pear, Caramelized Genoa Bread, Chocolate Veil

Pear-Genoa Bread-Chocolate Veil

Francisco Migoya from the CIA (the Culinary Institute of America, not the other CIA) is a superb pastry chef and judging from his books, an excellent teacher. He has 3 books and I got a hold of two of them so far, Elements of Desserts and Frozen Desserts. While I have many high end, modern and professional cookbooks, until I got Migoya’s books, I really did not have any pastry and dessert books that target the professional cook. If you want to go beyond desserts tailored for the home cook and learn the way modern pastry chefs compose and create desserts, these are the books for you. They are geared towards the professional chefs and deal with everything from the basics of desserts, the professional tools of the trades, running a pastry kitchen and of course many beautiful modern desserts. I love reading through those books, looking at all the gorgeous pictures and learn a few things about the creative process, especially for plated desserts like this one here.

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The flavors are not strange or foreign , just a few primary flavors that work very well together and a modern unique plating. Migoya instructs that no more than three primary flavors should be included in a dessert or else the palate would be overwhelmed. This plate combined pear in the form of ice cream and poached fruit, almond Genoa bread accented with caramel and chocolate in the form of a cool “veil”.

This was my first time trying Genoa bread (aka Pain de Genes) even though I’ve read about it from many sources. It is a cake of sorts made with a lot of almond paste that gives it a wonderful flavor and a dense almost fudgy texture. This makes it ideal as a refined “cake” or building block for plated desserts. It can be flavored with anything from pistachio to black sesame or chocolate. This particular one is flavored with almond praline. I made the praline by cooking almonds with caramelized sugar and pulverizing the mixture. After baking the cake in a sheet pan I cut it into rectangles. Right before serving the bread gets a nice layer of caramel. The process sounds easy but is a bit tricky. It involves melting sugar till it is a dark amber caramel and then rolling the bread rectangles in it to get a thin coating of caramel on all sides. Well, rolling pieces of cake in a liquid lava is no easy feat. I managed to do it but the caramel was a bit thicker than it should be. Still it was a delicious crunchy counterpoint to the sweet soft cake it enveloped.

Almond Genoa Bread

The recipe also includes a pear ice cream (in my book almost any dessert recipe should include a frozen concoction of some sort!). It’s a straightforward ice cream made using pear puree, cream, yolks,…I had no pear puree and decided to make my own. I just cooked some peeled Bosc pears sous vide with about 10% of their weight sugar until fully tender. Then I pureed them, weighed what I needed and froze the rest for another batch later on. The other pear element is caramel-poached Seckel pears. These are those cute small pears about the size of a large chicken egg. To caramel-poach them I made a caramel using sugar and pear cider. I peeled and cored the small pears then cooked them in the caramel until soft and took on a lovely deep color. These were cut into quarters and reserved until serving time.

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Chocolate Veil

It’s really fascinating to me how a final small touch could elevate a dessert of poached fruit, cake and ice cream. I’m referring to what Migoya calls a “veil” here made of chocolate. He uses this techniques in a few recipes in the book incorporating a variety of flavors. It’s basically a solid sauce that covers the dessert components and adds it’s own texture and taste. To make the veil a cocoa nib stock (cocoa nibs steeped in hot water) is mixed with cocoa powder, sugar and low-acyl gellan gum (a gelling agent). This is then poured in a sheet pan until set and then cut into large squares that get draped over the plated components. I was really worried about this step and figured it might get to be very tricky but overall it was pretty straightforward and worked well. The cut chocolate veil squares keep very well for a few days between squares of acetate in a tightly closed container in the fridge.

Pear Ice Cream-Genoa Bread

To plate, I put a pile of crumbled caramelized genoa bread and almonds next to a piece of the cake and used that as an anchor for the ice cream. The whole thing gets covered in a chocolate veil and topped with a piece of the fruit. A small cut with a paring knife on the veil reveals the ice cream underneath it. The finished plate is as delicious as it is beautiful. It has a perfect combination of textures and flavors from the bitter to the nutty and sweet.

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