Monday, January 18, 2010
Citrus is the very best thing about winter. When I see the Meyer lemons and blood oranges appear at the market, I become positively giddy with excitement. In fact, I love citrus fruits so much that when given the choice between a lemon dessert and a chocolate dessert…I have to order both. Citrus wakes up the taste buds and is my tongue’s version of bliss—zesty, tingly, puckery, refreshing bliss. I’m hopelessly addicted to it. It’s about as much excitement for the palate as any one food can offer.
You can imagine my delight when I went to my local market and found an amazing array of unusual citrus varieties, including countless types of mandarins and tangerines, kumquats, calamondins, Palestine sweet limes, Etrog citrons, Seville oranges, and Bergamot oranges. I could’ve spent our entire week’s grocery budget right then and there.
The thing that surprised me most was the Bergamot oranges. They had about half a dozen of them tucked away in the corner of the produce department. I had never seen one before, but since my favorite type of tea is Earl Grey, I’d most certainly heard of them. I’d always wanted to try one. I picked up one of the lemon-colored, bumpy-skinned fruits and put it back down again about three times because they were a whopping $7.99 per pound. But my curiosity and the intoxicating perfume of the rare orange were too much to resist. I parted with six dollars, and a single Bergamot orange was mine.
So how was it? Well, the Bergamot orange is intensely aromatic and juicy with a flavor that’s slightly bitter, bracingly sour, and floral. Just like the tea, but fresh. It’s clean, crisp, and vibrant, and much more like a lemon—a Meyer lemon, to be precise—than an orange.
After much internal deliberation, I decided what to do with my treasure of an orange…
Bergamot Orange Custard Cups
4 ounces sugar
1 tablespoon grated Bergamot orange zest
4 large eggs
4 ounces freshly squeezed Bergamot orange juice
10 ounces heavy cream
Preheat the oven to 350˚F. In a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix the sugar and orange zest on low until very fragrant. Add the eggs, then the orange juice, and then the cream, mixing on low for several seconds after each addition until just combined. Strain through a fine mesh sieve. Skim off any foam from the surface. Divide among 6 ramekins and place them into a roasting pan. Add enough hot water to the roasting pan to come half way up the sides of the ramekins and bake for 23 to 25 minutes, or until just set. Remove from the water bath and let cool to room temperature. Refrigerate for 3 to 4 hours, or until firm.
Serves 6. If you like tart lemon-flavored desserts, you’ll love these. Use lemons, especially Meyer lemons, if Bergamot oranges are unavailable. Avoid whipping air into the eggs as they are being incorporated into the sugar mixture. You can tell that the custards are done when they jiggle like gelatin. Serve with lightly sweetened whipped cream and Candied Citrus Peel, if desired.