Monday, January 18, 2010

A Single Bergamot Orange

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
Printable Recipe

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.


ivorypomegranate said...

I've heard of bergamot but not a bergamot orange, I'll have to keep an eye out for it at the grocery store! And I love the composition of your last photo, its so crisp!

Anna said...

Ooh lovely! I haven't had the time to play with citrus as much as I did last winter but I would really love to find some fresh calamondins - I was recently introduced to them and they're spectacular! If only I would stumble upon some bergamot, too!

LindsayRuns said...

I love earl grey tea, I never realized that bergamot was a citrus, I thought it was a flower. That looks wonderful and perfectly refreshing. What did you do with the rest of the fruit?

Carolyn Jung said...

You are so lucky to have this incredible array of citrus at your local markets. I've never had the pleasure of trying a bergamot orange. It sounds amazing, especially since you described it as tasting so much like Earl Grey, too.

chriesi said...

Mmmm delicious!

Lucy Vaserfirer said...

I used all of the flesh and about half of the zest, but I did save what was left of the rind. I haven’t decided what to make with it yet. Do you have any ideas?

Chez us said...


You are incredibly lucky to find fresh bergamot! I am always on the look out here in the Bay Area and never find them. I, too, am like you giddy with excitement at the sight of precious citrus - Meyers completely get me going!

Also, I LUV the cups you used for this dish. Where did you get them?


Lucy Vaserfirer said...

Those adorable ASA Selection Hot + Fresh espresso/sorbet cups are available from einmaleins and Joanne Hudson Basics. And I am lucky, aren't I? I can't believe you can't find Bergamot oranges in San Francisco!

Errin said...

I too think that citrus is one of the best things about winter. Especially being in the dark dreary northwest....we need that punch of citrus to keep us going! Thanks for the wonderful post...Now I have another citrus to hunt down that I didn't even know about!

Mae said...

What a lovely recipe and photos. I've just discovered your site. Can't wait to explore more!

carmelita said...

Nice recipe and such a pretty photo of the trio of custards, with a great citrus photo above.

I am puzzled though. Besides the kumquats I recgonise the Tarocco orange with its characteristic topknot, but no photo of the Bergamot? Or is it the smaller orange fruit you mean?

I am wondering if your Bergamot orange is an exciting new cultivar since the Bergamot(citrus bergamia) is charcteristically yellow skinned, and the fruit is so bitter as to be practically inedible.

I too love winter citrus, good old Mother Nature giving us exatly what we need, exactly when we need it. Thanks for the recipe and congratulations on making the Top 9 today!

Lucy Vaserfirer said...

The big yellow one is the Bergamot orange (the one with the leaf is a Page mandarin). It was somewhat bitter, but to me it was delightful. Check this out for more info.

carmelita said...

Thanks Lucy, so the one I thought was a Tarocco is the Bergamot orange, called simply "Bergamotto" in Italian.

It looks quite orange on my PC screen! I am used to seeing Bergamot looking green when unripe and yellow when ripe.

Carli said...

I'm so happy that I came across your site! I just tried to make an orange pudding a few days ago. It was okay, but a bit grainy (not sure why)...Anyways, this recipe looks great and I can't wait to try it.

Love your entire blog and have linked to it from my site. Thanks!

Velveeta Ain't Food

Allie said...

Bless you for mentioning this lovely orange. I've been raving about them to anyone who'll listen for years!

Should you decide to pony up the money for more of them, feel free to let me know. I have many, many preparations for them, though the one that is most loved by those around me is here:

Oh, also - if you call a local produce vendor, they will sometimes order boxes of them (it's usually 18 pounds for ~$50). I order a box a year, and then peel (I dry most of the peels) and juice them all. The juice freezes well in ice cube trays and can be used for a variety of things. I really love to make "bergamade" with it. Bergamot marmalades and curds are wonderful as well.

Allie said...

Oh, Chez Us, Monterrey Market in Berkeley usually sells bergamots each year during the winter.

kitchen table said...

I haven't heard of bergamot orange. This is something new for me. I like your photos! Citrus fruits are really the in thing today!

Amanda said...

These are beautiful and mouth-watering and I love those little cups!

Anonymous said...

my first experience with Bergamot Orange was several years ago with a simple lunch at Olivetto in Oakland, then still owned and managed by the master chef Paul Bertolli. I was with my boss, who, although springing for an impromptu lunch, was quite cheap with her money. I felt all I could order for my meal was a simple entree, with the salmon being the perfect solution. But then she was feeling particularly generous and offered for us each to have dessert as well. The Bergamot sorbet was a revelation; one of those few moments in one's entire life when a seemingly simple food could completely astound and astonish you. Being surprised, and pleasantly pleased, by the additon of black pepper to a citrus sorbet, I was told that, no, there was only Bergamot juice (and I assume a bit of sugar) used in the concoction. The black pepper taste (not simply the "bitter" taste everyone describes)is the beguiling essence of Bergamot, unlike anything else I had ever tasted. It was so truly delicious and astounding and overwhelming all at once that I could have believed there really is a God.

Anonymous said...

We have an orange tree growing in our greenhouse. This year, after repotting the plant last summer and putting it in full sun for several months, it is LOADED with little tart oranges. I've never known what kind of orange it is, but this year we have many to use, I went online to investigate recipes. Turns out it is a Bergamont orange tree. Wow, I didn't know we had a gem! So far, I've used them dried to flavor soups, chopped up with herbs and dried tomatoes to flavor baked fish, now I've got more ideas to try. I plan to try marmalade, maybe some cookies? cakes? I may dry some too -- we have a lot. (from Meg in MD)

Meadowood Designs said...

This is one of the most wonderful recipes I've ever made. My kids even liked them, and I thought the flavor was for adults! Thank you so much, I will keep this always. I get a harvest of Bergamots every January. Lisa

Anonymous said...

I make these custard cups every year now, when bergamots are back in season. My spouse, who claims not to like custards, absolutely loves these!!!

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