January 21, 2007

Tangerine Meringue Napoleon

I consider the tiny golden globes of clementines and tangerines the perfect late winter dessert, their bright color and generous flavor are a promise of sunny days to come. They are an unabashed reminder from nature to those of us still living in the gray winter of the north that summer will come.

However, the number of bright orange tangerines and clementines that explode out of grocery stores this time of year will be a bit bleaker. 95% of the nation's supply of citrus comes from the San Joaquin Valley in California. The farming region just withstood freezing temperatures that will cost farmers more than $1 billion. The weather has not been kind to the California farmer and will be affect breakfast tables around the U.S.

Not wanting to waste, I had to find a use for my tangerines. This normally isn't a problem, right? Peel. Eat. What's so hard about that? The tangerines I had purchased posed a problem though. What could be wrong with a fruit whose skin comes off in one peel, and when bit into sends a bright burst of sunshine to your taste buds? No, they weren't sour. They had seeds. Now, normally seeds aren't a problem for me. Grapefruit, oranges, I just pick out the seeds--not a big deal. The small fruits though? Especially the really sweet ones that make you wonder why candy was ever invented? I don't want seeds. I want a perfect snack, sans seeds. But who among us could, gasp, throw away a beautiful fruit just because it has seeds? Not I. So I needed a solution. And that came in the form of my hand juicer mixed with the idea of a lemon meringue pie only made with the juice of the tangerines. I turned to the golden standard, Julia Child. The answer, a play on lemon meringue pie, was found in Baking with Julia. Even better? I get to use my blow torch with the recipe. Life couldn't get better than this.

Tangerine Meringue Napoleon

Serves 6, adapted from Baking with Julia

The Tangerine Curd

Eggs - 4 large
Sugar - 1 Cup
Fresh tangerine juice - 2/3 Cup
Zest - 1 tangerine
Unsalted butter - 1/2 stick (2 oz), at room temperature, cut into small pieces Juice from 1/2 lemon

To make the curd you will need to set-up a double boiler.

1) Bring the water in the saucepan to a simmer while you prepare the tangerine curd.

2) Whip the eggs and sugar at high speed with a whisk attachment until very light and fluffy. With the mixer still running, add the zest and the tangerine and lemon juice.

3) To set the eggs and create a custard, place the mixing bowl over the simmering saucepan and whisk the mixture by hand. If the water in the saucepan touches the bottom of the mixing bowl the eggs could begin to cook, so remove some water if it touches the bottom of the bowl. This will take awhile, but you really want to continue whisking, especially towards the end when the mixture really heats up from the steam and the eggs could congeal. It is done cooking when the consistency is like custard- thick and smooth.

4) Remove from the heat and whisk butter into the custard, piece by piece. 5) Refrigerate until completely chilled and press plastic wrap against the top of the custard.

It can be kept for a week in the refrigerator in an air-tight container. If you need the custard right away, whisk the custard over ice to chill it quickly and store it in the refrigerator until you are ready to serve it. Don't stir it once the curd has set.

The Puff Pastry

Puff pastry - 2 sheets, thawed
Sugar - 6 Tablespoons
Nutmeg -Pinch

1) Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

2) Line 2 baking sheets with parchment, place each sheet of puff pastry on each pan. With a dinner knife cut the puff pastry dough into thirds crosswise. Then, in each third, cut three triangles. Sprinkle with the sugar and nutmeg. Place a piece of parchment over each puff pastry and place a heavy baking sheet on top of the parchment to weigh down the pastry and prevent it from poofing too much.

3) Bake for 10 minutes covered. Take the top baking sheet and the top parchment off of the pastry and bake for 4 more minutes to develop a golden brown color. Remove from oven and place on a cooling rack.

The Meringue
Egg whites - 8 large, at room temperature
Light brown sugar - 3/4 cup (packed), pressed through a sieve

This should be made right before you are ready to serve the dessert. You will need a clean dry mixing bowl and the whisk attachment.

1) Place the egg whites in the mixing bowl and whisk until soft peaks form. Once they have, add the sugar, continuing to mix with the mixer. Whisk the egg whites until shiny, firm peaks form. It should be rather stiff.

Assembling the Napoleons

You will need: Powdered sugar - for dusting, Mint sprigs - for garnish, pastry bag

Spoon the meringue into a pastry bag with a 1/4 inch plain tip and follow the plating pictures and directions below.

1) Place a dollop of curd on the plate to hold the napoleon in place

2) Place pastry on top

3) Spoon curd on top of pastry

4) Pipe meringue in a back and forth motion on top of curd. Brown with torch.

5) Place another pastry on top of meringue and spoon on more tangerine curd.

6) Pipe another layer of meringue on pastry and torch to a golden brown.

7) Place the last piece of pastry on the meringue, sprinkle with powdered sugar and garnish with a sprig of mint. Serve immediately.


**Work fast, your dinner guests will be drooling and it takes a bit of planning to plate these quickly.

**Be ready to have everyone wanting seconds.

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