It's citrus season, and there's no better way to embrace it than with blood oranges. Despite their graphic name, blood oranges are sweet, delectable and unique. They are smaller than standard oranges, with mottled orange and rose-hued rinds. When peeled, their interior reveals segments streaked in brilliant crimson, ruby and port wine colors -- hence their name.
Blood oranges are packed with vitamins C and A and contain a compound called anthocyanin, which is a powerful antioxidant that makes their flesh their signature color. (It's the same compound that turns blueberries and blackberries blue and purple, and cranberries and cabbage red.) The flavor of the orange is seductively murky, wine-y, and understatedly sweet, with less brightness and acidity than navel oranges.
The unique flavor of blood orange lends well to desserts, syrups, cocktails and sauces. In this recipe, it provides a wonderful contrast to the creamy sweetness of creme brulee. A layer of blood orange curd, punctuated with a pop of sea salt, provides the base to the custard as well as a fresh -- and colorful -- surprise when dipped into with a spoon. A Cointreau-blood orange supreme finishes the custard as an optional garnish. (Supreme is a French method to segment citrus fruit by neatly removing the pith and membranes.)
Yes, the holiday season is behind us, but that should not deter us from making an impressive dessert. This recipe takes some time to prepare, but each component can be made in advance of serving. Consider it a fun weekend project. The results will brighten any winter doldrums and provide a perfect excuse to invite a few friends over for a cozy and convivial gathering.
BLOOD ORANGE CREME BRULEE
Active time: 45 minutes
Total time: 1 hour and 20 minutes, plus cooling time
Makes: 6 servings
BLOOD ORANGE CURD
4 large egg yolks
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup strained fresh blood orange juice
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
6 large egg yolks
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups heavy cream
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
Pinch of sea salt
Make the curd: Place the yolks, sugar and juice in the pot of a double boiler placed over simmering water. Whisk to blend and continue to stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture thickens and coats the back of the spoon, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter and salt until melted.
Pour the curd into a glass container. Line the top of the curd with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming and cool to room temperature. The curd will continue to thicken as it cools. (The curd can be prepared up to 3 days before using.)
Make the custard: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Arrange six (6-ounce) ramekins in a baking dish.
Spoon a layer of chilled curd into the ramekins, about 1/4 inch deep.
Whisk the egg yolks, sugar, and vanilla until light and fluffy.
Heat the cream in a large saucepan over medium heat until it just begins to boil. Remove from the heat and add the cream to the egg mixture in a steady stream, whisking gently to blend. Pour the custard back into the saucepan and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the custard thickens slightly and coats the back of the spoon, about 5 minutes.
Ladle the custard into the ramekins. Pour boiling water into the baking dish halfway up the ramekins to make a water bath (bain marie).
Transfer the baking dish to the oven and bake until the custards are just set but still a bit jiggly, 35 to 40 minutes. (If the tops begin to brown before set, loosely cover the baking dish with parchment paper or aluminum foil.)
Transfer the baking dish to a wire rack and cool the custards in the water for 15 minutes. Remove the ramekins from the pan and cool completely on the rack. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or overnight.
Before serving, mix the granulated sugar, brown sugar and salt together in a small bowl. Sprinkle each ramekin evenly with the sugar to cover. Light a blowtorch and hold the flame 2 to 3 inches above the custard, slowly moving it back and forth until the sugar melts and turns deep golden brown. (Alternatively, place the ramekins on a baking sheet and broil under an oven broiler until the tops are deep golden brown, carefully watching to prevent burning.) Let stand for about 5 minutes to allow the top to harden. Serve with the blood orange supreme (recipe below).
BLOOD ORANGE SUPREME
2 blood oranges, segmented
2 teaspoons Cointreau or orange-flavored liqueur
1 teaspoon sugar
Using a chef's knife or paring knife, cut the top and base from each orange. Stand the orange on the cutting board and cut away the skin and pith, making sure that all the white pith is removed. Using a paring knife, cut along the membranes to lift out and release the orange segments. Place the segments in a bowl. Sprinkle the Cointreau and sugar over and stir to combine. Let stand for at least 30 minutes or refrigerate overnight. Use segments to garnish creme brulee dishes.