Celebrating citrus

Carla Snyder, the author of 'Sweet and Tart,' shared tips on using citrus fruits at a cooking demonstration that we attended in Los Angeles.

Navette cookies from Marseille (photo credit: ILVA BERETTA)
Navette cookies from Marseille
(photo credit: ILVA BERETTA)
For many of us, one of the delights of winter is the abundance of oranges. Growing up near the world-renowned citrus orchards of central Florida, Jamie Schler, the author of Orange Appeal, waited impatiently all summer and fall for winter’s citrus season.
As a child, Schler ate oranges as is, but as an adult, she began using oranges more and more in baking and cooking. “I find myself stirring spoonfuls of marmalade ... into cake and brownie batters, sauces, or marinades... Our favorite ... desserts, like rice pudding and sponge cakes, are all transformed by the flavor of orange.”
To make orange sugar, Schler blends finely grated orange zest with sugar; she uses it like cinnamon sugar to sprinkle over oatmeal, pancakes or French toast. She macerates strips of orange zest in vodka to make orange extract. For seasoning fish or sprinkling over sautéed chicken, she makes orange salt from grated orange zest blended with salt and dried in a low oven.
Over the years, Schler found that the orange is adapted to both sweet and savory dishes, and goes well with bold and delicate spices from cumin and chili to cinnamon and ginger, and with herbs like mint, thyme and fresh coriander. “The orange marries beautifully with fish and seafood” and with poultry and meat. Sweet potatoes, squashes, fennel and carrots go well with the flavor of oranges. So do many fruits, as well as nuts, chocolate, vanilla, wine and brandy.
“In short,” concluded Schler, “oranges go with just about everything.”
Carla Snyder, the author of Sweet and Tart, shared tips on using citrus fruits at a cooking demonstration that we attended in Los Angeles. “Almost every dish benefits from a touch of acidity,” she said. “If your soup lacks flavor, a squeeze of lemon juice is often just what it needs.” Snyder commented that room-temperature citrus yields the most juice.
“The zest of citrus is just as valuable as the fruit,” said Snyder. To easily remove it without the bitter white pith, she uses a microplane zester.
Snyder considers salt-preserved lemons a pantry staple. She uses them to flavor salads, stews and fougasse, a French flatbread. (See recipe.) She also values lemon marmalade and lemon curd as useful basics.
Faye Levy is the author of Fresh From France – Dessert Sensations.
“These wonderful cookies...are fragrant with orange blossom water and orange zest,” wrote Jamie Schler. “Tender on the inside with the barest crunch on the outside when warm, navettes become crispier as they cool, all the better to dunk them in a mug of coffee or tea, or a glass of milk. Navettes are shaped like the little boats they are named after.”
For using orange zest, buy organic oranges, advised Schler, or untreated, unwaxed citrus. Scrub the fruit under warm, running water and dry it.
Makes 12 cookies
½ cup (100 gr.) granulated white sugar
1 large egg
1 rounded tsp. orange zest
3 tsp. orange blossom water
3 Tbsp. olive oil
¼ tsp. salt
1¾ cups plus 2 Tbsp. (250 gr.) all-purpose flour
Milk, for brushing
In a medium mixing bowl, beat sugar and egg on medium-high speed until pale, thick, and creamy, about 2 minutes. Beat in zest, orange blossom water, and oil.
Stir salt into flour and then beat ²⁄3 of flour into batter in two or three additions. Finish folding flour in by hand, kneading until all of flour has been add-ed and a smooth dough has developed. Form dough into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for one hour.
Preheat oven to 180º. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Remove dough from refrigerator and slightly flatten ball into a disc. Cut dough into 12 even wedges. Roll each wedge into a 7-cm.-long oval log and place on prepared baking sheet. Shape pieces of dough into little boats by pressing to flatten just a bit, and pinching the 2 ends into rounded points. Make a 5-cm. slit down center of each with a sharp knife, cutting only halfway down into dough, and carefully push the slit open slightly. Brush each cookie lightly with milk.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden; tips and undersides should be a deeper golden brown. Remove from oven and allow cookies to cool on a rack. Store in a covered container.
“There may be nothing better than luscious, moist brownies of deep, dark chocolate infused with the kick of Grand Marnier and bitter orange marmalade,” wrote Schler.
Makes 1 (23-cm.) square pan of brownies
60 gr. unsweetened or bitter baking chocolate
30 gr. orange-infused 70 percent dark chocolate or plain semisweet or bittersweet chocolate
¾ cup (105 gr.) all-purpose flour
¼ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
8 Tbsp. (115 gr.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup (170 gr.) light or golden brown sugar
¼ cup (50 gr.) granulated white sugar
2 large eggs
½ tsp. vanilla extract
1 Tbsp. Grand Marnier or Cointreau
3 heaping Tbsp. bitter orange marmalade
Preheat oven to 180º. Lightly butter a 23-cm. square pan or line with foil or parchment paper, leaving several inches overhanging two opposite sides for lifting brownies out of pan; lightly butter foil or parchment.
Slowly melt both chocolates together in a double boiler over simmering hot water. Remove from heat when all but ¼ of chocolate has melted; then stir vigorously until all chocolate is melted and smooth. If necessary, return to heat until completely melted. Let cool slightly.
Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl, whisking to blend.
In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugars together until light, smooth and creamy. Beat in eggs, one by one, just until combined. Add vanilla, Grand Marnier and melted chocolate, and beat until smooth and blended, scraping down bowl as necessary.
Fold in dry ingredients by hand until well-blended and smooth. Do not overmix. Gently swirl in orange marmalade, completely combining for an overall orange flavor, or combine less thoroughly to create small pockets of orange marmalade; scrape batter into prepared pan and smooth. Alternatively, pour batter into prepared pan, spoon marmalade onto brownies and swirl in with a knife. Bake for about 30 minutes, until center is set but still moist.
Remove from oven and let cool on a rack before slicing. If pan was lined with foil or parchment, allow brownies to cool for 10 minutes before lifting them out to a cooling rack; this stops brownies from baking further in the hot pan.
“Fougasse,” wrote Snyder, “is a pretty flat bread from Provence, with elongated holes that give the bread the appearance of a leaf.”
Serves 8
1²⁄3 cups (400 ml.) warm water (40-45º)
Scant 1 Tbsp. active dry yeast
2 tsp. sugar
4 cups (480 gr. ) unbleached allpurpose flour
Zest of 2 lemons
1½ tsp. kosher or coarse salt
4 Tbsp. (60 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup (115 gr. ) diced preserved lemon, rinsed well
About 20 Nicoise or 10 Kalamata olives, pitted
Coarse sea salt for sprinkling
Stir together warm water, yeast and sugar in a mixer bowl. Let stand for about 5 minutes or until creamy.
Using paddle attachment on a stand mixer, beat in 1 cup of flour, half of lemon zest, the salt and 2 tablespoons of olive oil on low speed until blended; or mix with a wooden spoon. Add half of preserved lemon and the remaining flour, 1 cup at a time, to form a slightly sticky dough. Switch to dough hook and knead on low speed for 2 to 3 minutes, or until dough is smooth and elastic. If mixing by hand, turn dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead with your hands for 3 to 4 minutes, or until dough is soft, smooth and still slightly sticky. Add flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, if dough is too sticky; but it should be soft.
Transfer dough to a clean bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place for about 1½ hours, or until doubled.
At this point you can refrigerate dough covered with plastic wrap for one day. Bring to room temperature before continuing.
Preheat oven to 230º. Combine remaining lemon zest and remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a small bowl.
Brush 2 baking sheets with some of lemony olive oil. Divide dough in half. Using wet or oiled hands, press out each half on a prepared baking sheet to form a rough oval. Stud dough with olives and remaining preserved lemon.
Brush with remaining lemony olive oil. Using a sharp knife, cut dough down center, then cut diagonal slits through dough 5 to 7.5 cm. apart on both left and right sides, leaving about a 2.5-cm. strip of dough between each and around perimeter to form a leaf-like pattern.
Pull dough apart at openings to show bottom of pan. Sprinkle with sea salt and let rise in a warm place for 20 minutes.
Bake for about 15 minutes, or until bread is golden brown and slightly crisp on bottom. Let cool on baking sheet on wire racks for a few minutes before cutting. Serve warm or at room temperature. This bread is best eaten within two hours of baking.
Lemon Squares (Nicole Franzen)Lemon Squares (Nicole Franzen)
“They’re heavenly,” wrote Snyder, “because the lemon filling, rich with butter and lemon zest, shines atop a firm, easy-to-eat-with-your-fingers crust.”
Makes 16 5-cm. squares
220 gr. (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened and cut into chunks
125 gr. (cup) almond meal or finely ground almonds
90 gr. (¾ cup) unbleached all-purpose flour
60 gr. (½ cup) powdered sugar, plus more for dusting (optional)
¾ tsp. kosher or coarse salt
4 large eggs
1 cup (200 gr. ) granulated sugar Grated zest of 2 lemons
¾ cup (180 ml.) fresh lemon juice
Preheat oven to 180º. Line a 20-cm. square baking pan with parchment paper, letting excess hang over sides of pan (to help you lift bars from pan).
Beat half the butter, the almond meal, flour, powdered sugar and ½ teaspoon of the salt in a mixer bowl on medium-high speed until mixture comes together when compressed.
Press dough evenly into bottom of prepared pan, using bottom of a glass to help compact it. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until edges are golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool. Leave oven on.
Meanwhile, whisk eggs, granulated sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice and remaining ¼ teaspoon salt in a small saucepan. Add remaining butter. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring gently but continuously with a heatproof rubber spatula or wooden spoon, until butter melts and mixture thickens and coats back of spatula, or registers about 70º on an instant- read thermometer, about 5 to 10 minutes. Watch closely; don’t let mixture boil (it will curdle).
Transfer this lemon curd to a bowl and stir for a few minutes to stop the cooking and let it cool slightly. When crust is cool, spread lemon curd over top. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, or until edges of lemon curd are set but middle is still wiggly. (Bars will firm as they chill.)
Let bars cool completely in pan on a wire rack. Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours or up to overnight. Lift bars from pan using overhanging parchment and transfer to a cutting board. Cut with a large knife into 5-cm. squares, wiping knife with a damp paper towel between cuts. Dust with powdered sugar if desired. Store, covered, in refrigerator up to 3 days.