As I finish photographing the oranges in the grey morning light and sit on top of my stepladder zesting the oranges by the window, I realize that I am, inexplicably, “present.” So often I am rushed in the kitchen, coming up with recipe additions on the fly or racing the setting sun to finish in time for photos. But with the cookbook next to me and my schedule cleared for the day, I feel an overwhelming sense of peace and mindfulness. And as I work through the recipe (slowly, methodically) I start to notice things:
The way the firm rind of the oranges give way to a soft, spongy inner layer as I lazily zest away the outer peel into my small yellow bowl. The difference in pressure between the easy slicing of the shorn oranges and the resistance of those still intact.
The dim light cascading over the surface of the blood oranges. The way certain oranges can’t help but to reveal their hidden contents, blushing or even fully flushing if they are particularly bad at keeping secrets.
The surprise I feel, once again, to see just how deep magenta their juice is as it runs through my fingers and into the measuring glass, staining the tips of my fingers.
The motion of my hands as six eggs crack, one by one, into my metal bowl, dipping up and down and up and down, rhythmically, until the last bit of viscous white has descended and the shell is cast aside.
The sensation of the cold, thick egg whites dripping through the cradle of my fingers that nest the yolk, and the spreading warmth of the faucet water running over those same fingers moments later.
The way each yolk pops under my whisk as I gently beat the eggs together. The cloud of dust that puffs into the air and settles back onto the sides of the bowl when I whisk the sugar with the cornstarch.
How the butter’s pale and milky yellow hue gives way to translucent citrine, then warm tan as it begins to emit a nutty aroma. The weight of the saucepan twirling in my weaker, left arm.
The flecks of browned milk fats in the crust. The warmth of the dough as my fingers press ridges and troughs and flats into the tart pan.
My uncertainty when I see the dusty rose color of the custard mixture and again when it doesn’t seem thicker by minute seven of heating. My relief at minute eight when the curd transforms beneath my whisk.
I have always said that I find the deliberate nature of baking to be cathartic, but I sometimes forget to slow down and let baking provide me with its therapy. One of the unexpected benefits of baking from a recipe for my By The Book series is that it allows me to immerse myself in someone else’s recipe, instead of getting caught up in my own mind.
The last thing I notice is sting of the hot, steamy water and the itch of the sponge as I clean dish after dish after dish. And to be honest, I wish I could be a little less lucid for that.
- ½ cup (115 grams) unsalted butter
- ¼ cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
- 1½ cups (180 grams) all-purpose flour
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons (15 grams) cornstarch
- ¾ cup (150 grams) granulated sugar
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 6 large eggs
- 2 large egg yolks
- 3 tablespoons blood orange zest (from about 3 blood oranges)
- 1¼ cups (300 mL) fresh blood orange juice (from about 7 blood oranges)
- ½ cup (115 grams) unsalted butter, cubed and chilled
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- In a saucepan (preferably a light-colored pan, as it is better to see the browning process), melt the butter over medium heat. Continue cooking the butter, swirling the pan occasionally, until some milk solids from the butter separate and begin to brown on the bottom of the pan. The scent will become nutty. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the sugar.
- In a medium bowl, combine flour and salt. Stir in the melted butter mixture and mix with a rubber spatula until all the flour has been incorporated. Press the dough into the bottom and up the sides of a 14-by-4½-inch rectangular tart pan. Use a paring knife to trim and level the top of the crust.
- Bake crust for 30 minutes, until golden brown.
- While the crust is baking, bring a pot half full with water to a boil. Whisk together sugar and cornstarch in a large heat-safe bowl (choose a bowl that is large enough to rest on top of the pot of water, as you will be creating a double boiler).*
- Combine eggs and egg yolks and beat lightly to break them up. Add eggs, egg yolks, orange zest, and orange juice to the sugar mixture and whisk to combine.
- Reduce the heat on the stove to medium so the water is just lightly boiling. Rest bowl on top of the pot over the boiling water. Stir frequently with the whisk until the curd thickens, 8-9 minutes. Remove the bowl from the heat and stir in the butter cubes, a few at a time, until they are melted and fully incorporated. Pour curd through a fine mesh strainer into a 4-cup measuring cup or another large bowl. This will get rid of the zest and also any eggs that may have cooked during the process.
- When crust is finished cooking, pour the blood orange curd into the shell immediately and return the pan to the oven. Bake for 15 minutes, until the edges of the curd have set (the center will still jiggle a little). Cool to room temperature on a wire rack, about 1 hour. Transfer to the refrigerator and chill for at least another 4 hours and preferably overnight.
- When ready to serve, cut into squares and serve immediately.
- *You could also use a double boiler for this, if you have one!