Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Death on the Middle Palate

My kind and intelligent readers may be excused for thinking, after reading my most recent post and the title of this one right here, that I have lost my way and deviated from the one true path to culinary enlightenment. Let me hasten to assure you, however, that this post is in no way, shape, or form a whodunit. Nor were any people (or other animals, for that matter) harmed in the making of this post, except to the extent that run-on sentences kill.

When I took a leave of absence during my undergraduate education (c. 1983), I could no longer live in the on-campus dorms, so I had to leave Cambridge and find an apartment somewhere else in the Boston area. I looked at listings in the off-campus housing office and talked to a pair of math graduate students who needed another roommate for their three-bedroom apartment in Allston-Brighton. It was an entirely residential neighborhood, but there was a grocery store about half a mile away, and it was an easy bus ride to Harvard Square, where I had taken a job with the other big university in Cambridge.

The apartment was nothing to write home about, but my room was fairly large, and I really got along well with my roommates. We did our food shopping and cooking cooperatively so that I ended up making dinner perhaps forty percent of the time (I was the best cook) and at least one of my roommates was as interested in cooking and eating new things as I was. (The other roommate was a fine fellow, and he made a terrific gado gado, but there is no getting around the fact that some brilliant people are weird[er than me, even]. He would sit in his bedroom, working on his thesis in topology, reading Russian novels in the original language, and watching the Mary Tyler Moore show, all at the same time. He had some trouble with normal conversation, however.)

Rob (the slightly less brilliant one who liked to cook) was also an oenophile of the highest order, and I can remember many occasions when he and I together lugged twelve bottles of wine home from one of the local wine stores. We got the case discount that way, you see.

I did not retain all that much of what I learned about wine from Rob, though I did retain the taste for it. I do remember, however, that there was a catch-all phrase for a wine that you didn't really like but that didn't have anything specifically wrong with it: "It dies on the middle palate."

I was reminded of this phrase on Sunday night when I was tasting the dessert that I had made for last night's (Monday night's) dinner. In doing my research for the pork in bitter orange sauce, I had come across a recipe for bitter orange ice cream, written by everyone's favorite British-sex-kitten-with-a-cooking-show. (This is not a slam on Ms. Lawson, by the way. I find her food generally very good, but her ridiculous and hopeless attempts to be as sexy as Julia Child can hardly escape notice.) She was, in fact, one of the people who said that a combination of sweet orange and lime juice was an acceptable substitute for the bitter orange juice.

I don't know whether she was simply wrong about the acceptability of that particular substitution, but when I first tasted the orange-lime ice cream, I had an immediate sensation of mmmm followed by a slightly deferred sensation of hmmmm. After a splendid first taste, it died on the middle palate. Too much of my tongue was left unsatisfied. Fortunately, my unsatisfied tongue knew just what was missing and cried out (literally, as it happens) for almonds. It is possible that the addition of a bit of almond extract to the ice cream before freezing would have satisfied my tongue, but as I had already frozen the ice cream, I decided that my best bet was to make some almond tuiles (which would also add some crunch) and serve them with the ice cream.

In general, the good thing about having to make much of Monday's dinner on Sunday is that there is time to make corrections. In this particular case, however, there were -- shockingly -- no almonds in the house, so I knew that I would have to make the tuiles Monday evening. Fortunately, my own incompetence came to the rescue. I had thought that I'd invited my friend for 6:30, and when I got tied up at the office after 5 and then took too long at the supermarket and then sat in traffic for longer than usual and didn't arrive home until almost 6:15, I was nearly in a panic. Not, mind you, the sort of panic that would stop me from cooking as quickly as I could, but a panic nonetheless, for in addition to making the tuiles, I had to prepare the zucchini pancakes, cook the pork tenderloins, reheat the mole, and cook the rice. As it happens, however, I had never gotten back to him about the time, and so when he called at 6:50 to wonder when he should show up and to say that he had not yet left his office, I was elated and confident in my ability to get everything on the table not long after his arrival. (I had also put out some brie, crackers, and olives for us to nibble on while we drank our sangria and I finished cooking.)

The tuiles did not go according to plan. When I had the first batch out of the oven, they were even thinner than I wanted, and I didn't wait long enough to attempt to curve them over my rolling pin. As a result, they fell apart, but when I tasted them, they were very good, and the crumpled tuile pieces tasted a lot like praline: sweet, crunchy, and buttery. So I determined to get two roof tileish tuiles and to crumple the rest in the bottom of the bowls and serve the ice cream on top of it. All mmmm, no hmmmm.

I am not sure that ice cream is entirely the correct term for this dessert, though I suppose that it is technically accurate since the main ingredient (by weight and volume) is heavy cream, and the dessert is frozen. It is not, however, churned. It is still-frozen, which makes it, as Ms. Lawson claims, ridiculously easy to prepare. It also creates a bit of a serving challenge if you don't let it sit in the refrigerator for a sufficient amount of time after freezing and before serving, but you have been warned, so you won't have that problem.

Orange-Lime Ice Cream with Praline Tuiles

For the ice cream:

1 navel oranges
2 Persian limes
1 cup + 2 Tablespoons confectioners' sugar
2.5 cups heavy cream

For the tuiles:

6 Tablespoons butter
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup flour
2/3 cup slivered blanched almonds

Zest the orange and one of the limes. Juice the orange and both limes. In the bowl of your mixer (with the whisk attachment), mix the zest, the juice, and the powdered sugar. Add the heavy cream, and beat to the soft peak stage. Pour the mixture into a shallow 2-quart container, cover with plastic wrap and freeze for at least four hours, or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and thoroughly grease two cookie sheets. In the mixer (paddle attachment this time) cream the butter and sugar, then add the flour and mix until incorporated. Add the almonds and mix again.

Drop the batter by teaspoons onto one of the greased cookie sheets; press down on them lightly, with a dampened finger (preferably your own). You will batter up the second sheet while the first one is baking. The tuiles will spread out to a diameter of five or six inches, so plan accordingly. Bake for five to six minutes or until they are golden brown (they will be darker around the edges than in the middle). Remove the pan from the oven and let sit for about two minutes. Carefully remove the tuiles from the pan with a metal pancake turner or spatula and drape them over a marble rolling pin, glass bottle, or the back of a small bowl, depending on the shape you want. Do not worry if they crumble: they're just as good that way.

Forty-five minutes before you're going to serve dessert, move the ice cream from the freezer to the refrigerator. When you're ready to serve, put some crumpled tuiles in the bottom of a bowl. Dip your ice cream scoop in hot water and hope for the best. Scoop an appropriate amount into each bowl, then top (or side) with one of the whole tuiles, or more crumpled tuile, if that's what you've got.

The ice cream will quickly soften into something very creamy that you can mix with the tuile bits on your spoon.


Anonymous lindy said...

I have found bottled bitter orange juice in the "ethnic" section of my super market (Mexican Portion), and it's just fine in the pork thing I make with it, but it probably would be a bust with ice cream, not tasting fresh enough, I would guess.
There is supposed to be a winter season for fresh Seville oranges, but I have never found any in the Pittsburgh stores. To think that they grow on the street trees in Spain...

3:18 AM  
Anonymous anapestic said...

My favorite bit of foreign food envy stems from a visit to Germany when I was out walking on the mountain near Heidelberg (the mountain may be the Heidelberg, but my knowledge of German is pretty much limited to the ability to pronounce the words more or less properly when I'm singing and knowing how to say "Wo ist die biergarten?") and I saw a mother and daughter out collecting the recently fallen hazelnuts. I suspect that if I ever get the chance to visit Provence and see fields full of wild herbs, I shall weep similarly bitter tears of envy.

6:12 AM  

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