Monday, April 15, 2013

When You Hit a Bump in the Road,
Get Out Your Rolling Pin

What's cooking? Key Lime-Berry Napoleon

A couple of weeks ago, I ran across some Key limes in the grocery store, and the evil angel on my shoulder whispered, “Buy these. Make Key lime curd.” I should have known better, but that has never stopped me before, so into my cart they went.

Key limes are smaller and have more seeds than regular (Persian) limes. Also, the flavor is sharper and more bitter. Apparently, they are even yellow when fully ripe, but you and I don’t get to see that color, as the little darlings are picked green for commercial use, and – possibly useful factoid here – citrus fruit doesn’t ripen further after it comes off the tree. It’ll decay, but it won’t get any riper.

In any case, Key lime curd isn’t any harder to make than the Meyer lemon curd I made back in February. The limes are so small, you’ll have to squeeze a ridiculous number of them to get a cup of juice, but TNT now shows re-runs of Castle and Bones in the afternoon, so I tuned in and started squeezing. I used the same recipe and process, adding ¼ cup more sugar to compensate for the tartness of the limes. Same velvety texture, and with a taste much like Key lime pie.

Once I’d made this stuff, I had to figure out how I’d use it. With the Meyer lemon curd, I made that lovely, light and lightly tart lemon mousse. I wanted to try something different with the Key lime curd. What to do, what to do...

Then my friend, Laurie, called, inviting us to dinner. “Great,” I said. “Can I bring dessert?” She hadn’t gotten that far in her planning, so was happy to hand off the end of the meal to me.

My research turned up scads of variations on Key lime pie, but I am so not fond of pie crust. And there’d be eight people at dinner; I wanted something I didn’t have to cut to serve. I could have done the mousse thing again, but where’s the fun in that? After too much research, I discovered this recipe for Mini Lime Pies with Glazed Berries, which I’ve adapted from Gourmet in August 2006. Only 7 reviews, but all called it excellent, and 2 said how well it worked at a dinner party.

The little pastry rounds gave me pause, but how much trouble can you get into with frozen puff pastry? Well, let me tell you how much. It turns out that puff pastry needs to be kept cold while you are working with it, and I didn’t remember that. So I left the sheets out on the counter to thaw maybe a tad too long. The folded parts stuck to each other, and as I tried prying them apart, the whole mess just seized up, and I had to roll it as if it was a single fat lump of dough. And when you overwork puff pastry, it gets this goofy tendency to spring back into its previous shape once you lift the rolling pin. It felt like an episode of I Love Lucy, with me trying to roll out a giant rubber band.

But we must be brave and move forward. All I wanted, in the end, was to get a bunch of little circles of pastry to sandwich with fruit and curd, and if they were smaller than the photo on the recipe showed, so be it. Please, God, just make them round. Which they sort of were. I tasted one, and was satisfied with the result.

It’s always helpful to have a back-up plan. I figured if they turned out really badly, I’d toss them and turn the whole shootin’ match into a pie with the curd on the bottom and the fruit on top. I keep graham crackers in the pantry for just such an occasion.

The next hurdle was the blow torch, one of the few tools I don’t yet have. You’re supposed to sprinkle sugar on the baked rounds and caramelize them with a small blowtorch. So I used my imagination, which even under stress is considerable. I sprinkled the rounds with the superfine sugar and ran them under the broiler – on the very top shelf. It took 20-30 seconds, and they looked just fine.

The result? Wonderful. Gorgeous. Elegant and light and delicious. Looked like I went to culinary school, though if I had, I’d have known how to deal with the puff pastry. I took about 10 minutes to assemble them before dinner, and they stayed fine in the fridge while we ate. You should try it. Just keep that puff pastry dough chilled, and keep the faith while you’re at it.

Soooo... Kitchen Goddess notes on puff pastry: 

➀ Open the box and separate the two sheets. ➁ wrap them both in plastic wrap and put one back in the box in the freezer if you only need one. ➂ Thaw the other at room temp for 30 minutes, at which point it should still be cold to the touch but easy enough to unfold. ➃ While it thaws, consider chilling your tools (knife, biscuit cutter, even your pastry board and baking pans can go into the fridge). ➄ Work quickly while the dough is cold, and don’t be afraid to stop and put it back in the fridge for 10 minutes if it gets soft. ➅ Be brave, and remember – it’s only food.

Now that you’ve got that part down, here’s the recipe. For convenience, I’ve included a brief version of the curd recipe, which differs from Gourmet’s. I’ve also changed the name because it seems to me much closer to a Napoleon than a mini pie. Keep in mind that you can make the curd as much as a week ahead of time and keep it, refrigerated, in a jar until you’re ready to make the dessert. You’ll have more curd than you need for this recipe, but who’d complain about that?

A confession: This was taken before the final spoonful of syrup.
Lime-Berry Napoleon

To serve 8.

For the curd:
1 cup Key lime juice
6 large eggs
6 large egg yolks (save the whites and make Key lime mousse)
1¼ cups sugar
9 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into small chunks

For the pastry rounds:
1 sheet puff pastry (I actually needed 2 sheets, but you will likely be more efficient with the dough)
2 tablespoons superfine granulated sugar

For the berries:
½ cup confectioners sugar
½ cup water
2 tablespoons Key lime juice
4-5 cups mixed berries (raspberries, blackberries, quartered strawberries)

Special equipment: a fine-mesh sieve, 2 large (17x12 inches) baking pans, baker’s parchment, a 3-inch round biscuit cutter (or cookie cutter), a blowtorch (optional)

Make the Key lime curd (can be done up to a week ahead):
In a double boiler, or a large mixing bowl set over a pan of simmering water, whisk the lime juice, eggs, yolks, and sugar together constantly for 5-6 minutes. When the mixture comes together into a pudding-like consistency, remove it from the heat and whisk in the butter, one small chunk at a time, allowing each piece to be completely incorporated before adding the next.

Using a fine-mesh sieve and a spatula, strain the curd into a clean bowl to remove any bits of cooked egg, and refrigerate, covered, for at least 2 hours, until well chilled.

This may look like the lemon curd – ok, it is the lemon curd -- but the lime is almost the same color .
Make the pastry rounds (can be done a day ahead and kept in an airtight container):
Preheat oven to 350º. Line one baking pan with parchment and cut another sheet of parchment the same size for laying on top of the rounds.

On a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin, roll out the chilled dough to about a ⅛-inch thickness. With a cookie cutter or biscuit cutter, cut as many rounds as you can – at least 24, but more if like me you like to guard against one or two burning or breaking or just not looking exactly right. You may have to do this in two stages, gathering the scraps from the first cutting and re-rolling for a second cutting. (Or use the other pastry sheet.) Lay the rounds on the lined baking pan, and prick each one 3-4 times with a fork. Cover the rounds with the second sheet of parchment, and weight them down with the other baking pan on top. Bake 20 minutes, or until the rounds are lightly golden. Transfer the rounds to racks to cool.

When all the rounds are made and cooled, turn the oven to broil. Return the rounds to a baking pan (no parchment), and sprinkle each with about ¼ teaspoon of the superfine sugar. Run the sugared rounds under the broiler, about 2 inches away from the heat, for 20-30 seconds, until the sugar caramelizes to a crusty brown. You’ll want to watch them carefully so as not to burn them.

A few of my pastry rounds in their own, unique shapes.
Alternatively, if you have a blowtorch, use that to caramelize the sugar.

Make the glazed fruit and assemble the dessert:
In a 12-inch heavy skillet, stir together the confectioner’s sugar, water, and lime juice. Bring to a boil over medium heat and continue to boil, stirring, for 2 minutes or until the liquid thickens slightly.

Turn off the heat and add the berries, stirring gently to cover all with the syrup yet not crush the berries. Let sit for 5-10 minutes, until the berries have cooled and have given off a bit of their juice. The syrup will turn a rosy red color.

Place a heaping tablespoon of the curd in the middle of each of 8 dessert plates. For each serving, lay a round on top of the curd, and spoon some of the berries on top of that. Add another dollop of curd on top of the berries, a second pastry round on top, and repeat with berries, curd, and a third pastry round. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Just before serving, drizzle some of the red syrup on top.

Stand back and accept the oohs and aahs of your guests.

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