Thursday, December 21, 2006

Sparkle Plenty

So, the PQ Mother and I have been going back and forth about the all-important question of Christmas Day Dessert. As it happens, PQM will be hosting Christmas dinner this year, with her sister, brother, sister-in-law, and myself in attendance. At first, I was thinking plum pudding, then PQM suggested a buche de Noel--otherwise known as a Yule log cake, made of a spongy genoise spread with ganache, rolled into the shape of a log, and frosted with chocolate buttercream rippled to look like bark. Yippee! Elaborate and extravagant, just the thing I actually love to make for the holidays, right down to the decorative meringue mushrooms and sawed-off log ends.

Except that, as it happens, everyone's boringly on diets these days, and after watching some French guy beating pounds of butter into ganache and buttercream on the Food Network yesterday, PQM called me and nixed the buche. Her idea: her own mother's no-fail holiday dessert, a refrigerator cake made from those chocolate Nabisco wafers sandwiched with whipped cream. (Have you gathered that I do indeed have Southern Protestant antecedents, at least on my mother's side?)

Being a nice kid at heart, I agreed, but only to buy time, and in an hour, I had it: my Parisian pal David Lebovitz's citrus-champagne gelee. Made with Prosecco, unflavored gelatin, and glistening slices of kumquat, blood orange, and pink grapefruit, it's light, gorgeous-looking, and actually good for you (Vitamin C!). I'm going to throw in some pomegranate seeds for holiday color (antioxidants!) and candy up some Meyer lemon peel.

And then I'll make a plum pudding when I get home.

Champagne Citrus Gelee
Adapted from Room for Dessert by David Lebovitz

This would also be a perfect and glamorous dessert for New Year's Eve.

2 envelopes powdered unflavored gelatin (such as Knox)
1/2 to 3/4 cup sugar, or to taste
1 bottle (750 ml) sparkling wine, Prosecco, or Champagne (not Andre, but not Tattinger, either--something in the $10-$15 range should be just fine)
Juice of 1 lime or lemon (use a real lime, not one of those nasty plastic jobs full of bitter battery acid)

12 kumquats, ends and seeds removed, sliced thinly
3 pink grapefruits
4 navel or blood oranges
seeds of 1 pomegranate
a little good-quality orange liqueur (not the stuff that tastes like those powdery baby aspirin)
candied citrus peel in syrup (see below)

Sprinkle gelatin over 1/2 cup cold water in a large bowl. Let soften for 5 minutes. Heat 1/2 cup water with sugar until sugar dissolves. Pour sugar syrup over gelatin and stir until gelatin is thoroughly dissolved. Pop the cork (whoo hooo!) and pour in the whole bottle of Champagne (watch out for the froth!) and lime or lemon juice. Taste and add more lime or lemon as needed. Cover and refrigerate until it begins to thicken and set.

Make the candied peel in syrup (recipe below), or take it out of the fridge if you made it earlier. Warm gently until syrup is liquid again. Toss in sliced kumquats. Take off heat and set aside.

Now, prep the fruit:Cut off the top and bottom of the grapefruit so it sits flat, then slice off peel and white membrane from top to bottom in vertical strips, moving around the circumference. Trim off all the white pith. Now, steadying the fruit with one hand, free the fruit segments from between the "fans" of tough membrane, using a small sharp paring knife. Slice or wiggle the fruit out, so you get a glistening arc of membrane-free fruit. Drop fruit slices into a bowl. Repeat with remaining grapefruits and oranges. Sprinkle with orange liqueur, if desired. Refrigerate, tightly covered, if not using right away.

Now, get out 8 stemmed parfait or wine glasses. Drain the kumquats/candied peel. (Save the orange syrup if you can think of something to do with it later). Get out the gelee, the pomegranate seeds, and the bowl of fruit slices. To assemble, spoon some of the Champagne gelee into each glass. Add some pomegranate seeds, a few pieces of citrus, a few slices of kumquat, and a few strands of candied peel. Continue layering gelee and fruit until glass is full. Chill until serving time.

Serves 8

Soft candied citrus peel

5 lemons, limes, or oranges, washed
2 cups water
1 cup sugar
1 TB corn syrup

Remove zest (the colored part of the peel) with a vegetable peeler. Cut lengthwise into threadlike strips. Cover peel with water, bring to a boil, and cook until soft and translucent, about 5-6 minutes. Drain peel and discard water. In the same pot, bring water , sugar, and syrup to a boil. Add peel, reduce heat, and simmer until peel is translucent and candied, about 20 minutes. Cool in syrup and refrigerate.

NOTE: Please don't even think about making this with Jell-O or any other gelatin dessert mix. No, no, no! Search around in the Jell-O section til you find the little orange Knox box. It's there, I promise you, if only for the freaky people who drink it for their nails. If you live in a place where the gelatin comes in sheets, do tell me how you use those, since even 8 months in Italy wasn't long enough for me to get the hang of them.

ANOTHER NOTE: If you don't drink, I bet you could use some swanky carbonated juice--like the pomegranate fizz I just found at Trader Joe's--in lieu of the Prosecco. Straight apple would be too bland, but any nicely tart blend should do.

POST-XMAS POST MORTEM: What a hit! This looked gorgeous (esp. the pomegranate seeds, my own addition) and everyone loved it. Making it again, I would sacrifice the sparkling clearness of the gelee for more flavor; instead of softening the gelatin in water, I'd use the ravishing pink orange-grapefruit-tangerine juice left in the bowl of fruit slices (which would mean prepping the fruit before starting the gelee) and I might make the sugar syup out of juice rather than water, too. Definitely use blood oranges if you can find them; they look gorgeous and add a subtle raspberry flavor that's very pleasing.


Vanessa (of vanesscipes) said...

Oooo, this IS swanky. And I agree those knox-drinking people are a little scary.

David said...

Glad you liked the recipe! My editor crossed it out after I submitted my manuscript with a few choice words (negative) in the margin next to it. Luckily, I won the battle (and Food+Wine named it one of the top recipes of all time....which, of course, I sent to my editor.)

Happy 07!