We all know that taste and smell are closely related, but how much does our sense of sight influence our enjoyment of food? Without getting too much into the science of it, our brain uses visual cues to help determine the quality and flavor of what we eat. Specifically, when the color of a certain food isn’t what we expect, our brain tells us that it tastes different, too.
The reason I bring this up is because, when I pulled this tart out of the oven I was, you might say, underwhelmed. I thought using blood oranges would give it a deep magenta color, but custard also contains eggs, and what happens when you mix purple with egg-yolk yellow? Beige. My photographs here make it look a little more orange than it did in real life, but I would still call it “a tart of an unfortunate color.” On the plus side, if you close your eyes and take a bite, the sweet tangy flavor of oranges excites your tastebuds and fills all your senses with happy thoughts!
Because blood oranges come in various shades, from deep purple to bright orangey red, I think the variety used would make a difference in the resulting color of the custard. My oranges were of the Moro variety, the deep purple kind, which are most common in the U.S. When I make this tart again, I will look for Tarocco or Sanguinello varieties, which have redder flesh tones, or I will experiment with adding food coloring or perhaps some lemon juice to maintain the bright color. Fortunately, powdered sugar covers over a multitude of sins, so to speak, and candied orange slices, blackberries, pistachios and meringue kisses dress up this otherwise drab-looking pastry.
Blood oranges are usually only available from December to April, so I wanted to take advantage of these luscious gems while I could. I used Luis’ Tropical Manchester Tart recipe as the basis for my custard filling, but omitted the mango puree and passionfruit pulp in order to highlight this purple-fleshed citrus fruit.
I won’t go into the history of the custard tart, since I explained some of that when I made Paul Hollywood’s Egg Custard Tarts, which you can read about in my previous post. This custard tart challenge, Paul said, is all about texture. He wanted a silky smooth custard and a crispy crust.
For my crust, I used Martha Collison’s favorite sweet shortcrust pastry recipe, which I found here. The key to a flaky pastry is keeping the ingredients cold and not overworking it. When mixing in the butter, work it until the largest chunks are about the size of lima beans. Then when you roll it out, you should still see streaks of butter in the dough. This will ensure that, as the butter melts, the resulting steam will create pockets of air between flaky layers of pastry.
Following Martha’s advice, I rolled the pastry dough between two sheets of plastic cling film and then rolled it over my rolling pin to transfer it to the tart ring. I carefully eased the dough into the ring, using a ball of cling film to press it to the corners. (I found this worked better than a ball of dough, which tends to get too soft to work with.) After chilling the pastry shell, I blind-baked it and brushed the hot pastry with egg white to prevent a soggy bottom.
For the custard, I mixed the eggs, orange zest and sugar in a heatproof bowl, then added the orange juice, heavy cream and a little Cointreau. Placing it over a bain-marie, I stirred it slowly (to avoid getting too much air in the mixture) until it reached 130°F. Pouring it into the still warm tart shell, it should then be baked until it is just set. (You still want a bit of a wobble in the center of the custard.)
Because I didn’t have a 9-inch tart pan, I used an 11-inch tart ring instead, which means the custard was more shallow than it would have been in a 9-inch pan. Unfortunately, I didn’t check my tart soon enough and the custard was a little overcooked. Please learn from my mistake! If you use a different size pan you must adjust the baking time accordingly.
To make the candied orange slices, I followed this recipe from Epicurious. I liked the suggestion of using a large skillet so I could keep the orange slices in a single layer while they simmered in the sugar syrup.
The jewel-toned blood oranges make lovely candied slices, so I arranged them on top of the tart and added matching blackberries accented with green pistachios and white meringue kisses. I also sprinkled a few pomegranate arils on top. Then I added a dusting of powdered sugar.
You be the judge. Does the decoration make up for the color of the custard?
Blood Orange Custard Tart
Custard recipe adapted from BBC.co.uk
Credit for candied orange slices: Epicurious.com
For the pastry:
For the filling:
- To make the pastry: Put the flour, almonds and powdered sugar into a large bowl and mix together until well blended. Add the butter to the dry ingredients and rub it into the flour until the largest pieces are about the size of lima beans.
- Add the egg yolk (save the white for glazing) and 1 tablespoon of cold water and stir into the flour with a fork. If it doesn’t start to clump together, add 1 tablespoon of vodka (or another tablespoon of cold water). Knead it briefly until it forms a ball, then wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes.
- To blind-bake the crust: Preheat the oven to 375°F. Roll out the chilled pastry between two pieces of plastic wrap until it is a few centimeters larger than your tart pan. (I used an 11-inch tart ring, but if you want a deeper custard layer, use a 9-inch tart pan.) Peel off the top layer of plastic wrap and roll the dough around the rolling pin, peeling off the bottom layer of plastic wrap as you roll it up. Transfer the dough to the tart pan, gently pressing it into all the corners. Leave the extra dough hanging over the edge for now. Refrigerate the pastry-lined tin for at least 30 minutes.
- Remove the pastry-lined pan from the refrigerator. Use the heel of your hand or a sharp knife to trim the excess pastry from the edge. (I’ve tried doing this after baking, but I’ve had too many incidents where too much of the pastry breaks off.) Prick the base of the pastry all over with a fork, line the inside with aluminum foil, then fill it with pie weights or dried beans or rice. Place on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes.
- While the tart shell is baking, lightly beat the reserved egg white. Remove the tart shell from the oven and carefully remove the foil and beans. Brush the pastry with the beaten egg white and return it to the oven for another 10 minutes, or until the base is lightly browned and looks dry. Remove it from the oven and lower the oven temperature to 275°F. Leave the tart shell in the pan on the baking sheet.
- To make the filling, put the 6 eggs, orange zest and sugar in a large heatproof bowl. Stir gently until the sugar is dissolved — try to avoid getting too much air into the mixture. Add the orange juice to the egg mixture along with the Cointreau and cream. Stir gently until well mixed. Place the bowl of custard over a pan of gently simmering water (do not let the water touch the bottom of the bowl). Stir continuously until the mixture reaches 130°F. Pour custard through a fine mesh sieve into a large measuring pitcher or jug.
- Place the baking sheet with the tart shell in the oven. Carefully pour the custard into the tart shell, taking care not to spill any between the pastry and the tart pan. Bake for 10-25 minutes, until just set but with a slight wobble in the center. (If using an 11-inch tart ring, the baking time will be less than with a 9-inch tart pan. When cooked, the filling should be 160°F in the center.)
- Remove tart from the oven and set aside to cool for 10 minutes. Carefully remove the pan and place the tart on a cooling rack. When it is completely cool, put the tart on a serving plate.
- To make the candied orange slices, bring 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar to a boil in a large, heavy skillet, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Thinly slice the orange and add slices to the skillet, arranging them in a single layer. Reduce heat to medium-low and leave to barely simmer about 40 minutes, turning slices occasionally, until the white pith of the orange becomes translucent. Allow the orange slices to cool in the syrup, turning occasionally. Transfer to parchment or wax paper to dry until ready to use.
- When tart is completely cooled, dust lightly with powdered sugar. Then arrange the candied orange slices atop the tart in a crescent shape. Add blackberries, pistachios, kisses and pomegranate arils.