Doesn't this look delicious?
Well, you know, pictures can be deceiving. Trust me when I say, this is not the tart you are looking for.
I am in a fight, and my enemy is citrus curd. Or any fruit curd, really.
It all started out innocently enough, with a cranberry curd tart I made for Thanksgiving 2015. It was beautiful and perfect and I took approximately zero pictures of it. But from then on I was like, "Oh? Curd? I got this." Then, I decided to make the tart again for Christmas, where I would wow my family and present a beautiful holiday dessert to follow my sister's stunning beef wellington.
I alluded to this story a bit when I made grapefruit curd exactly 1 year ago, but what I skipped over then was the details of my family slowly backing out of the kitchen as if from an armed robber, as I spiraled into despair over my cranberry curd that didn't have enough juice and the Hail Mary addition of a tangerine curd that only managed to fill the rest of the tart shell halfway. In the end, no one even wanted any tart after the large dinner and, let me tell you, if you are going to have an emotional meltdown at the holidays over failed curd, you feel even worse about it afterwards if it's all in vain over a dessert nobody wanted to eat anyway.
But then! I made that grapefruit curd and I thought things were ok. It wasn't life changing but it was tasty, and so I put curd away for a while, satisfied that we had worked through our differences.
Then, two weeks ago, I began a journey that may have sent citrus curd from my life for a very, very long time, if not forever.
I got it into my head that I wanted to make a blood orange citrus tart with a chocolate crust, and I knew it would be delicious and beautiful and special, and I was not taking any chances. I obsessively googled citrus tart recipes, I scoured my cookbooks, I specifically checked that people were in fact using blood orange to make curd and having success with it. I found recipes for gorgeously pink blood orange bars, orange-hued tarts, you name it, and one even had a chocolate crust. All signs were good! This was possible!
Well, if you've scrolled down through the rest of the photos you can probably tell where this tale is going. All was not good. My chocolate tart shell came out beautifully, and I started to get excited, happy dancing around my living room and ready to dominate this tart.
Then, I set to making my curd and it all went to hell.
Do you know there are approximately 8,000 different techniques out there for making citrus curd? Some people claim you need a double boiler, some call for making it directly in a pot, some tell you to add all the ingredients together before heating and others say to add the butter in at the end. Some call for only egg yolks and others for egg yolks and whole eggs. Most tell you to strain the curd, and all proclaim that theirs is the most delicious ever. I mean, how to even know where to start?
I chose a lemon curd recipe meant to be used in a tart, which I figured was a good starting place. All ingredients were added together at the start, which seemed simpler, and it also called for gelatin to help it set, which was new, but not that strange. I lowered the sugar ratio a bit, thinking blood oranges were sweeter, but otherwise didn't make any major changes. I whisked all my ingredients together, put the pot on the heat, and stirred.
You know, I've noticed that many curd recipes are very vague on timing, beyond "it comes together in just a few minutes!" I would not personally call 20-30 minutes "a few" but that could just be me. I mean, when your friends tell you they will meet up with you in a few minutes, you kind of get pissed when they show up a half hour later, right?
When my curd FINALLY thickened into a pale orange, opaque, custard-like texture, I strained it and poured it into the tart shell, only to realize that my extra long cooking time had reduced the curd down too much, and I had a good half inch of exposed tart shell. OH WELL. I took a deep breath, I sent a grumpy text about it to my sister and shoved the baked tart into the fridge to chill until morning.
When I was ready to try it, I dressed my tart up all pretty in a coat of powdered sugar and cut a slice. I was nervous given my curd history, but other than having less curd than I expected, this had otherwise gone pretty well. I thought this might still be good. I chewed, and swallowed, and then kind of went, "Huh." Visually, the tart was appealing. It wasn't the bright coral color of my dreams, but the pale orange color wasn't bad, and the curd looked like curd. But it was curiously absent of flavor. It was sweet, and the chocolate crust was yummy, and there was a hint of citrus note in the background, but otherwise, nothing. I really wasn't sure if that hint of citrus was really there or if I was imagining it. All the flavor of the blood orange juice had just sort of...disappeared. Strange.
I decided to try again.
After spending a week obsessing over what went wrong with my curd, I was ready to try again. I made a second, even more flawless tart shell. I found a new recipe for a curd tart filling, this one with no gelatin but more butter and whole eggs and more filling, to make sure I wouldn't have a partially-filled shell. I dialed down the sugar some more, and even added a bit of raspberry juice to the blood oranges to highlight the berry notes and hopefully bump up the flavor. This recipe also called for mixing everything together in a pot and heating, promising "very quick" curd results.
Once again, I found myself stirring for almost half an hour with no real thickening happening. But soon, I did begin to notice the egg curdling a bit. I was not trying to make blood orange scrambled eggs, so I kept up a steady rotation of pulling the pot on and off the heat, constantly whisking, and praying to Julia Child that everything would be ok. When I felt like I had a thick enough curd to firm up while baking, I strained the curd and poured it into the shell and baked it.
How did it turn out?
There was one "all purpose" curd recipe I found online that had claimed that you shouldn't use blood oranges because they cook into a mottled purple color with a very artificial tasting flavor.
As you can see, my second try yielded a paler, more opaque result in a color I refer to as "muddy peach." Yum! It also miraculously had even less flavor than the first tart, and mostly tasted like baked, unflavored custard. I would have KILLED for artificial orange flavor at this point. You can also tell from the photos it didn't even really have the texture of curd. I mean, you definitely want a piece of that, right? The entire thing went in the trash and I went to go sulk about all the wasted money on eggs and butter and blood oranges and to figure out what to do with my 16 egg whites.
I honestly have no idea where these went wrong. I faithfully followed the directions each time and so many other people seem to have had success with blood orange curd. I mean, just check out these stunningly colored blood orange bars. WTF. After my experience, I suspect food coloring or photography tricks.
For now, I'm putting curd away, and perhaps when I come back to it I'll start with a basic lemon tart. It's tempting to jump off on a new interpretation because plain lemon seems boring, but I obviously need to master the basics here before I try to put my own spin on it.
Chocolate Blood Orange Tart au Citron
Serves no one.
- a month's salary in free range eggs
- your savings in butter
- your remaining bank account in blood oranges
- Mix all together, stir over low heat for days.
- Add and extra pinch of hope for flavor at the end, bake until curdled into despair.
- To serve, toss your dreams into the trash.