Burned

Petunia the culinarily inclined skunk started her career making jams. But she tends to shy away from big messy fruits (see “sugar and its effects on fur”).

My project for today involved some relatively large juicy fruits: Valencia and Blood Oranges. My plan was to skin and slice them and then somehow “burn” them, although this is somewhat of a gastronomical overstatement. I wanted “burnt oranges” rather than “burned” or “charred” (or “ruined”) citrus. They were to be toppings for a version of Portuguese Custard Tart. As I had no recipes for Portuguese Custard Tart with burnt oranges I made one large tart (instead of individual tartlets as advised) with different test toppings dependant on quadrant /sector. My inspiration for this layout  was the design of desert bombing targets, images of which I’ve seen in google maps aerial photos.

Oh too too relevant metaphor. I failed. I bombed.

Ultimately there was too much custard. The custard was too sweet (and too runny). And the Valencia oranges didn’t really work out either, although they look rather nice.

I think I know how to fix the custard (not as much sugar, for a start, and make less of it, too). But I have to research the orange part more. Thrill seeker that she is Petunia suggests dipping the orange slices in some sugar and then blasting them with a blow torch. W. suggests a marmalade-like approach.

As I think about it more I realize I’m trying to mimic the marvelous Ines Rosales brand Seville Orange tortas that I’ve been eating for breakfast recently. They’re wonderful with a slice of St. Augur or some nice Talleggio, so I think less sugar is definitely the way to go. The tarts are sweet but marvelously bitter, in the way of Sevilles, too, and even with the cheese they don’t break Petunia’s rule of triangulation.

Petunia

I’ve owned Petunia for years. Over time I’ve created some rather elaborate histories about Petunia and her friends, several of which were at one time available on-line through my old website. Needless to say I’m a big fan of Grayson Perry and of his teddy bear Alan Measles. You may follow Alan’s twitter feed here or his blog here. Petunia does not have a twitter feed, although her friend Lydia Behr, who also lives with me, does have a gmail account. You may friend her on Google+, although she’s oddly timid about posting status updates. I believe her paws are too big for the keyboard . . . The Petunia and co. stories have something of Yoknapatawpha county about them: an ongoing and ever growing micrososmos with some very real-world attributes projected onto a group of fictional beings. Walt Kelly’s Okefenokee Swamp inhabitants are also conceptual kin.

Petunia is an artist, scientist, and chef (she started out making jam). She’s also a skunk. For years she’s been coming up with  “recipes” and art projects, most of which horrify her friends or get no attention in the art world, despite immense amounts of thought and labor. Petunia is withdrawn and hard working, with unique powers of imagination, and an almost overwhelming need for external validation. Lately, however, things have been changing. Paging through Nathan Myhrvold’s Modernist Cuisine (blog here, Amazon listing here) I felt as if Petunia’s recipes weren’t so crazy, a sentiment re-iterated after looking at Cooking Science. Condensed Matter. The latter even contains a periodic table of preserves!

Petunia’s recipes are based on a system of triangulation: 3 components, in opposition to each other. Baked salmon skin, with marshmallow, and salted prune, for example. Coming up with the recipes has always been a fun exercise: a bit like filling in the correct elements of a Sudoko to complete the puzzle. Always the same framework, but with different components. But I’ve realized this is a system I often use in my own cooking and art making. Ice cream, sound, and sculpture, for example (not the three added together; these are just 3 examples of media where I apply this technique, although an ice cream based sound piece might be fun . . . Contact miked ice creams being licked by cows, for instance,). More than 3 elements and the dish or piece gets too busy; only 2 and its a rather boring binary argument.

Dark chocolate ice cream with creme de peche and flaked red pepper
From memory.

The wonderful thing about ice cream is that there’s not much change in taste between the before and after freezing stages so its very easy to make things “to taste”. Adjust according to yours.

1. Do this step only if you have access to a nice ripe peach. Otherwise omit, as this also breaks Petunia’s triangulation rule.

2. Peel the peach and then puree it to the point where you have mostly liquid with some small solid bits.

3. Follow the directions for a custard based (eg, uses egg yolks) dark chocolate ice cream recipe. Look online or perhaps you have a book of recipes (I own and love Lola’s Ice Creams and Sundaes by Morfudd Richards. Its a great book but all of the portions are metric so you need a good metric scale and measuring cup). I use High Lawn cream from the milk of Jersey cows and do equal parts milk and heavy cream. I also recommend good quality bittersweet chocolate with a high cocoa content. And use a thermometer when making the custard.

4. Once the custard is in the Bain Marie (ice bath) and prior to refrigerating the mix, add the peach puree, several tablespoons of Creme de Peche, and a teaspoon or so of dried Red Pepper flakes. You should be able to taste the Creme de Peche, but don’t overdo it, in part because the stuff is so damned expensive. Don’t overdo the pepper flakes, either, but also don’t be a wimp . . .

5. Refrigerate the mix for at least 6 hours and preferably longer and then churn in an ice cream maker. You’ll need to to churn it longer because of the alcohol, which lowers the temperature at which the mix will freeze.