I'm writing this from a lake house in Michigan. The lake is frozen over, the high today is 18, the low is -6, and there's over 2 feet of snow on the ground. I'm loving it now while it's novel (though wishing I had my cross-country skis), but remember those college-era long Michigan winters when long underwear was obligatory, causing us to move across campus like marshmallows and making dance party dressing a conundrum. We were all hoping for spring-- because classes would be over, yes, but more so because it meant our bodies would be warm again.
The first time I ever ate a blood orange was on an escape from one such Michigan winter. On my senior year spring break (which for the University of Michigan is in February), my friend and I took a trip to Southern California-- to visit her sister in Santa Barbara and some of my high school friends at Caltech. When my pals were in class or solving complicated mathematical proofs, my friend and I roamed the campus, pillaging citrus from the trees that surrounded the lecture halls and libraries. I was surprised when I plucked an orange from a tree and peeled it to reveal a bright red interior, with dripping juice that made me wonder if I'd unknowingly gotten a paper cut. I didn't know what to expect flavor-wise, but I bit in and found it tarter than I'd imagined, in a good way--a classic navel orange's more interesting yet slightly sinister step-sister.
This tartness and vivid hue make blood oranges a fruit well-suited for baking, lending more complexity than standard oranges. The brilliant pop of color and flavor are also ideal for mitigating winter's doldrums.
Ever since I made Hoosier Mama's Cranberry Chess Pie, I've been wanting to "chess" everything (more on what Chess Pie is here). This recipe is adapted from the Lee Brothers' Grapefruit Chess Pie. This time I used my standard pie crust, but you could also use the sweet rye crust which is in their original recipe.
Blood Orange Chess PieAdapted from The Lee Brothers' Charleston Kitchen
Nothing in the House pie crust, halved
4 blood oranges
3/4 tsp. kosher salt
3 large egg whites
2 large egg yolks
1/2 c. heavy cream, room temperature
4 Tblsp. (half stick) unsalted butter, melted
3/4 c. granulated sugar
3 Tblsp. all-purpose flour
2 Tblsp. fine cornmeal, plus more for sprinkling.
1. Prepare half of Nothing in the House pie crust as per the directions, reserving the leftover egg for an egg wash. Chill dough at least one hour before rolling and fitting into a greased and floured 9-inch pie pan. Let chill for 15 more minutes in the freezer.. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
2. Prick the bottom of the crust all over with a fork. Place a sheet of parchment paper inside the pie crust and fill with dried beans or pie weights. Bake for 15 minutes, then remove from the oven and take out the parchment and weights. Brush crust with the egg yolk, reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees F and bake 5 more minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside.
3. Lower oven temperature to 350 degrees F. In a small bowl, finely grate the zest of 1 of the blood oranges (it will yield about 1 tsp.) and set aside. Segment 2 of the blood oranges by trimming off the top and bottom so each end is flat. Then peel the fruit by placing a sharp knife at the point where the pith meets the fruit and cut with the curvature of the fruit.
4. Over a medium bowl to catch the juice, cut along the segment membranes of the oranges to separate each segment. Strain the segments and reserve the juice and segments separately (you'll have about 1 c. segments and 1/3 c. juice). Whisk the zest and salt into the blood orange juice.
5. Whisk the egg yolks and egg whites together in a large bowl (I used a standing mixer) until they are light and cream-colored, then whisk in the cream and melted butter.
6. In a separate bowl, mix together the sugar, flour, and cornmeal. Add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture in thirds, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the orange juice mixture until incorporated.
5. Pour the filling into the pie crust and arrange the blood orange segments in the custard (they will float to the surface as they bake). Place the pie in the oven and bake 35-45 minutes until the top has browned and the center jiggles stiffly. Cool on a wire rack at least 20 minutes before serving. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.