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Thursday, March 4, 2010

Back Into Battle

Remember Battle Chocolate?
Well, months had gone by and my co-workers and I were feeling spunky enough to proclaim it time for...Battle Citrus.

Yet another happy benefit of living here in California is that citrus season during the deep winter months brings with it an entire rainbow of options in the category known as 'liquid sunshine'.  So, even though it may rain for fourteen days straight, we have the most incredible selection of citrus fruits I've seen anywhere guaranteed to brighten the darkest days.

So... as winner of Battle Chocolate and holder of the tacky whisk trophy...did I have a specific citrus dessert in mind for the competition?  I guess my first thought was to enter my trusty, yet humble, Lemon Poundcake.  Nothing fancy, but it is delicious and I thought maybe I would change it up a little by using Meyer lemons.  A friend who lives in Berkeley has a tree in his backyard and every so often will bring in large grocery bags full to share.  It makes me giddy to even think about such an abundance of this special citrus.  (The anguish of going store-to-store all over Chicago on the hunt for one, single Meyer lemon is still fresh in my mind.)

But then I started to surf the web a bit, searching for different citrus recipes--damn you Internet!  And  this recipe caught my eye.  Tangerine Semifreddo?  With Salted Almond Brittle? 
Oh.  That sounded good.  And looked impressive.

Call it hubris or what you will, but suddenly I was possessed by the intense need to try...and conquer... something new.  Something complicated.  
(Can you say 'show-off'?)   
Semifreddo (so suave!  so sophisticated!)  in Italian means 'half-cold' and then, there was the description I read somewhere that sold me..."half-frozen mousse".  I thought I had another winner on my hands.  I was not going to rest on my laurels.  I was going way out there on that dessert-making limb.  Talk about leaving your comfort zone.
A good portion of the weekend prior to Battle Citrus was spent making the various components.  (One of my all time best tips?  READ the recipe.  Not once.  Not twice.  But, three times.  Seriously.  It will make all the difference in the world.)  

Day One.  There was Salted Almond Brittle to be made.  For heavenssakes, this meant pulling out the damned candy thermometer, so clearly that is no longer the phobia it once was for me.  

Day Two.  The actual 'mousse' part, which would be frozen, included Adventures in Meringue--yikes.  Henry, the dog, offered moral support by not budging from his spot in the corner of the kitchen, while I cursed, holding a borrowed hand mixer in one hand and adding miscellaneous ingredients with the other.  (Multi-tasking, coordination activities make me a little surly and the Lemon Poundcake idea was looking like it would have been a better choice.)

Day Two -- evening.  The creation of the Honey-Tangerine sauce to be served on the side.  Labor intensive supreme-ing and juicing of many, many tangerines followed by a long, long (I mean come-on- how-long-is-this-going-to-take?!) reduction time.  More cursing.  

Day of Battle.   Distracted and running late, I chopped up my semifreddo and dished up the sauce.  (Why, oh why had I NOT taken the time to chill the serving platter?  Or, make a nice sign for my entry? sigh...)  

My colleagues had come up with an impressive array of citrus desserts, ranging from multiple versions of lemon bars, a chocolate-orange mousse, lemon cookies, lemon meringue cake, petits-fours (!) madeleines and adorable key lime tartlets (the winner, as it turned out).

My semifreddo started to melt into a gorgeous creamsicle-colored puddle just minutes after I plated it.  The flavor was wonderful -- all creamy, Dreamsicle goodness--and combined with the crunch of the salted brittle, it was truly unique. There was something really lovely about seeing the genuine excitement and effort my co-workers put into their entries (yes, we are kind of a bunch of foodies, most of us...) and, despite the dessert overload and stomachaches some of us had on that Monday afternoon, everyone agreed:  Battle Citrus was a success.  

As for my slightly bruised dessert-making ego?  It was soothed a bit by the stellar Lemon Poundcake I turned out the following weekend.  

Bring on the next battle.

Final photograph courtesy of V. Simpson.

Tangerine Semifreddo with Salted Almond Brittle recipe can be found here and the link above.
I followed it to the letter.  My only note is:   Serve on chilled dessert plates.  

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