Everybody knows what Limoncello is. Not everybody knows how it should taste. I don’t. I haven’t been to Italy and didn’t have a chance to get a sip of “as good as Nonna’s” Limoncello. Nevertheless, there is an ideal flavor I am looking for every time I buy a promising bottle of this authentic, imported from Southern Italy liqueur. So far, it’s always been a disappointment. Maybe an authentic Limoncello is about lemon zest, not a lemon? Maybe our local lemons are not good enough?
An inspiration for this recipe came from two unexpected directions. My friend, pastry chef Diana, mentioned her based on sweet Spanish coca seasonal hit with candied pumpkin and pine nuts. The day I processed half of my Cinderella pumpkin for this dessert, we were invited for dinner — our neighbors threw a party for their visiting Puerto-Rican relatives. To my surprise, among other delicacies, I found chunks of candied pumpkin served as an appetizer to pair with queso fresco. My neighbor explained it was seasonal and traditional calabaza en tacha. I ran home to bring my version to share, and we were enjoying them side by side. While Latin American candied pumpkin is darker, sweeter, spicier, and made of whole or big chanks, Diana’s is grated, doesn’t use any spices, elegantly citrusy, and light. If you stop on earlier stages, pumpkin flavor will be recognizable. If you continue until most of the moisture is evaporated, your guests won’t be able to say what this treat is made of. I’ve heard people comparing it to other fruit from apricot to quince.
This recipe is based on my Italian friend’s story about Neapolitan Babà al Rhum.
Rum baba is brioche-like rich cake soaked in rum flavored syrup. It can be a large cake or individually portioned little cakes, served with whipped cream and tart fruit. The cake itself is less sweet than brioche, taking into account it needs to absorb a lot of syrup. It is a perfect canvas for artistically balanced flavors the soaking liquid brings into the dessert. That’s why it is important to use high-quality rum for good results.
During the winter, two our favorite food stores Whole Foods and Centra Market bring a generous variety of citrus fruit to Austin. Some of them a simply better during the season — fresh, juicy and fragrant. Other are exotic and not available any other time of year. Making honey preserves is my way to prolong the pleasure of having them in my kitchen. I do not add pectin or other gelling agents. Instead, I keep the syrup liquid and use it for everything — hot tea, sparkling drinks, cocktails, sponge cakes feed, etc. Honey candied citrus slices are excellent as toppings for other desserts, ice creams, custards, fruit salads. Everything is pure, natural, and beautiful.
Homemade candied peel tastes better than commercial, but we have to blanch the peel to remove bitterness, and to boil it to soften. These two steps also remove a lot of flavor from the peel. In my recipe, citrus flavor is concentrated and returned back to the peel. There are no leftovers for later use. Everything, the whole fruit is in work to make the best tasting candied peel.
My lemon tart is intensely lemony. I insist on using fresh lemons. You want their zest, juice, and pulp. For more delicate version, replace part of lemon puree with heavy cream. My lemon tart is pretty tart, pardon the pun. If you like it sweeter, add more sugar. Double the amount of sugar, and you’ll get the sweetness of commercially baked lemon tart. My lemon tart has a silky smooth texture. If you like it more thick and stable, add more flour or corn starch. Double the amount of flour, and you’ll get the texture of commercially baked lemon bars.