It’s annoying that in the depth of winter, when all I want to do is have the oven on, all the great fruit is out of season. This is finally the time of year when I want to spend the time making a puff pastry crust, and yet what I really want to do it fill it with pastry cream and top it with fresh strawberries. And those strawberries you get at the Safeway in the dead of winter are . . . it’s like they’re not even strawberries. They’re some kind of mass-produced strawberry replica, as distinct from the berries you buy at the Farmer’s market as a Mona Lisa key chain is from the original.
Citrus is one of the few saving graces of winter. In the height of the winter months, citrus fruits are at their peak, making them a bright spot in an otherwise dreary January.
I was inspired by some blood oranges that I saw in Whole Foods the other week and decided to make something sweet and citrusy. Because of the deep red color of the blood oranges, I wondered if I couldn’t make something appropriate for Valentine’s Day. After all, the aisles of CVS are full of red and pink schlock, which is the universal sign that V-Day is right around the corner.
I decided to make an orange curd from the blood oranges and sandwich it between heart-shaped chocolate shortbread cookies (and yes, because I’m sure you’re thinking it, these did serve as the inspiration for the heart-shaped almond and citrus cookies I’m selling for Valentines’ day). Orange and chocolate is a classic pairing, and I liked the way the sweet tart filling balanced the rich chocolate flavors of the sugar cookie. Next time I might try this with a chocolate and orange ganache filling, or pair the orange curd with a lemon or vanilla sugar cookie.
Also, the orange curd presented a bit of a challenge. Unlike lemons, which are high in acidity, oranges are quite sweet, and their higher sugar content means that orange curd doesn’t thicken the way that lemon curd does. If you’re just spreading the curd on some toast or pouring it over pound cake, the consistency doesn’t really matter, but if you need it stiff enough to stand up as a sandwich cookie filling then you need to stiffen it up. I ended up thickening my curd with gelatin, but I added far too much, and once it set the curd was a tad, shall we say, rubbery.
So I want to warn you about this recipe – I’m suggesting that you add half as much gelatin as I did, but I’m honestly not sure if that’s exactly right. I know, I know, Julia Child would kill me. I feel like I’m kind of falling down on the food blogger job, but what can I say – it’s been a busy couple of weeks. If the curd doesn’t thicken properly, spread it on toast. Dip the cookies in it. Trust me – the stuff is like liquid sunshine. You won’t be disappointed.
Chocolate Shortbread Heart-Shaped Sandwich Cookies With Orange Curd
For the cookies:
3 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350°F. Sift together flour and cocoa powder into a large bowl. Whisk in salt and baking powder until evenly incorporated. Cream butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment until light and fluffy. Add eggs and beat until incorporated. add flour mixture and beat until combined. Turn dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Divide into two pieces with a knife or bench scraper. Shape each mound of dough into a ball, flatten into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill for at least one hour.
Roll out one disk of cookie dough on floured counter until 1/4 inch thick. Cut into hearts (mine are 2 inches in diameter), brushing off excess flour (although it will disappear when you bake the cookies, so don’t go crazy). Repeat the rolling/cutting process with second disk of dough. Bake cookies on a parchment-lined baking sheet for 8 to 9 minutes, until the edges are firm and the centers are slightly soft and puffed.
Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
For the blood orange curd:
4 tbs fresh lemon juice
1 tsp powdered gelatin
3 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup freshly squeezed blood orange juice (from approximately 3 blood oranges)
2 tsp finely grated blood orange zest
2 tsp finely grated lemon zest
1 stick (4 ounces) cold unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
Place two tablespoons of the lemon juice in a small bowl and sprinkle gelatin over. Let stand for 15 minutes.
In a small heavy saucepan, whisk together eggs and egg yolks. Whisk in the sugar, then whisk in the orange juice, remaining lemon juice, and zests. Add the butter and whisk constantly over moderately low heat until the mixture thickens, about 8 minutes; do not let it boil (if it begins to steam, remove briefly from heat and stir vigorously to prevent boiling). Immediately whisk in the lemon juice and gelatin mixture until the gelatin dissolves. Strain into a clean, small bowl. Press plastic wrap directly on the surface of the curd and cut 6 small steam vents in the plastic. Refrigerate the curd overnight; it can be refrigerated for up to 1 week.
Assemble the cookies:
Place a cookie top side down on a clean work surface. Pipe approximately two teaspoons of orange curd onto the cookie. Top with another cookie and press lightly, to spread out the filling. Repeat with remaining cookies. Serve and enjoy!