OPINION | FRONT BURNER: Jewel-tone citrus, spiced caramel top Tarte Tatin

Blood Orange and Cardamom Tarte Tatin (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)
Blood Orange and Cardamom Tarte Tatin (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)

There are some fruits and vegetables I always buy when I see them at the grocery store or market, even if I have plenty of other food to eat and no plan for what to do with them when I get home. Some are relatively rare in the grocery stores I frequent: fresh figs, fresh dates, fresh pinto beans, sunchokes. Others are seasonably predictable: pomegranates, Meyer lemons, blood oranges. And others are just inexplicably hard to find consistently: ripe (red) chiles.

I haven't seen Meyer lemons at the store this year, but I did find blood oranges, which are in season through April.

My love of blood oranges is, admittedly, purely aesthetic. I am drawn to their striking red flesh and the drama it adds to any dish. I do enjoy their flavor, but for eating out of hand, I much prefer clementines that slip easily from their skins and burst with sweet-tart flavor.

This tarte tatin — basically the tart version of upside down cake — uses whole blood oranges and frozen puff pastry. But first you make a caramel spiced with cardamom in a cast-iron skillet. The sliced oranges top the caramel and those are covered by a blanket of puff pastry. After baking and cooling slightly, the whole thing is inverted onto a serving platter revealing fruit that glistens like rubies and tastes like buttery caramelized marmalade.

The tart can be served warm, at room temperature or chilled. I especially like it with a dollop of whipped cream sweetened with honey and spiced with cardamom and vanilla. A scoop of vanilla ice cream would be divine.

If you can't find blood oranges, navel oranges, clementines and/or tangerines work just as well. I love the woodsy, citrusy notes cardamom adds, but if you don't care for it, feel free to leave it out.

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Orange and Cardamom Tarte Tatin

  • 2 to 3 oranges (I used 2 blood oranges and 1 navel orange)
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 5 tablespoons butter, diced and chilled
  • Seeds from 2 teaspoons cardamom pods, lightly crushed or coarsely ground (see note)
  • ½ (17.3-ounce) package frozen puff pastry, thawed
  • Flour, for dusting
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream, optional
  • ¼ teaspoon vanilla paste or extract, optional
  • Honey, optional, to taste

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Cut the ends off each orange and then cut each orange into very thin slices. Remove and discard seeds, if necessary. Set aside.

In a 9-or 10-inch oven-safe skillet (I used cast iron), combine 2 tablespoons water and the sugar, swirling to moisten all of the sugar. Place the skillet over medium heat and cook, resisting the urge to stir, until the sugar melts and just turns golden. If your skillet/stove heats unevenly, gently swirl the pan, but avoid agitating the sugar mixture too much or crystals will form. If crystals do form, add a tablespoon or two of water and continue cooking, adjusting the heat as necessary, until mixture is just golden brown.

Remove skillet from heat and gently stir in the butter and cardamom. Arrange the orange slices over the caramel.

Unfold the puff pastry on a lightly floured surface and roll to 1/8-inch thick. Dock all over with the tines of a fork and then cut the pastry into a circle slightly larger than your skillet. Cover the oranges with the pastry, tucking in the edges.

Bake 30 minutes or until pastry is golden brown. Cool in skillet for 10 to 15 minutes and then carefully invert on to a serving platter.

If desired, serve topped with dollops of honey-sweetened whipped cream: In a medium bowl, beat the cream with an electric mixer until quite thick, but not forming peaks. Beat in a generous pinch or two of ground cardamom, vanilla paste or extract and about 1 tablespoon honey, beating to medium peaks.

Makes about 6 servings.

Note: To crush the pods, place them on a flat surface and lightly crush with a rolling pin or heavy object. Discard the outer husks. The tiny blackish seeds are what you want. Grind or crush the seeds in a spice grinder, peppermill or using a mortar and pestle. The freshly crushed/ground seeds of cardamom pods are much more potent than the ground kind sold in small jars. You'll want to use about a tablespoon of jarred cardamom if you can't find whole pods to crush yourself.

Recipe adapted from "Citrus: Recipes that Celebrate the Sour and the Sweet" by Catherine Phipps

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