This week, as the weather seems to be taking a turn for the better – I’m currently gazing out across a sunlit Colne Valley, a stunning and vivid emerald green beneath a cloudless blue sky – I fancied making something a bit lighter for my dessert choice this week.
It feels like it may be the end of the hot puddings and custard until the back end of the year, which is sweet relief for the waistband.
But it’s also what the appetite craves as the temperatures get higher, as is right and proper.
Leafing through my notes, I noticed that, at this time of year, citrus fruits are in great shape, with grapefruit being at their very best.
Given there’s little homegrown stuff about presently, I thought I’d make something with grapefruit, especially as it’s one of my very favourite fruits. I love tart, bitter flavours more than any other, and for me, there’s nothing like the acidic sweetness of a fresh grapefruit to tingle the tastebuds.
The sharp, vaguely musky perfume goes well with all manner of things, from cereal-y stuff such as cakes, pies and pastries, but it lends a lovely sharp kick to many savoury dishes too. The juicy segments are lovely folded into salads with creamy, salty cheeses like feta and goat.
They’re also wonderful with grilled and baked white fish such as sea bass, sea bream and halibut. And one of my favourite things is a grilled breakfast grapefruit, which is where the origins of this dish lie. A sprinkle of sugar over the cut surface of a halved grapefruit, when placed under a hot grill for a few seconds, makes a lovely brûléed topping that cracks satisfyingly beneath a teaspoon.
The combination of that crunchy sugar and fresh, cold, tart fruit is magical, and I wanted to try to recreate this in a plated dessert. So, I decided to pair the crunchy, sugary segments with something a little more substantial, which is where the meringue comes into play.
I think a creamy element is always welcome, so a quenelle or two of cool, creamy mascarpone, with that delightful, almost chewy texture, is just the ticket here.
A few blobs of grapefruit marmalade, some shards of brandy snap biscuit for a caramelised note, and then a couple of flavour complements in the form of toasted almonds and some fresh mint and tarragon, a herb you may not associate with grapefruit, but which is a delightful partner.
It all coalesces into a vaguely Eton Mess-y pudding, each mouthful a tangy, crunchy, creamy explosion which will round off a good meal in a most satisfactory way.
I’ll admit, this is one of my more ‘cheffy’ puddings, as you can see, but none of the elements are too difficult, and much of the dessert can be made up days in advance, so you can plate up something similarly good-looking with a minimum of fuss. Plus, you can skip the marmalade-making and buy a nice jar of ready-made grapefruit marmalade, and perhaps even the brandy snaps. Even the meringues if need be.
But it’s worth the fuss, definitely, and you have a nice pot of marmalade for your Sunday morning rounds of toast.
For the grapefruit jam:
450g grapefruit, pink or white or both
750g white granulated sugar
A square of muslin or jam-bag
For the meringue:
300g unrefined golden caster sugar
150g free range egg white
For the grilled muscovado grapefruit:
2 pink or white grapefruit
Unrefined light muscovado sugar
For the brandy snaps:
50g unrefined light muscovado sugar
50g golden syrup
50g plain flour, sifted
¼ tsp ground ginger
The grated zest of half a lemon and a splash of the juice
1 tsp brandy
1 x 500g tub mascarpone
Flaked, toasted almonds
A few tarragon and/or mint leaves
First, make the jam; cut the grapefruit in half horizontally. Squeeze the juice into a deep saucepan, catching the pulp and pips in a sieve. Turn each squeezed grapefruit half inside out and gently ease out the flesh and membrane. Pop all this, along with the contents of the sieve, in the muslin or jam-bag. Cut the lemon in half, squeeze the juice and add to the pan.
Place the lemon halves into the muslin, then pull up the four corners to form a bag and secure tightly with a piece of string. Place the bag in the pan. Using a small, sharp knife, cut the grapefruit peel into long, thin strips, then into fine dice. Add to the pan then pour in the water. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat, and leave to simmer gently for 2-3 hours.
Heat the oven to 140°C / Gas 1. Remove the bag from the liquid and place it in a sieve or colander over the pan. Squish the bag as hard as possible, extracting as much juice as possible. Empty the bag contents into the bin and wash the muslin for repeat usage. Pour the sugar into a baking tray and warm in the oven for 10 minutes, then tip into the pan. Bring the liquid to the boil, then simmer gently until it reaches 105ºC on a sugar thermometer, or by testing using a chilled saucer and seeing a small spoonful of marmalade set within a few minutes. It should take about an hour, though maybe less. Decant into sterilised jars and seal.
For the meringue, Preheat the oven to 200ºC. Line a small baking tray with parchment, pour in the caster sugar and heat in the oven for about 5 minutes. Tip the egg whites into the bowl of a mixer and whisk slowly at first, then increasing the speed until the egg whites form stiff peaks. Take the sugar out of the oven, and turn the oven down to 100 ºC. Spoon in the warm sugar in small amounts, making sure the mixture returns to a stiff peak after each addition. Once you have added all the sugar, whisk the whole lot on full speed for about 5 minutes, until you have a smooth, stiff and glossy mixture. Pipe or spoon your meringues onto the parchment and bake for 35-45 minutes, until cooked through and crunchy. Turn off the oven, leave the door ajar and let the meringues cool before transferring to an airtight container.
For the brandy snaps, heat the oven to 180ºC / Gas 4 and line a baking tray with parchment. Put the butter, sugar and golden syrup in a saucepan and heat gently until melted. Add the lemon zest and juice and the brandy and remove from the heat. Sift the flour and ginger into a bowl and make a shallow well in the centre. Pour in the butter mixture and whisk into the flour until the mixture is smooth and fully mixed. Dollop teaspoonfuls of the mixture onto the baking trays, leaving plenty of room for expansion. Cook in batches for 8 – 10 mins until they take on a pleasant golden brown colour. Leave them to cool for a minute before shaping, either wrapping around a finger to make cylinders, or laying over a wooden spoon handle to form a loose ‘taco’ shape. Finally, just before serving, segment the grapefruit, cover liberally with muscovado and grill until caramelised (you could also use a blowtorch here).
To serve, spoon some marmalade on to each plate, and arrange some meringue pieces on top neatly. Scoop some mascarpone between the pieces and garnish with shards of brandy snap, almonds, herbs and the caramelised grapefruit. Serve immediately.