Friday, March 7, 2014

Let's Lunch: Orange curd tarts fit for Alice

“In the very middle of the court was a table, with a large dish of tarts upon it: they looked so good, that it made Alice quite hungry to look at them--`I wish they'd get the trial done,' she thought, `and hand round the refreshments!' But there seemed to be no chance of this, so she began looking at everything about her, to pass away the time.”
--Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll (1865)

This past weekend, we welcomed friends at an open house to meet our almost-daughter-in-law, Angel Barnes, and her relentlessly endearing pup, Pilot. We also had the good fortune to show off Tim’s mother, Dotty, who flew here for the occasion from Ohio.  

We started planning the menu weeks ago and spent the days before the party in a mad dash of housecleaning and cooking. One could not help thinking at the time, “I’m late! I’m late! For a very important date!” -- which made a particular sweet seem the perfect selection for this month's Let's Lunch topic of "literary food."

I had decided early on to make a batch of sunny orange curd to fill scalloped phyllo tart shells. The oranges were from a package of spectacular Honeybells, a heavenly blend of sweet Dancy tangerines and tangy grapefruit, that we’d received as a gift from my brother.  

The tarts were one of four bite-sized nibbles we made for the dessert table, including strawberry balsamic meringues, mini double-chocolate cupcakes and shot-glass portions of Bill Smith’s justifiably famous butterscotch pudding. The latter required the most frequent refilling to cure briefly heartbroken guests who thought they missed their luscious window of opportunity.

The tarts, however, were so damn good that Tim personally invited everyone to grab a few before they were gone, which happened faster than I imagined. And while I still had plenty of curd, I had no extra shells.

Had I done my homework in advance, I would have better understood the literary implications of offering, and then denying, this potent elixir. According to Scribd. – an online source surely cited by countless college freshmen – orange’s symbolism in literature references “the point of balance between the spirit and the libido; it may be the emblem of divine love or extreme lust.”  

Lesson learned. Make this lovely curd with the best seasonal oranges available – and buy more than two packages of tart shells.

Honeybell Orange Curd Tarts
Adapted from Rose Levy Berenbaum’s As Orange as It Gets.

4 tablespoons *Honeybell orange zest (or other seasonal variety)
4 large egg yolks, room temperature
¾ cup sugar
6½ tablespoons freshly squeezed Honeybell orange juice
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces and softened
pinch of kosher salt
3-4 packages of phyllo tart shells (such as Athens, from freezer case)

Zest two large Honeybell oranges into a small bowl; set aside.

Juice the oranges. Pour through a mesh sieve to remove any fiber. If you have more than 6½ tablespoons of juice, swig the bonus.

In a heavy saucepan, beat the yolks and sugar until well blended. Stir in the orange juice, butter and salt. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly. Be careful to never let the mixture boil – it will curdle, breaking your heart and forcing you to start over. Scrape sides of pan now and then to ensure thorough blending.

The curd will take on a rich orange color as it thickens to a consistency similar to hollandaise. It should thickly coat a wooden spoon when done, allowing you to swipe a clean stripe and – strictly for scientific purposes – taste its excellent flavor.

Press the curd through a fine sieve if you are concerned about residue, but I never bother. Fold in zest and allow curd to cool. Transfer to an airtight container, lightly pressing a layer of plastic wrap against the curd.

About an hour before your guests arrive, bake the phyllo tart shells according to directions on the package. When cooled, fill each with a generous teaspoon of curd and arrange on a platter. Remember to take a photo prove how pretty they were before they rapidly vanish.

* My favorite source for Honeybells is Cushman's, which operates the easy-to-remember website This year we received a disappointing shipment, which was somewhat understandable given Florida's unseasonably cold winter. A call to customer service yielded a sincere apology and a replacement box that was nothing short spectacular. 

NOTE: Let’s Lunch (#LetsLunch) is a Twitter-based virtual lunch club where anyone interested can join this monthly "lunch date." A topic is posted at least a month in advance, and all posts are made on the same d ay -- typically the first Friday of the month -- by a group of bloggers who range from amateurs to best-selling cookbook writers. Anyone can join at any time. Search for #LetsLunch on Twitter or Let's Lunch on Facebook.


  1. Those look great! I've never used the shells, but frozen phyllo and puff pastry are such a fantastic shortcut for good-looking desserts. I've been thinking about making Meyer lemon curd just on principle, but I bet it'd make lovely little tarts too.

  2. Yes, I'm sure it would. Sounds delicious.

  3. This is so delightful Jill - your stories and recipes are always so wonderful. What a great idea for shells, I must try it one day. xx

  4. These tarts with orange curd are stunning ~ a must try!