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Thursday, June 5, 2014

Component Two Revealed - Raspberry Midnight - Raspberry Curd

The Raspberry Midnight
Component Two: "A word on curd"

As soon as this week's inspiration ingredients were proposed, I knew that raspberry would be the headliner in this dish. Chocolate and graham would play their parts, and they would be just as delicious. But raspberry - simultaneously sweet and refreshingly acidic - this berry was going to be more than a garnish on a molten chocolate cake.

Forever with an eye for dishes that skew slightly off center (or run off the rails), it came to me: Raspberry Curd!

"Wait, raspberry curd?   
But isn't curd sort of a 'lemon' thing?"

Unless you're a turn-of-the-century Brit in the habit of taking afternoon tea, you probably haven't encountered fruit curd on many occasions (not to be confused with cheese making curd - a different product entirely and a topic for another time).

And even those who are familiar with these tangy spreads will probably agree, there's one flavor that has a monopoly: lemon!  Do not pass go, do not collect $200.

But what exactly is fruit curd? And how did lemon become both the chocolate and vanilla of the curd flavor universe?

"Which came first, the lemon or the egg?"

What curd is and how lemon came to dominate are closely related topics.

Fruit curd, like most good-things-culinary, is extremely simple: Fruit juice, egg yolk and sugar. 

These three ingredients are combined and slowly (emphasis on slowly, unless you want fruit curd scramble) heated to 170 degrees fahrenheit. The mixture thickens, taking on an extremely smooth, spreadable texture.

The eggs are doing all of the work here. By slowly (did I mention slowly?) heating the egg yolk, proteins coagulate with one another and around the flavoring components of the fruit juice and sugar, causing the entire mixture to thicken. Too much heat, or heating the mixture too quickly, will cause the yolks to over-coagulate resulting in eggy lumps suspended in the fruit juice and sugar liquid. Pretty gross.

Chef's note: Egg yolks, on their own, thicken and set just below 160 degrees fahrenheit. The addition of sugar and fruit juice impede the thickening process, raising the required temperature closer to 170 degrees fahrenheit.

It takes a respectable number of yolks to thicken the amount of fruit juice and sugar necessary to produce a good flavor. 

If a milder fruit juice is used, the flavor of the egg yolk may be noticeable. Given how visceral a reaction some people have to eggs, that's something to avoid.

There are two practical solutions.

The first would be to reduce the fruit juice, heating it so water evaporates leaving a more concentrated flavor. While this works, the reduced liquid will have high levels of residual sugar. The resulting curd may be cloyingly sweet rather than a good reflection of the fruit's flavor.

The second option is to use tart or acidic fruit flavors that hold up well even against the egg yolk.

Ah... like lemon... or raspberry...!

Raspberries                Lemon

"And in the yellow corner, weighing in at 75g... Lemon!"

If strong, acidic flavors are the best answer, then why don't we see lime curd... or orange... or raspberry? Why not raspberry!

The truth is that all of those flavors work really well and will taste amazing. But as over 186,000,000 google search results for "Food Porn" will tell you, a dish needs to look good too.

The yellow pigment of an egg yolk is resilient. Mix a bright yellow yolk with lemon juice, and you have a bright yellow curd that is evocative of the underlying flavor. The brain likes the matching. Hunger centers activated. Give me a spoon.

But what if you mix a bright yellow yolk with blackberry juice. That color can be less-than-appetizing.

Typically, the ratio of juice to yolk causes the berry's color to dominate. But even raspberries, with a redness that stains with a vengeance, the curd can appear a little pink - certainly not as vibrant as the juice on its own.

Ultimately, it's a minor consideration given this amazing final product. And why not enjoy flavor options beyond the lemon.

...it doesn't hurt to think outside of the breadbox.

Chocolate Crust and Raspberry Curd... 
two ingredients down, one to go!

 Tomorrow is the big reveal for the Midnight Raspberry. 

Make sure to check out how everything comes together, including the detailed recipes and steps for trying it on your own.

Let me know your thoughts.  Send me an email or leave a comment. Stay connected with Outside of the Breadbox on Facebook or follow on Twitter @breadchefmark. And sign up for the email feed.

Raspberry curd in a dish

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