Sliced Mandarin Oranges with Lavender Honey
I went to Belle Clementine, a new group dining restaurant in Ballard, a few weeks ago. I took photos, but not too many. In the photos, the lovely, candlelit ambiance made it look like dinner was taking place in a very fancy cave. Also, I didn’t want to disturb the other diners at my table. So instead I came home, waited for daylight, and practiced taking photos of clementines.
Later, after spending a good three minutes reading Wikipedia, I discovered that the orange above is a satsuma, not a clementine. But it makes a pretty good clementine stunt double, don’t you think? Let’s just go with it.
Belle Clementine takes group dining to another level of groupness. You don’t just sit with people you don’t know, you also share food with them, family style, at a long table situated across from a nearly open kitchen. The space is clean and spare and open and full of light wood and glass jars and casually arranged berries on sticks. It made me want to immediately redecorate my house with Everything Ikea.
Currently they are serving family-style dinners Thursday through Saturday, plus Sunday-morning family-style brunch. They happily accommodate vegetarians with advance notice at the time of your reservation. Soon they will offer seasonal subscription dinners as well. I love the idea of gathering for dinner with the same people every week. I want Belle Clementine to by my Cheers. I would be Norm. Actually, with the Scandinavian-inspired design, I suppose I would be … Nörmm? In exchange for good food and good conversation, I would gladly be either.
I always come away from dinner gatherings with a stovetop-popcorn brain, pinging with ideas, food-centric and otherwise. 98% of them seem to dissipate before sunrise. But the 2% that stuck this time included a dead easy way to embellish a simple dessert. Here it is: You make Mexican wedding cookies, which are charming in and of themselves, and then you pile them on a cake stand, and you pass them around, and you fall in love with them, and you want to pinch their cheeks with your powdered-sugar-encrusted fingers.
Am I the only person who has not seen this done before? I now want to put everything I love on a cake stand. Corgis on a cake stand. Cheese puffs on a cake stand. Waldorf and Statler on a cake stand. Ooh … Captain Jean-Luc Picard on a cake stand. Make it so.
I’m not sure why I had such a strong desire to represent that visually, but I think it has something to do with the fact that Captain Picard’s head resembles a clementine.
Also, now that I have said “cake stand” so many times, I am fairly certain that somewhere on the dark underbelly of American collegiate culture, there are young people being dangled by their ankles over red velvet and devil’s food, performing cake stands instead of keg stands. Maybe that is a Heimlich Maneuverfest just waiting to happen. Maybe cupcake stands? Mini cupcake stands? Just pounding the frosting straight?
See what I mean about those ideas just flying wherever they may? At Belle Clementine they served the Mexican wedding cookies alongside little cocoa-dusted dark chocolate truffles. But I, having eaten far, far too much chocolate over the previous few months, was looking for a break. And I had a huge bag of sastu … er … clementines on hand from my photo experiment. What to do … what to do?
Sliced Mandarin Oranges with Lavender Honey
From Chez Panisse Fruit
Alice Waters, who probably knows at least as much about oranges as Wikipedia does, told me that clementines and satsumas both come from the mandarin orange family. Both have thin peels and segments that separate from each other easily. Here, for maximum prettiness, you slice the oranges instead of segmenting them. The Chez Panisse recipe recommends using a very sharp knife so the slices hold together. I had the most success with the small serrated knife I use for cutting tomatoes. When sliced, the oranges transform into little floral cut-out shapes that look beautiful plated.
If you, like me, are an Overzealous Garnisher: Easy on that final sprinkle of lavender, tiger, unless you want your dessert to taste like a lingerie drawer sachet.
1/3 cup honey (I used the Tupelo honey I got in Savannah)
1 teaspoon dried lavender blossoms
1 pound satsumas, clementines, or other seedless mandarin oranges
Warm the honey in a small saucepan over low heat. Crush the lavender blossoms. Crush them! Crush them! You can do this using a mortar and pestle, or just by rubbing the blossoms between your fingers. Either way, if you yell, “I will crush you!” and bang your shoe on your kitchen counter while doing it, we will be fast friends.
Add the crushed lavender to the honey. Take the mixture off the heat and let stand for 30 minutes. Alice recommends straining the honey before serving, but I honestly have no idea how you strain cold honey, and I felt immensely satisfied with how thoroughly I had crushed the lavender, so I did not strain it. Peel the mandarins and cut them horizontally in 1/4-inch-thick slices. Arrange the slices in a single layer on dessert plates. If some of the slices fell apart a bit while you were cutting them, you can reassemble them here. Drizzle the honey over the mandarin slices and garnish with a few extra lavender blossoms. Serve with Mexican wedding cookies … on a cake stand!
Mexican Wedding Cookies
From America’s Test Kitchen
You could substitute any buttery, shortbreadish cookie, but I liked how the nuttiness of the Mexican wedding cookies played against the citrus. Ooh, maybe lavender shortbread next time? Anyway, I could eat an entire box of Pecan Sandies, and had forgotten that Mexican wedding cookies are basically Pecan Sandies covered in powdered sugar. This recipe makes about 4 dozen small cookies, but you can cut it in half if you don’t want too many left over after you eat the oranges.
2 cups pecans
2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup sugar (ATK recommends superfine sugar, but I used regular sugar and it worked fine)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Process one cup of the pecans in a food processor for about 10-15 seconds, until they are they texture of coarse cornmeal. Transfer to a medium bowl. Process the remaining 1 cup of nuts until coarsely chopped, about 5 seconds. Stir the chopped pecans into the nearly pulverized pecans. Stir in the flour and salt and set aside.
Beat the butter and sugar together in a large bowl until pale and fluffy. I used an electric mixer for this. Beat in the vanilla. Reduce mixer speed to low, and slowly add the dry ingredients until combined. Continue to mix on low speed until the dough comes together.
Working with one tablespoon of dough at a time, roll dough into balls and place them on parchment-lined baking sheets. These cookies do not spread too much as they bake, so you can put them fairly close together. Bake until the bottoms are just starting to turn golden, about 18 minutes.
Let the cookies cool completely, then roll them in confectioners’ sugar to coat. Pile them on a cake stand. Fall in love.