Thursday, April 21, 2011

hot cross buns and a pirate named Pontius: religious (mis)education of a young glutton

When I am nine years old, after three unhappy years at an international Japanese school, my parents abandon their hopes of making me trilingual, and enroll me at one of Sydney's all-girls’ private schools instead. When I am nine years old, I have my first experience with culture shock.

My new classmates do not covet Sailor Moon and Hello Kitty stationery, but collect and trade brightly colored stickers. (“Oilies” – stickers filled with a shimmery, iridescent liquid – are the most prized.) They enjoy plaiting each other’s hair in complicated fashions, and handball is all the rage on the playground. I find the demands of handball to be beyond me, but I do acquire a sticker book, and I learn to French braid. At this new school, socializing with my classmates is no longer an ordeal.

There are new rules to absorb at this school. Stand up when any teacher enters the room. Greet the Headmistress in the hallways. There are four school houses, and they are named for the royal houses of England. (Mine is York, and the house symbol is a lamb on a field of blue.) The foreign language we study is French, and I learn to address the teacher as Madame, and to make polite conversation: Comment allez-vous? Très bien, merci, et vous?

Art class, music class, and P.E. class are all familiar, but Religious Education is entirely new. I learn that there is an entity named God, and he – ahem, He – created the world. He also created the first human beings, and they were named Adam and Eve. The teacher seems taken aback when I put up my hand and ask about the apes and dinosaurs I learned about at my previous school. A funny expression crosses her face when I ask who created God. I realize that perhaps Religious Education class is not like Maths class, and maybe it is best to not to raise my hand whenever I have questions. I have many questions, though. I find that Religious Education often does not make much sense.

In addition to Religious Education, we have Chapel on Tuesdays, and the Reverend tells us more about God. I learn the Lord’s Prayer, and then another version of the Lord's Prayer, from then on I am always confused as to whether I should be saying trespasses or sins. We sing hymns from a navy blue hymn book. Though the words are often very strange, I like the singing well enough.

Come autumn, we learn about Easter. As it turns out, Easter is not about the Easter Bunny, which I have never seen and do not believe in, because my mother does not believe in sweets. Not is it about the Easter Bazaar organized by the class mothers, at which I scoped out all the stalls before making any purchases with my carefully-hoarded dollar and ten cents, and netted enough chocolate eggs to give my mother a conniption.

Easter is about Jesus, who is the son of Mary and Joseph, but also the Son of God. (It is probably a good thing that I don't yet know anything about the mechanics of human reproduction, because my questions during that particular Religious Education class would probably give my teacher a conniption.) Easter also involves a man named Judas, and a pirate named Pontius with thirty pieces of silver. (I thought pirates had gold, but maybe I am mistaken.) Jesus was nailed to a cross, which is a very unpleasant way to die, and so the symbol of Christianity is a cross (though it was also a fish), and that is why there are hot cross buns, like the ones from the nursery rhyme.

We are given forms to place orders for hot cross buns, and after some badgering, my mother agrees to place an order. The buns turn out to be soft and mildly sweet, a little like finger buns, and studded with sultanas and orange peel. I am puzzled by the makeup of the white crosses on the buns (not icing, but not bread, either) until a good-intentioned class mother gives my mother a Xeroxed copy of a recipe for hot cross buns. In reading it, I learn about flour paste, and yeast, and the fact that yeast dough must rise, be knocked down, and rise again before baking.

The week of Easter itself, the hymn we sing in Chapel is called "Christ the Lord is Risen Today." The Reverend makes a point of announcing it, too: "He is risen! Truly, He is risen!" For once, I don't have any questions. It all makes sense. He is risen, of course. Like hot cross buns, I think.

Hot Cross Buns 

This is not your traditional hot cross bun. The dough has more of a brioche-like character, and the fruit is decidedly nonstandard - I love dried cherries, and I had leftover candied kumquat peel. I did keep the flour-paste crosses I grew up with, though you can also mix up a plain white frosting if that’s your preference.

(Makes eight buns. May be frozen.)

In a mixing bowl, combine three hundred grams of flour, one teaspoon instant active yeast, a half-teaspoon of salt plus an extra pinch, and a tablespoon of sugar. Stir in a quarter-teaspoon of nutmeg, and a quarter-teaspoon of cinnamon.

Add three tablespoons (ninety mililitres) warm milk, and stir until the mixture forms shaggy clumps. Crack in one egg, and work it into the mixture. Crack in a second egg, and work that in too. You’ll have a fairly sticky, lumpy dough.

Turn the dough out on a clean countertop and knead for five to seven minutes, or until the dough loses its sticky, lumpy quality. Knead in two tablespoons of softened butter, a tablespoon at a time.

The dough will stick to the countertop in small pieces; knead until the mass of dough picks up those stray pieces and holds together in a smooth, silky whole.

Work in two tablespoons of chopped candied kumquat peel (or other candied citrus peel), and two ounces of dried cherries.

Place the dough back in its original mixing bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and leave in a warm place until doubled in volume, about an hour or so.

After an hour, gently deflate the dough and transfer it to the fridge. Chill for at least two hours (can be left overnight.)

Remove the dough from the fridge and press down upon on it gently to deflate. Butter a five-by-nine inch loaf tin. Divide the dough into eight equal pieces and shape them into squares to fit the tin.

Cover the tin with wax paper, and leave in a warm place to rise for fifty minutes, or until the dough is light and nearly doubled in volume.

Preheat the oven to 375F.

Crack one egg, beat until frothy, and brush it all over the tops of the buns.

Mix together two tablespoons of flour, a tablespoon of icing sugar, and enough water to make a thick paste. Spoon the paste into a piping bag (or a Ziploc bag – cut off the tip of one corner once it’s been filled) and pipe a cross atop each bun.

Bake for twenty to twenty-five minutes, or until the buns sound hollow when lightly tapped with a finger. Cool in the pan for five to ten minutes, then turn out on a wire rack.

Serve warm or at room temperature, with or without extra butter.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

playing well together

There are some dietary restrictions that play better together than others.

Cooking for vegans and vegetarians is straightforward: just make the meal vegan. Gluten-free and vegetarian? Serve an egg dish with potatoes or rice. Though I try not to cook for multiple dietary restrictions in one go, it's doable so long as there's a culinary lowest common denominator. The challenge lies in avoiding the dietary restrictions that are at odds with one another: the very idea of putting together a single meal for a vegan, a celiac, and an Atkins adherent is enough to make me reach for takeout menus.

Some dietary restrictions that seem challenging at first glance, however, can be surprisingly complementary. Though I’ve never needed to prepare a meal that was both gluten-free and kosher for Passover, I know it can be done with minimal frustration. Consumption of virtually all grains - including gluten-containing wheat, barley, spelt and rye -  is prohibited during Passover (in the Ashkenazi tradition), unless in the form of matzah or matzah-derived products. Therefore, a lot of Passover cooking is automatically gluten-free. In fact, when I first started experimenting with gluten-free recipes, I took many of my cues from Passover desserts.

My latest experiment, however, involved going the other way: taking a gluten-free recipe and adapting it for Passover use.

It started with leftovers. I had a lot of caramelized white chocolate left over from my complicated chocolate torte dessert, and I started casting about for other recipes in which I could put it to use. After browsing a little online, I hit upon blondies. A plain blondie is not much to write home about, but it’s a good blank canvas for mix-ins, and it seemed like a perfect starting point.

Adding caramelized white chocolate to a blondie would produce very sweet results, so I needed another flavor - something sour, or salty, or spicy - to balance it out. After rifling through my pantry, I pulled out a bag of tart dried cherries. Then a container of ground almonds caught my eye.

A blondie, like a brownie, is mostly fat and sugar, bound together with egg and a little flour. It occurred to me that I could probably make gluten-free blondies by switching out wheat flour for ground almonds. The trick would be adding some kind of extra binder so that they didn't become too crumbly. Thinking on it further, I decided to treat them as more of a candy than a bar cookie, a caramel with extra texture.

Caramel candy is produced from a mixture of sugar, invert sugar (some kind of syrup), and fat (butter, in this case), so my first move was to replace part of the sugar with golden syrup. Knowing that my dry ingredients would soak up less liquid than in a recipe with wheat flour, I opted to replace whole egg with egg yolk. Finally, I decided on a mixture of ground almonds and sweet rice (sticky rice) flour, reasoning that ground almonds alone might produce unpleasantly oily results. After some trial and error in baking pans (a larger surface area proved crucial), I had soft, chewy gluten-free blondies.

With the approach of Passover, I started wondering if I could tweak the recipe further. Kosher for Passover caramelized white chocolate might be too tall an order, but dried cherries pair equally well with dark chocolate. If I could do away with the sweet rice flour, I could produce a blondie that was both gluten-free and kosher for Passover. Unfortunately, the easiest modification - using just ground almonds - created the problem I'd originally predicted: the results were far too greasy. I needed a different approach.

I found a possible solution at Cake and Commerce (an excellent resource for allergen-free baking), after looking at a brownie recipe that used a gel made with tapioca flour, which is kosher for Passover. I reasoned that I could produce a sort of suspension by trapping the ground almonds in a mixture of tapioca gel, sugar, egg yolk, and butter, and that it should produce soft, chewy results. Unfortunately, the results were worse: I ended up with a gelatinous, greasy mess.

Back to the drawing board. Clearly, the recipe wasn't benefiting from the addition of butter. I had the feeling the egg yolk wasn't doing much good either. Why not see what would result from combining the ingredients that remained?

As it turns out, you can create a blondie from little more than ground almonds, sugar, and tapioca gel - and not only are they gluten-free and kosher for Passover, they're also vegan. I may still want takeout menus for dinner with a vegan, a celiac, and an Atkins adherent, but if I ever need to prepare a kosher for Passover meal that is both gluten-free and vegan, I'm all set for dessert.

(Kosher for Passover, Gluten-Free and Vegan) Cherry-Chocolate Almond Blondies

Tapioca starch is a kosher for Passover ingredient, but pay close attention to the labels – not all brands are certified kosher for Passover. The same goes for dried cherries, ground almonds, and vanilla extract.

If you can’t find certified ground almonds, run whole almonds through a food processor until powdery.

(Makes ten to twelve, depending on how small you cut them. Recipe may be doubled for a nine-by-nine inch pan.)

In a small saucepan, place a teaspoon of tapioca starch and add six tablespoons of cold water. Swirl the pan until the tapioca starch is fully dissolved. The liquid will turn cloudy and white.

Place the saucepan over low heat, and whisk steadily until the mixture thickens up and turns clearish in color. Remove from heat.

Allow the saucepan and contents to cool until just warm. Stir in a quarter-cup of white sugar and a quarter-cup of brown sugar. Add a half-teaspoon of salt, and a half-teaspoon of vanilla. Stir in a teaspoon of safflower or walnut oil.

Fold in one cup of almond meal, a little at a time. The mixture will be thick and sticky, more like dough than batter. Fold in three to four ounces of dried cherries, and three ounces of roughly chopped dark chocolate.

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a nine-by-five inch baking tin.

Press the blondie mixture into the tin. Transfer the tin to the oven, and bake for twenty-five to thirty minutes, or until the mixture has puffed and is golden brown on top. Remove from the oven. Allow the blondies to cool completely in the tin before cutting them into squares.

(Gluten-Free) Caramelized White Chocolate and Dried Cherry Almond Blondies

 For a more pronounced almond flavor, bump up the amount of extract to a half-teaspoon.

(Makes ten to twelve, depending on how small you cut them. They'll keep for a few days in a sealed container.)

Melt half a stick (two ounces) of butter in a heatproof bowl, either in the microwave or over simmering water.

Stir in two tablespoons of white sugar, a quarter-teaspoon of almond extract, and a quarter-teaspoon of salt.

Add a quarter-cup of sweet rice flour, followed by two tablespoons of golden syrup. Stir in six tablespoons of ground almond meal. Beat in one egg yolk. Allow to rest for at least twenty minutes.

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a nine-by-five inch loaf pan.

Stir at least two ounces of tart dried cherries into the batter. (I say “at least,” because I can never resist adding a few extra.) Spoon the batter into the prepared pan.

In another bowl, melt two ounces of caramelized white chocolate, and dollop spoonfuls of it all over the blondie batter. Use a skewer or a thin knife to incorporate it in swirling designs.

Bake for fifteen minutes, or until the blondies are golden in color. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Cut into squares and serve alongside tea or coffee.

Monday, April 11, 2011

a study in white (pizza)

During my semester in Rome, my favorite class was an art history course on the High Renaissance.

Rome made art history easy to love. In Rome, the past and the present are pressed up against one another like passengers on a crowded bus. The relationship is cramped and awkward, even a little invasive. History is accommodated, not enshrined, and much of the city’s older art is startlingly immediate and accessible.

My High Renaissance course had no excursions to crowded museums, no squinting at works in a blank, neutral environment while desperately trying to imagine them in their original contexts. Though our lectures took place on campus in a regular classroom, our on-site visits involved excursions to churches and other buildings all over Rome. Along with a happy dearth of museums, High Renaissance class also had another draw: Professor H.

Our first introduction to Professor H. came during our program orientation, during an excursion to Umbria. A slight, soft-spoken man, he gave the impression of being bookish, even mousy, as he provided notes on the history of the region on the way to our destination. Upon sensing a general lack of interest when he resumed his lecture on the return trip, however, he abruptly switched gears – and declared that we'd probably get more use out of a lesson in Italian swear words. Within minutes, he was leading students in a chorus of curses, cheerfully shouting profanities at the top of his lungs. It was a very clear sign that High Renaissance would probably not involve the staid, theoretical lectures we'd expected.

Professor H.’s on-site discourse was peppered with anecdotes about popes and Italian noblemen, and we were often given a good dose of saucy Renaissance humor along with observations on contrapposto and color theory. Furthermore, on-site visits demanded little in the way of note-taking. He left us to refer to our textbooks for hard facts, preferring that we listen and observe. It may not have been the most academic of courses, but it was decidedly entertaining.

Best of all, Professor H. was knowledgeable about food. He had earned his degrees in art history part-time while working as a chef, and asking him just a brief question about a Roman specialty could elicit detailed instructions for its preparation. On organized trips to towns outside of Rome, he’d take willing students to little osterie serving pasta with chestnut flour and lamb chops with fried potatoes. In Venice, city of a thousand tourist traps, he led us to a restaurant where all the patrons were locals, and the menu included sarde in saour and squid in its own ink served with white polenta. Our on-site class meeting just happened to conclude at lunchtime, and Professor H. would often announce that he’d be having lunch someplace in the neighborhood, and that anyone who had time to spare before afternoon class was welcome to join him.

The day our class met at the church of Santa Maria della Pace, I did not have a good morning. I overslept and missed breakfast. I took a wrong turn after crossing the river, and my map proved virtually useless when I hit a particularly serpentine collection of streets right near Piazza Novona. By the time I located the church, I’d run through my entire newfound vocabulary of Italian curse words, mentally heaping invective on Professor H., on-site visits, and all High Renaissance art. Bramante’s cloister might have been a charming example of Renaissance architecture, but I was in no mood to appreciate it. When Professor H. dismissed the class, I couldn’t help but sigh in relief. I perked up, however, when he mentioned the words lunch and pizza bianca.

Roman pizza bianca is not white pizza. Not in the American sense, at least. It’s a thin, chewy bread with a light outer crust, baked in blazingly hot ovens and seasoned with nothing more than olive oil and salt. It’s typically eaten plain as a snack, but the hole-in-the-wall to which Professor H. led us specialized in pizza bianca sandwiches – slices split horizontally and stuffed with all kinds of fillings. The smell was wonderful, and the selection generous. One overstuffed assemblage of hard-boiled eggs, tomato, arugula, capers and salsa tonnata later, I was in a much more forgiving mood. Professor H. was a riot; Santa Maria della Pace, delightful; High Renaissance art history, still my favorite class.

I didn’t plan a repeat visit to that sandwich shop, though. Getting lost in that neighborhood just once was enough for me.

Pizza Bianca

Pizza bianca should be crisp on the outside and springy on the inside – pleasantly chewy, but not aggressively so. If you can find Italian “00” grind durum flour, it produces particularly flavorful results, but otherwise, use a good unbleached all-purpose. Don’t use bread flour unless your jaws are in dire need of exercise.

The tray-switching trick in this recipe is intended to compensate for the lack of a baking stone. If you have a baking stone, bake the pizza bianca on a rack in the upper third of the oven, and don’t worry about moving it.
(Makes enough for three servings, if you don't eat half of it hot out of the oven.)

At no less than ninety percent hydration, this is very, very, very wet dough. It’s entirely workable by hand if you don’t mind a little mess, but I won’t hold it against you if you mix it up in a heavy-duty stand mixer.

That said, if you're willing to do this by hand, get out a large mixing bowl, and stir together one-and-three-quarter-cups (two-hundred and fifty grams, eight point eight ounces) all-purpose flour, one teaspoon (five grams) instant yeast, and half a teaspoon (four grams) salt. Pour in a little under one cup of lukewarm water (two hundred and twenty-five mililitres, seven point six fluid ounces.) Stir to combine. The mixture will look like thick paste.

Scrape the paste out on a clean countertop. Work it by either sticking your hand it the mixture and stirring, or smearing it out on the countertop and scraping it back together. It will take a while before the dough develops any kind of body; be patient. It will gradually go from pasty, to sticky, to gummy.

The way to tell if this dough is kneaded adequately is to take your hand, pull it away from the dough, and hold it flat above the dough. The excess dough will fall off in a sticky ribbon. If it falls off immediately, you’re not done. If it hangs for a few seconds before falling, you’re good to go.

Grease the bowl with olive oil and scrape the dough back into the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and leave in a warm place until it triples in volume (one to two hours.)

Lay out a sheet of parchment paper. Scrape the dough onto the parchment paper, and gently stretch and pat it (resist the urge to roll it out; you'll destroy all the air bubbles) until you have a rectangle a little over half a centimeter thick (about five-sixteenths of an inch.) Let the dough proof for another forty minutes, then brush with olive oil. (You can sprinkle with sea salt too, if you like.)

While the dough is proofing for the second time, place an oven rack in the top third of your oven, and another in the bottom third of your oven, as close to the bottom heating element as possible. Place a metal baking tray on the bottom rack.

Crank up your oven as far as it will go. (Mine goes to about 550F.)

Once your oven reaches temperature, carefully hook the rack and slide it out far enough to drop the parchment with dough on the baking tray. Bake for ten minutes.

After ten minutes, carefully (very carefully) move the tray to the top rack. If your oven has a broil setting, switch it on. Bake until the pizza bianca is a deep golden brown and just starting to blister in a few spots. (The blackened spots in the photo are where I stretched the dough too thin; ideally, your pizza bianca shouldn't burn like that.)

Remove from oven. Let it cool to the point where it won’t burn your fingers before you give in to the urge to nosh.

For sandwiches, cut the pizza bianca into rectangles, split them horizontally (not all the way; you want to form a sort of pocket, like pita bread), and stuff with your choice of fillings. If you can get your hands on fresh figs, figs and prosciutto are classic.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

better than my imagination

When I applied to college, I wrote my essay about cooking. I titled it "Imagining Alchemy."

Alchemy, because I found cooking to be almost magical; imagined, because I did very little cooking outside of my daydreams. I wrote about my desire to cook: the fact that I'd spent much of my childhood leafing longingly through cookbooks, that I eagerly awaited the arrival of the far-off day when I'd be out of my parents' kitchen (the one in which I could barely fry an egg and use the toaster without permission) and in a space of my own. I wrote about dishes I'd never made and processes I'd only ever tested in my mind. My essay was dreamy and wistful, and by rights, I should have had a good-natured chuckle at my naivete upon re-reading it eight years later.

The funny thing is, I didn't. Though most of the predictions I made during senior year of high school about college and my future in general were completely off the mark (I didn't study psychology, and I didn't take a single class in the English department, let alone declare the major), the sentiment of that essay has held true.

I still like the word sabayon (and its Italian equivalent, zabaglione.) The process of baking bread still fascinates me. I've learned more about the tedious, dirty and exhausting parts of cooking, but the activity hasn't lost its charm. I know it doesn't usually play out this way, but for once, reality doesn't pale in comparison to daydreams.

Now that I have kitchen space of my own, I can devise multi-part, multi-step recipes building on all the untried dishes I thought about years ago. I can learn about caramelized white chocolate, and I no longer have to content myself with merely reading through the steps.

I can steal spoonfuls of the mixture as it cools - sweet and toffee-like, with a browned-butter edge - and wonder about what I might use it in, what other flavors I might combine it with.

A sauce, something very simple, just the white chocolate thinned out with heavy cream. Use it to dress an ultra-dark, bitter flourless chocolate torte. Accent with raspberry - no, citrus. Citrus peel, for its floral, bitter note, the one that plays off the fruity quality of dark chocolate. Serve with orange liqueur-spiked whipped cream to cut the richness. 

I can candy kumquats (and forget to take photos of the process - oops. Wikimedia Commons to the rescue!)

I can sketch out exactly how I'd present such a dessert. (Even if my drawing skills leave something to be desired.)

I can determine the exact cocoa content I want in the chocolate for the flourless torte. (Seventy and eighty-five percent, in equal parts.)

And on a quiet weekend morning, I can put all the pieces together.

Imagining alchemy may be lovely, but the reality is much, much better.

Bitter Flourless Chocolate Torte with Caramelized White Chocolate Sauce, Candied Kumquat, and Orange Whipped Cream

I will freely admit that this is probably one of the most finicky recipes I've ever devised. It's not a terribly difficult recipe, but the whole thing takes a week from start to finish, and some of the steps are time-consuming and rather fiddly. I wouldn't hold it against you if you skipped the kumquats - you could probably substitute a spoonful of decent-quality marmalade without too much drama.

(Serves six to eight, depending how thickly you slice the torte. It's very rich, though, so a little goes a long way.)

For the candied kumquat peel:

Start preparing the candied kumquat peel a week before you plan to serve the finished dish. You'll have more than you need for this recipe, but the leftovers will keep for weeks in the fridge. (They can be added to baked goods, or used to garnish other desserts.)

Take eight ounces of kumquats, and clean and dry them well. Place in a large glass jar or a small, deep bowl.

In a small saucepan, combine seven ounces sugar with seven ounces water, Bring to a boil and cook for two minutes. Pour the hot syrup over the kumquats. Cover with a round of parchment paper, and place a can or other heavy object on top to keep the kumquats submerged. Allow to sit until fully cool.

Transfer the kumquats and syrup to a glass container with lid. Place in fridge; leave for four days. After four days, remove the kumquats from the syrup. Cut each fruit in half and scoop out the pulp (it should come out cleanly.) Cut each peel into strips.

Preheat oven to 120C. Place the strips on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for one hour; allow to cool. Place the kumquat peel back in the syrup. Return to fridge for two more days.

To prepare for serving, take a spoonful of kumquat peel and place in a saucepan with a little water. Simmer 1 min. Allow to cool, then drain well and cut the peel into fine slivers.

For the caramelized white chocolate

(follow link to David Lebowitz' blog for detailed instructions)

Preheat oven to 250F.

Take twelve ounces of good-quality white chocolate, cut into rough chunks, and place them on a rimmed baking sheet. (Line with parchment paper for easy cleanup, if you like.)

Place the baking sheet in the oven. After ten minutes, smooth out the chocolate with a wooden spoon or spatula.

Bake for thirty to sixty minutes, stirring at ten-minute intervals, until the chocolate is a deep shade of golden brown. Season with a pinch of salt.

Transfer to a jar with lid. Allow to cool completely before sealing. Store at room temperature.

For the flourless chocolate torte: 

Make the torte the day before you plan to serve the finished dish.

Preheat oven to 400F. Line a 3.5 x7 inch baking tin with parchment paper.

In a bowl set over simmering water, melt together half a stick of butter (two ounces), two ounces finely chopped seventy-percent dark chocolate and two ounces finely chopped eighty-five percent dark chocolate. Remove from heat; set aside.

Crack two eggs into a second bowl and place over simmering water. Beat until eggs are pale and tripled in volume. Fold half the mixture into the melted chocolate, then the remaining half. Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin.

Set the tin in a larger baking dish, and fill the larger baking dish with water until it comes about halfway up the tin. Transfer the dish to the oven.

Bake for nine minutes uncovered, then cover with tinfoil and bake for an additional three minutes. Allow to cool completely before refrigerating overnight.

For the caramelized white chocolate sauce: 

Make this an hour before serving.

Gently heat a quarter-cup of heavy cream, and pour it over two ounces of chopped caramelized white chocolate. Stir until the mixture is smooth and even; chill.

For the orange whipped cream:

Make this shortly before serving.

Whip half a cup of heavy cream with a tablespoon of sugar and a few drops of Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur - just enough to flavor it lightly.

To assemble the whole affair:

Unmold the torte by using the parchment paper to lift it out of the tin. Cut the torte into slices, and allow them to come to room temperature, or microwave very briefly, on very low heat, until just barely warm.

Drizzle sauce on serving plates in a decorative pattern. Arrange torte slices on serving plates. Top with whipped cream, and garnish with kumquat zest. Serve with remaining whipped cream and extra kumquat on the side.