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Behold a blazing beauty

The pomegranate is the jewel of fall, bestowing not only its radiant color but a unique flavor upon dishes sweet and savory.

November 13, 2002|Donna Deane | Times Staff Writer

FOR all its virtues, the pomegranate doesn't exactly reach out and grab the cook. It doesn't release a burst of fragrance, the way a lemon or an orange does the instant the knife pierces its skin. There's no inspiring rush of juice like the nectar of a peach or fig. None of the evocative crunch of an apple.

But it's fall. They're in season. And they're so beautiful. So, we began to experiment. And our first effort -- a creamy orange cheesecake covered with an impossibly red pomegranate glaze and sparkling seeds -- confirmed our hunch: This is one seriously neglected fruit.

Next we used the seeds to garnish a spongecake frosted with a rich pomegranate molasses butter cream. Topped with toasted walnuts and strewn with the ruby seeds, it was another real looker of a dessert. Pomegranate molasses -- which is actually just the concentrated juice, sold in specialty markets and well-stocked supermarkets -- gives the sweet, thick frosting a unique flavor.

We didn't stop at dessert. Our pomegranate chicken, which marinates overnight in pomegranate molasses and seasonings, is served with a sauce made from white wine, butter and pomegranate molasses. It was a sophisticated dish, and it came together in less than an hour.

Choosing pomegranates is easy. Buy deeply colored, large fruits that are heavy for their size. Store them in the refrigerator for up to two months or on the counter for a few days.

To remove the seeds, roll the pomegranate on a cutting board, pressing down slightly. Then score the leathery skin into quarters and submerge it in a bowl of cold water. Gently break open the pomegranate and separate the seeds from the pith. The pith will float to the top of the bowl, and can be easily scooped off.

Be sure to keep the fruit under water as you work, to prevent it from squirting on you and your clothing. For all its virtues, the pomegranate can make an indelible mess.

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Pomegranate butter cream frosting

Total time: 1 hour, 5 minutes

Servings: 12

Note: Test Kitchen Director Donna Deane created this frosting for a 9-inch layer cake.

1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) butter, softened

3 cups sifted powdered sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3 tablespoons pomegranate molasses

1/2 cup pomegranate seeds, divided

1/2 cup chopped walnuts, toasted

1. Beat the butter until light and creamy, then gradually add the powdered sugar until the frosting is light and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla and pomegranate molasses.

2. To frost a cake, cut the cake in half horizontally, and place the bottom on a cake plate. Spread one-fourth of the frosting over the cake and sprinkle with half the pomegranate seeds. Top with the other cake half and frost the top and sides of the cake with the remaining frosting. Sprinkle the cake with the chopped nuts and the remaining pomegranate seeds.

Each serving: 390 calories; 235 mg. sodium; 62 mg. cholesterol; 26 grams fat; 15 grams saturated fat; 39 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram protein; 0.38 gram fiber.

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Pomegranate-glazed orange cheesecake

Total time: 1 1/2 hours, plus 4 hours chilling

Servings: 10-12

Note: This pretty cheesecake is from Mayi Brady of The Times' Test Kitchen. To toast almonds, heat a dry skillet and add the nuts, shaking the skillet often, for about 5 minutes. Look for pomegranate juice with the refrigerated juices in well-stocked supermarkets.

Crust

1 cup vanilla wafer crumbs

1/4 cup ground toasted almonds

2 tablespoons sugar

5 tablespoons butter, melted

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. Combine the vanilla wafers, almonds, sugar and melted butter in a bowl. Press the mixture onto the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan.

3. Bake the crust until just very lightly golden, about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and let come to room temperature.

Cake

2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened

1 (8-ounce) tub mascarpone

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup whipping cream

4 eggs

Grated zest of 1 orange

1. Beat the cream cheese, mascarpone and sugar in a mixing bowl on medium-high speed until smooth, about 2 minutes. Beat in the cream and then the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl between each egg. Stir in the zest. Pour into the cooled crust.

2. Place the springform pan inside a larger pan filled with about 1 inch of water. Bake the cake until the center is still a little soft but the edges are set and the top is lightly browned, 60 to 70 minutes. Let the cake cool to room temperature, then chill at least 4 hours.

Glaze

2 teaspoons cornstarch

2 cups pomegranate juice, divided

1 tablespoon sugar

2 tablespoons pomegranate seeds

1. Stir the cornstarch into 2 tablespoons of the pomegranate juice and set aside.

2. Bring the remaining pomegranate juice and sugar to a boil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the liquid has reduced to 3/4 cup, about 20 minutes. Stir in the juice-cornstarch mixture and simmer 2 minutes to thicken.

3. Let the glaze come to room temperature, then pour over the chilled cheesecake. Garnish with the pomegranate seeds.

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