As often happens, the choice of dessert came down to a matter of gender politics. We were two couples dining last week at Augustine, Keith McNally’s new Art Nouveau-style brasserie in the Beekman Hotel near City Hall.
The women at the table were tempted mostly by the roasted blood oranges with mint. For the men, the Armagnac mille-feuille with poached pears and marinated prunes was the surprise winner over the dark chocolate terrine. But the oranges were so exceptional that the men attacked those, too. We shared but should have ordered seconds.
Thick, deep-garnet orange slices glistening with sugar glaze were layered on a plate and strewn with leaves of crystallized mint. The sugar was applied so as to make the flesh of the oranges almost crisp, while sweetening the tangy fruit just enough.
McNally, the veteran restaurateur behind the Odeon and several other New York restaurants, inspired the dish. “Keith wanted a simple roasted fruit dish,” said Neva Lindner, his assistant. “Blood oranges are beautiful right now.”
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She added that the crunch of the sugar and the coolness of the orange, combined with the freshness of the mint, make the dessert refreshing. They’re a better palate cleanser than a dish of sorbet.
At home, I discovered that I could replicate the dessert. Though the menu calls the oranges “roasted,” they’re simply torched.
The recipe devised by Augustine’s chef, Regis Beauregard, calls for a propane or butane burner, but a broiler also works. The secret to achieving the crunchy texture is coating the slices with Demerara sugar and searing them twice.
As for the mint, crystallizing the leaves involves drying them with a coating of egg white and sugar. But plain, uncoated mint leaves can be used. The mint oil in the recipe can be found in health food stores, or simply use a few drops of mint extract mixed with grapeseed oil.
Roasted Blood Oranges
Total time: 30 minutes plus about 4 hours’ cooling and drying
Yield: 2 servings
10 fresh mint leaves
1 egg white, lightly beaten, optional
1/4 cup granulated sugar, optional
4 blood oranges
1/2 cup Demerara (granulated light brown) sugar
A few drops of mint oil
1. If crystallizing the mint leaves, place them on a sheet of parchment paper. Brush lightly with egg white on both sides. Place sugar in a small mound and dip each coated leaf in the sugar, to cover both sides. Shake off excess. Place leaves on a plate to dry for about 4 hours or in a turned-off oven with a pilot light, until dry and crisp.
2. Peel oranges, removing all pith. Cut each in 4 slices horizontally, removing any seeds. Refrigerate at least 2 hours. Place Demerara sugar on a plate and dip each orange slice in the sugar on one side. Use a butane or propane torch, or light a broiler with the rack as close as possible to the heat element. On a baking sheet lined with foil, place oranges, sugared side up. Use the torch to caramelize the sugar, or place slices under the broiler until the edges are seared. Allow to cool briefly, then coat with sugar and sear again. Place slices on a cooling rack and allow to sit at least 1 hour.
3. Arrange slices on individual plates. Dot with a few drops of mint oil, garnish with the plain or sugared mint leaves and serve.