Winter citrus is seasonal choice for pastry chefs

February 8, 2013 9:40:50 AM PST
For pastry chefs who appreciate the seasonal shift, this time of year means citrus from the South. At Urban Union, an atypical Mediterranean restaurant on Taylor Street - hidden among the sea of Italian joints - Mitsu Nozaki relishes the chance to use wild winter citrus on her menu.

"We have a forager that comes around and he was in Florida and brought that back for me. We have six or seven different varieties of citrus," said Nozaki, the Pastry Chef at Urban Union. "Wild white grapefruit, wild lemons, satsumas, tangelos, clementines."

She simply slices off the out peel and bitter white pith, then cuts out supremes, the interior wedges of pure, juicy citrus. The wild grapefruit, satsuma and clementines are placed on top of a rich, creme caramel, for a delicious winter time contrast.

"I think that acidity cuts through it so you can actually eat a little bit more; it gives it that balance that you need," she said.

Over at The Peninsula Hotel, just off of Michigan Avenue, winter citrus is used on each of the property's three restaurants.

"It plays a huge role, because we don't have a lot of fruit to work with this time of year in Chicago," said Hsing Chen, the Pastry Chef at The Peninsula.

Chen loves using kumquats this time of year, and will typically candy them by covering the tiny slices in vanilla sugar syrup overnight.

"Kumquats brings me back to my childhood, so it's a very important fruit in Chinese culture, especially during Chinese New Years. I'm used to eating it raw and having kumquat trees around me," she said. "It's a tiny fruit that packs a lot of flavor, so it's sweet and tart and most of the flavor comes in the actual peel instead of the inside of the fruit."

From Pierrot Gourmet, which occupies the first floor, Chen uses the kumquats in elegant fruit tarts or embedded into mandarin macarons. Mandarins are also used in their fresh form - along with candied kumquats - on top of a black sesame cake that's on the menu at Shanghai Terrace. In the spacious Lobby, tea service is always popular, and a tiny hazelnut cake with citrus powder inside of it is also graced by a sliver or two of kumquats this time of year.

"It's not as sweet, it has a more bold flavor. You only need to use a little bit to get that flavor," she said.

Some other popular winter citrus includes cara cara oranges and "cocktail" grapefruits.

Urban Union
1421 W. Taylor St.

The Peninsula
108 E. Superior St.