Symphony of Sugar

March 26, 2010 at 3:36 pm 46 comments

Tangerine Meringue Tart with Chocolate Crust

As my friends’ schedules become increasingly hectic and I continue to get by without a car, recently I’ve been taking the bus more and more.

For a long time, I resented it. There is not a lot to love about public transportation.

I’ve spent too many afternoons running behind a just-missed bus or waiting listlessly for an hour, so I’ve become overly cautious and give myself too much time. I rush out of school in that awkward state between walking and running, my backpack heavy against my shoulders, moving quickly to get to the stop. I stare at the stretch of road, trying to see the green roof of the bus emerge from around the bend, and I hate feeling as though the bus will never come.

Most of all, I hate the weary ride itself. It’s an hour long ride to my house, even though it’s a 15 minute trip by car, and the hour never passes quickly. My bus has sticky seats, a dirty floor, the smell of too many people come and gone and a lurching, roundabout movement that leaves me grouchy.


But the good news is that I’ve found an escape. I tuck my ipod into the pocket of my backpack every morning, and as the bus lumbers towards me I untangle the headphones. I’m almost always tired, so I choose something easygoing and simple, with strings or a soft-spoken correspondent on NPR.

I have the sort of headphones that eliminate your sense of sound. If you put them on without music, the world becomes shockingly silent, the kind of silence that makes you forget what noise was. I no longer hear the man snapping baby carrots between his teeth in the seat behind me, or the obnoxious beat pumping from the row ahead.

Instead it’s like I’m underwater, submerged into a place of only warm drafts and light reflecting against chrome. Everything is nothing, and suddenly I can feel all my other senses so much more acutely – dramatic, but true! I always marvel for a minute at the effect, and then I turn towards the window and turn on a song. Then, for an hour, the world is nothing but the blooming trees slipping past my eyes and the subtle reflection of my face in the glass.


I listen to music a few hours every day, and for the longest time I tried to make music compatible with baking. But it takes a lot of focus to hear my songs while the mixer is whirring loudly or while water splutters against silverware in the sink. I’ve tried turning on a radio instead, but the sound is washed out every other minute if I need to use the food processor or whip some cream.

I regretfully concluded that the two weren’t compatible after all. So I’ve started working silently, without any other noise at all. I’ve found that the kitchen makes music of its own.

The rhythmic churn of the KitchenAid, the crackle and pop of lighting the stove, the clinks and rolling as I open and shut the aged drawers one after the other. There’s the dingdingding of the timer and the satisfying, gradual pop! of a new jar finally opened. I love the quiet raking noises of zesting a tangerine, the insubstantial thud of a flipped-over cup of flour, and the low, sticky bubble of cooking sugar.


When I look back, I always remember little details about the baking process. Take this tangerine meringue tart… If I close my eyes and try to bring myself there again, I remember the sandy texture of the tart dough coming together between my fingertips and the silkiness of curd on my spoon. I remember the vivid orange of spilled tangerine juice on the old white counter and the smell of cocoa powder.

And more than anything, I remember the distinct sounds of each component coming together, using every instrument in my kitchen to create something beautiful. Chocolate crust, tangerine curd, marshmallowy meringue… it’s like a symphony in three acts.

I think it might be my favorite song.



Although I am notorious for planning out baking projects weeks in advance, sketching and listing out the things I want to make, I made this tart on a whim. We had a bag of smooth-skinned, brilliant tangerines, and I knew their sunny sweetness would shine between a soft chocolate crust and a heap of swirly meringue.

The three components are very simple, although I admit that the meringue is tricky. It requires you to cook sugar and then pour it into whipped egg whites. I’ve been trying to master this technique for years, and I’ve always ended up with either scrambled eggs or a hard, frustrating lump of sugar on the side of my mixer. Today it worked.

I was so awed that two simple ingredients like sugar and egg whites could make something so ethereal and fluffy. This meringue melts in your mouth. It’s cotton candy for grown ups. It’s sweet, light, but sophisticated. It works beautifully with the other two richer, more assertive aspects of the tart. The contrasts in texture, flavor, and color made this tart pleasantly complex.

It’s worth mentioning that since I piped the meringue, instead of smoothing it on top, I had a lot leftover. I tried baking individual meringues and failed (burned them) but you might find a use for it. Also, the filling is just a tad too sweet for my taste, so next time I’ll include some lemon or decrease the sugar a bit.


Chocolate Tart Crust
From Epicurious
Makes enough for an 11″ or thick 10″ tart crust

1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon (generous) salt
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, diced
1 1/2 tablespoons ice water

Spray a 10″ tart pan with cooking spray or grease with butter. Meanwhile, combine flour, sugar, cocoa powder, and salt in a food processor. Pulse five seconds to combine. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse sand. Add the water and pulse until a crumbly dough comes together (I needed an extra tablespoon of water.) Press into the tart pan and freeze for 30 minutes to an hour.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and place the tart pan on a baking sheet. Bake 18-20 minutes or until the crust is dry and puffy. (Mine was very, very puffy, so I pricked it all over with a fork when it came out and the puffiness died down. It was a little soft initially, but it cooled into a flat, hard crust.) Cool completely.

Tangerine Meringue Tart
Filling from Carole Walter, Meringue from Pittsburg Needs Eated
Makes a 10″ tart (maybe extra meringue)

Tangerine Filling
1/2 cup sugar, divided
1/3 cup cornstarch
1 1/2 cups fresh tangerine juice
1/2 cup water
2 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons grated tangerine zest
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
4 egg whites

Before making this recipe, you’ll want to make the chocolate crust (recipe above) or any crust you’d like.

To make the filling, combine 1/4 cup sugar with the cornstarch in a medium saucepan. Whisk together, then gradually pour in the tangerine juice and water, whisking until smooth. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture boils. Turn the heat down to low and cook for an additional minute. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, lightly beat the eggs together, then whisk in the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar.

Stir a small amount of the warm tangerine mixture into the egg mixture to temper it (keep it from scrambling by gradually warming it.) Pour the egg mixture into the pan with the rest of the filling and blend until combined. Cook for a minute longer until the filling is thick, making sure to scrape the bottom and creases of the pan. Whisk quickly to smooth the filling without overmixing.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract and tangerine zest. Pour into the baked tart crust (I poured it through a sieve to remove any lumps or bits of egg, but you don’t have to.) Wrap and chill while making meringue.

Make the meringue: stir the sugar and water together in a small saucepan, until it has the texture of wet sand. Heat the mixture over medium-high heat until it reads 240 degrees on a thermometer, the softball stage. You’ll know you’re there if, when you drop a bit of the mixture into a cup of water, it forms a flexible little ball. Don’t let the mixture get hotter, you really need the thermometer for this one. In the meantime, whip the egg whites until stiff peaks form, but don’t overbeat.

As soon as the sugar is ready, carefully pour the mixture into a heat-proof cup that you can pour out of. This does a couple things: it stops the cooking of the sugar, and it’ll make it easier to gradually pour into the eggs. With the mixer on low, slowly, gradually pour the sugar mixture into the whipped eggs. Avoid hitting the beaters or side of the bowl, where the sugar might splatter or harden, and go slowly. Once all the sugar is added, turn the mixer on medium and whip until the mixture is cooled and very fluffy.

You can either mound the meringue on top of the pie, or you can fill a piping bag and pipe (that’s what I did, using a Wilton 4B piping tip.) Either way, try to reach all the way to the crust and cover up all the filling, so you don’t see any orange. If you’d like, bake the pie for 15 minutes on a low rack at 350 degrees to brown the top, or use a hand-held torch. The tart is best eaten as soon as possible, but it’ll keep wrapped and chilled for 2 days.

Printer-Friendly Version – Tangerine Meringue Tart and Chocolate Tart Crust

Entry filed under: Pies/Tarts. Tags: , , , , , , , .

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46 Comments Add your own

  • 1. jessie  |  March 26, 2010 at 3:55 pm

    i’m in a rush right now, so glad to see that you updated. you’re one of the few blogs that i eagerly await for updates and if i dont have time to read your post, i wait so that i can soak up all the words when i have more time!

  • 2. Gina  |  March 26, 2010 at 4:21 pm

    I love your blog–it’s always Christmas morning when there’s a new post to read. This is way off-topic but could you give me some information on your noise-deadening headphones? We bring our young grandson to Silvertips games and the noise can at times be overwhelming. These headphones sound like they could be the answer! Thanks!

  • 4. Bethann  |  March 26, 2010 at 5:30 pm

    This looks so good, I may have to try it for my mom’s birthday next month. But, I may just have to try it for Saturday tomorrow.

  • 5. sarah  |  March 26, 2010 at 5:55 pm

    Looks Delicious!
    You should consider biking as a form of transport. I use to bus but biking is just so easy, you can go anywhere any time and it’s a lot quicker!

  • 6. Brianne  |  March 26, 2010 at 5:56 pm

    I recently discovered your blog but haven’t commented before, but I felt compelled to after reading this post. I’m 20, and I too ride public transportation for school, and I know exactly what you mean about the noise, the trip…etc. When my ipod is dead, or I forget it, I feel so naked without it…Music makes the wait and the ride go so much faster. I really don’t know how I’d stomach taking the bus every day without my music. Really beautiful writing in this post. :) Take Care!

  • 7. Basht  |  March 26, 2010 at 7:04 pm

    i’m too scared to take the bus in my city, outside of the fact that the bus routes in my area are few and far between, there is a lot of violence on them here.
    also the tart looks delicious like pretty much everything else you post about.

  • 8. cupcakeswin=]  |  March 26, 2010 at 7:57 pm

    Oh my gosh!

    you updated:)

    I was having a bad day and that made my day happier!

    It’s so weird…I just made mini cupcakes

  • 9. tess quizon  |  March 26, 2010 at 8:22 pm

    I smiled when i read the comment, its always like Christmas morning whenever u have a new post..its true. This kind of sweets, cakes, etc.. I only have a chance to see and taste on special occasions. Its amazing that its an everyday thing for you. :-) I love sweets…but its advised not to take too much of it. Do you have any recipes for diabetics? I love to eat the whole tart!!! haha. I am not a diabetic (at least not yet :D ) but it runs in the family. Thanks for another wonderful post. :-) God bless…and regards to your mom and dad.

  • 10. calvin  |  March 26, 2010 at 9:29 pm

    loved this post! great great writing! and loved the music idea. =]=]

  • 11. Indhu  |  March 26, 2010 at 9:43 pm

    hi… I have been a silent follower of your blog… this post just made me delurk… you write really really well… the way you explained the music in the kitchen… I get that perfectly :)

  • 12. Making my Mark  |  March 26, 2010 at 10:51 pm

    Beautiful post, as always. That tart looks scrumptious.

  • 13. Debbie  |  March 26, 2010 at 11:12 pm

    i love your second picture. it’s b-e-a-uuuuutiful. the lighting just brings out every line of the meringue so…magically! love love it =)
    and i also love the sound of batter being mixed as the spoon gently taps the side of the bowl in a rhythmic…dance. totally feeling you on this post! always looking forward to reading more =)

  • 14. Margaret  |  March 26, 2010 at 11:23 pm

    If you have an iphone or ipod touch get the OneBusAway App! It’s my favorite app. Hands down. Takes the cake. Amazing. Get it! You’ll never miss a bus again! It’s for king county metro! You’re lucky you haven’t run into any creepers on the bus yet! They’re definitely out there!

    • 15. Elissa  |  March 27, 2010 at 12:37 am

      Margaret – Thanks for the tip! And yes, I have seen a lot of creepers on the bus, but having music in my ears helps! :)

  • 16. John Commeree  |  March 27, 2010 at 9:11 am

    Reading your blog is like listening to beautiful music – your words flow with lyricism and rhythm – thanks.

  • 18. Alex  |  March 27, 2010 at 10:06 am

    I love music. I often listen to Carly Rae Jepsen while I bake. It’s something that I don’t really hear anymore, but it’s there, something in the back of my mind. I’m going to have to try your recipe!

  • 19. Brooke  |  March 27, 2010 at 1:02 pm

    You have so many great talents! You are going to go far!

  • 20. Gabriela  |  March 27, 2010 at 3:29 pm

    hi Elissa! this tart must be delicious! your pics seems the way you write. i like that. it’s like to read a history. did you already read Sophie’s World?
    haha, ok, i know that doesn’t have nothing to do, but it’s as i was reading part of it – gives me similar feeling. here is Elissa’s World: a novel abt the history of baker.
    i study in another city, so i have to travel for an hour too. every night.. i don’t know…was thinking…here in brazil the public transportation is till good. the bus is clean, not so bad – mechanically (?) speaking. the worst part is the ride itself, bc is boring, tiring, sickening, you know…
    At least you have this magical headphone, xD.
    i can’t cook but i could. my mom doesn’t like me in the kitchen. she fears haha :T
    ok, enough! my comment is too long.
    *sorry the probable errors of english. i was write in portuguese, but whenever i do that, people come n ask to rewrite. :T

    take care! <3

  • 21. Deanna  |  March 27, 2010 at 6:38 pm

    I have to have music on when I bake. Even if I don’t hear the full song I like the noise. The tart looks really good but meringue is not not really my thing.

  • 22. Deese  |  March 27, 2010 at 9:02 pm

    I was over on my current fave food blog: Joy the Baker, and she listed your site as one not to miss….so here I am a new follower having just read this one post and I am hooked.

    You are such a talented writer, I swear I was back on that old Blacksburg bus riding to the mall for yet another shift between classes…

    I will be making this beautiful tart asap. I want to hear your song. You have convinced me to try cooking without the TV on.

    I’m glad I found you, expect many more comments on older posts!


  • 23. Warm Vanilla Sugar  |  March 28, 2010 at 4:37 am

    My meringue never seems to work out, but your is lovely. I like the idea of tangerine and chocolate. Awesome!

  • 24. Gretchen T  |  March 28, 2010 at 10:00 am

    Oh my goodness! I just started reading your blog and I’m completely amazed, not only by your baking talents, but also by your amazing writing ability! Your post reads like a book. The way you vividly describe the world around you, including things like texture and taste and sound, is amazing. I can’t wait to keep reading!

  • 25. Sarah  |  March 28, 2010 at 11:54 am

    I’ve also been lurking, but I want to compliment your writing as well – I cannot believe how young you are! I wish I knew more teenagers who are as bright and expressive (and can cook as well!) as you! :-)

  • 26. Baking Monster  |  March 28, 2010 at 3:20 pm

    I know how you feel about the bus,I use to have to take it to and from school everyday 2 hours there and 2 hours home sometimes I just put my head phones on so the strange people wouldn’t talk to me. This tart looks so good.

  • 27. Rachel  |  March 28, 2010 at 7:14 pm

    This is the greatest blog ever! I love your writing and your recipes. You are truly an inspiration.

  • 28. Mrs Ergül  |  March 28, 2010 at 7:28 pm

    This is a gorgeous elegant tart! As for music in the kitchen, it works better if I am simply cooking and not using my kitchen aid or food processor and anything close to making a loud noise!

  • 29. Gina  |  March 28, 2010 at 10:21 pm

    Wow! I just logged on to see if you’d replied, and not only had you answered but you’d gone above and beyond! You’re wonderful, thank you (and my grandson’s eardrums thank you:-))

  • 30. JoJo  |  March 28, 2010 at 11:41 pm

    your such a beautiful writer! I’ll email u soon.

  • 31. Jelli Bean  |  March 29, 2010 at 11:00 am

    This tart looks great! I’ll probably try it soon, as we’re ending the tangerine season here in Costa Rica, but I can still find them available at the farmer’s market. I love fresh tarts like this, and Husband will be uber-pleased! Thanks for sharing.

  • 32. Ana  |  March 29, 2010 at 12:13 pm

    Looks amazing!

  • 33. Dinners & Dreams  |  March 29, 2010 at 6:59 pm

    Beautiful otrte. I love the crust!

  • 34. Trendsetters  |  March 30, 2010 at 8:56 am

    very cute n delicious looking

  • 35. Erika  |  March 30, 2010 at 2:05 pm

    What an interesting combination. Now I just have to locate tangerine juice.

  • 36. Kathleen  |  March 30, 2010 at 8:41 pm

    Hello! This is my first visit to your blog. I am truly beyond impressed! You are a great writer, a talented photographer and an incredible cook. I can’t wait to see what is next for you!

  • 37. Marta  |  March 31, 2010 at 11:45 am

    It’s not surprising that you find peace once you put on your headphones and turn to yourself – your writings tell us you must be good company…
    I could really use a bite of that wonderful pie now!

    Excellency has to be “your middle name”, once again, congratulations on your writing, bakery and photography!

  • 38. Jenny  |  April 2, 2010 at 12:34 pm

    I’m so inspired by your post – and just back from Hawaii, I have lilikoi (passionfruit) on the brain. I think I’m going to experiment…

    It was so nice meeting you at the Foodportunity event – we should get together sometime!

  • 39. deana@lostpastremembered  |  April 4, 2010 at 11:28 am

    Wow, that tart just took my breath away.. great photo and good recipe!!

  • 40. Kaitlin  |  April 4, 2010 at 12:50 pm

    I’ve totally been there with the bus ride issue. I was so happy that I was eventually able to have my own car. Oh, the annoyances that saved me! And I have always had the same thoughts about the kitchen making it’s own music. It’s almost a shame to try to mask it with my own!

    This sounds amazing. I love how the meringue looks piped on top instead of smoothed over. It’s a very nice effect :)

  • 41. Jane  |  April 4, 2010 at 2:20 pm

    I loved your description of the sounds, and the feeling of the ingrdeients’ textures, that go along with baking. I feel exactly the same way. It’s clear how much you love it. You are a born baker/ chef! This tart looks beautifully professional.

  • 42. liannelow  |  April 4, 2010 at 3:39 pm

    this pie looks soooo pretty and I bet it tasted as good as it looks! (:

  • 43. Cindy  |  April 5, 2010 at 9:57 am

    Mmmmm! This recipe looks absolutely delicious! Love your photos as well! =)

  • 44. Raizi  |  April 5, 2010 at 1:00 pm

    I have been to your blog before but never fully read your postings. You write beautifully.
    I have 2 comments:
    1. You mentioned that you had extra meringue. What I do normally is spread a layer of meringue onto the curd once it has cooled slightly. Then I pipe the stars of meringue onto it. It fills in the empty spots and adds more of a meringue layer to each slice.
    2. Why do you make your meringue that specific way? I normally melt 1:2 (egg white:sugar) on a double boiler until the sugar have melted and you cant feel them. Then whip them up in my KitchenAid. You can even use the KitchenAid bowl as the top of the double boiler (one less bowl to wash). It is called a Swedish Meringue. It comes out very smooth and shiny. The process of melting the sugar causes less of a chance for the meringue to separate.
    Just my two sense…
    Happy Baking!

    • 45. Elissa  |  April 5, 2010 at 4:52 pm

      Raizi – Great idea about the meringue! Also, as to your second comment, I’ve made that meringue before and love it (it’s the base of my favorite swiss meringue buttercream) but I’ve wanted to master the technique I used for this tart for a long time. Finally did it! :)

  • 46. Patty  |  May 8, 2010 at 1:05 pm

    Gorgeous tart! Beautiful combination of flavors and textures. Great story and photos too – you’re very talented. Thank you for sharing. :)


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Elissa Bernstein

I'm Elissa: a 17 (now 21) year old baker in Seattle Boston juggling creative nonfiction workshops, subway maps, and my passions for writing, baking, and photography. Photo above © Michelle Moore

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