Sunday, May 31, 2009

Texture in the presence of constant moisture

One of the challenges of dessert production in a patisserie/cafe environment vs. a restaurant environment, is that you cannot make anything a la minute in a cafe. Everything has to be finished ahead of time and displayed in a refrigerated case. It is here where a pastry chef can succeed greatly, but equally fail miserably. The considerations are many when food is placed in such a harsh environment (cold, moist circulating air kills food, which is why in your refrigerator, everything is, or should be, wrapped or in a container). Basically most things that are crispy or have texture tend to become soft and soggy in a matter of hours if not minutes. One of the solutions is to use chocolate, but many times chocolate is not part of the flavor profile of a dessert. So to use chocolate just for the sake of chocolate is kind of like cheating. So I cheated a little in this particular dessert, and I am OK, with that. Let me explain why.

This dessert has 5 components, all meant to be happy together. The pipette (the protruding red thing on top, used in labs) is filled with a hibiscus infusion (commercial name: Ruby Sippers tisane... google it), the top layer is a wonderful product: crispy puffed rice coated in white chocolate... we'll come back to that; next is a layer of barely gelled sweet yuzu, then a vanilla panna cotta (also barely gelled; I hate panna cottas that can stand alone on a plate. It just looks unnatural and like something that came out of a jell-o box) and all the way at the bottom, a passion fruit curd; so these are exotic-tropical flavors in a small 2 fl oz glass. The intention is to squeeze the infusion on top of the dessert and then stir it with a spoon so that all of the flavors can be evenly combined. The chocolate coated puffed rice adds little blasts of texture with every bite. So... why white chocolate? Well, because it isn't chocolate and it tastes nothing like chocolate; they are really just small spheres of sweetness and crunch.

These spheres or pearls, if you will, are also available in milk and dark chocolate. They work great for desserts that are to be held in a refrigerated display case since they can keep a crunchy texture for long periods of time (within reason; we always discard any desserts that are over 36 hours in the case, which rarely ever happens).

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Guinness cotton candy

How do you flavor cotton candy naturally? This was a difficult question to answer, because usually, flavor particles burn when they come out of the cotton candy machine. Sugar will melt and turn into the flossy sugar consistency associated with cotton candy, but if you mix it with any solid flavor particles, they will burn and you will have a mess on your hands. It is easy enough to make cotton candy out of different types of sugars. Maple sugar cotton candy being a very good example (it needs to be combined with an equal amount of regular granulated sugar for best results). So the answer is to infuse the sugar with something that is volatile and could evaporate easily, leaving the flavor particles behind.

For the Guinness cotton candy, I filled a hotel pan with sugar and saturated it with Guinness (about 4 bottles for 6 lbs of sugar). Then I placed it in the dehydrator, expecting it to be completely dry the next day.
It was still very wet the next day.
I kept it in the dehydrator over the week-end, and it was still wet on Monday! I gave up on it for the most part and left the pan covered with cheese cloth on top of our hearth oven and tried to forget about it. Long story short, it took over two weeks for the sugar to dry completely. After the first week, it looked dry, but it wasn't. I was able to robot-coupe it to break it up into smaller pieces, thinking that smaller pieces would dehydrate faster than one large piece of sugar. I suppose it did dry faster. I think if I had not ground the semi-wet sugar, it might have taken even longer than two weeks to dry. I am not really sure why it took so long to dry. My theory is that there is a degree of acidity in the beer that breaks the sugar down, and that makes it take so long to go back to its crystalline form. But I am not really sure about that, unfortunately. Once the sugar was 100% dry, we ground it to a powder and then processed it in our cotton candy machine with very good results.

Since then we have made elderflower liquor cotton candy (excellent, and this one only took 48 hours to dry), balsamic vinegar cotton candy (also took an eternity to dry; very acidic, obviously, so this confirms that an acidic ingredient breaks the sugar crystals down, but I am not sure if Guinness is acidic enough or acidic at all; simple to check with a pH meter, which I do have but needs a battery...), port cotton candy and muscat cotton candy and jalapeno cotton candy: for this one, we had to cry-o-vac the sugar with chopped fresh jalapenos and let the sugar absorb the moisture/flavor from the peppers for two days. The flavor of the jalapeno was mild, so we improved it by dehydrating jalapenos and then sprinkling them on top of the cotton candy. I think it could be improved by adding more jalapenos to the same amount of sugar.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Potato chip bread

After a few trials, and many mishaps, this is the most acceptable version I could come up with for potato chip bread.
The actual bread is a regular lean dough that uses a white sour starter (no commercial yeast, just the wild stuff) as a pre-ferment; the bread itself does contain a small amount of commercial yeast. After the dough had been mixed, bulk fermented, punched down, bulk fermented again, divided, pre-shaped and bench rested, I flattened each 600 g piece to a flat oval, sprinkled about 100 g of potato chips (the good kettle fried kind, not Pringles) over it, and then rolled it up and shaped it as a long thin batard, then proofed it inside a long wicker basket (previously floured). It only had to proof for about an hour. Once I put the bread on the loader, I sprayed its surface with water and coated the entire loaf with crushed potato chips. I scored the bread and then loaded it into the hearth oven, steamed it, and then baked it for about 20 minutes at 480 degrees Fahrenheit, opening the vent once it had a golden brown color to form a good crust.

The flavor of the bread was of a very intense fried potato, but the actual chips inside of it were not crisp anymore, they sogged out. But the real treat was the crust, where the chips were still very crisp and the grease on them had almost fried it, giving it a nice flavor and texture. Great to eat on its own.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Space Invaders Chocolate Mold

OK, technically it isn't used as a chocolate mold; it is an ice tray. But I saw beyond that because the tray itself is made of food grade flexible silicone, and I have used that in the past to cast chocolate. When I saw this mold I could not resist.
Some of you may not know about Space Invaders, but it was THE computer game of my childhood, along with Pac-man and other Atari games (this was the 80's what do you expect?).
Since this mold is so intricate, we needed to airbrush it first with cocoa butter, and then we poured the chocolate in. For the same reason (the intricacy of the mold) and because it is a flexible mold, I didn't want to fill it with ganache or caramel, that would have made it a very complicated task. Instead, we mixed the tempered chocolate with pop-rocks and then poured it into the mold to fill it to the top. The 80's nostalgia came full circle in this confection.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Bubble gum as a flavor (Bubble gum explosion)

With this dessert, things can go both ways, either our customers will get it or they will hate it. There is no middle of the road here, which is what makes me a little apprehensive about it (and it is also why I am only charging $2.95 for it).
This dessert (is it a dessert when the main ingredient is a flavor from something which is in fact sweet, but not traditionally a dessert?) is made the following way:
I bought a large bag of Bazooka gum, you know, the one with the mini-comic strip, and I made a "stock" out of them. In other words, I just put the gum in water and simmered it until all of the flavor of the gum was in the water. One box (about 30 pc) was enough to flavor 2 qts of water. The flavor was not subtle by any means. There was not doubt it was bubble gum flavor.
I added a very small amount of gelatin to the bubble gum stock, just enough so that it would be like corn syrup in consistency, not fluid like water. Some body is necessary. Then I poured this into a spherical silicone mold and froze it. Once frozen, I popped it out of the mold and dipped it very carefully in melted cocoa butter (colored a light pink), so that it would be completely covered, since once the liquid thawed, it would loose its spherical shape. The hardened cocoa butter shell would act as the container for the liquid.
The sphere sat on a simple cube of vanilla poached watermelon (another favorite bubble gum flavor of mine, along with grape), and I garnished the dish with a small cube of aloe (for texture, it is close to the first bite you take when you put gum in your mouth, plus it has a mild flavor that just goes well with the bubble gum), a petal of poached hibiscus (a wonderful product that is made in Australia... generally used for champagne cocktails), a mint leaf (small, just enough to be present but not overwhelming; it is also the flavor of the chewing gum I prefer these days) and a small crystal of Maldon sea salt. Desserts always need a dash of salt.
How do you eat it? Simply tap the sphere with a spoon like a soft boiled egg and the filling explodes out; then you just eat the components together to get the effect of bubble gum without the gum part. So, is it dessert? Strictly speaking, yes. But should it be? If not, then what is it?

Note: I am not the first to use bubble gum as a flavor. There is a dessert at Alinea (in Chicago)that uses it as well, in a very different preparation. So is it a flavor for food, or should it be left to gum? Would you keep bubble gum flavor in your condiment shelf at home? I think I personally wouldn't, but my 4 year old daughter would.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Re-thinking bread service in restaurants

Rarely does a restaurant make its own bread for lunch or dinner service. And even more rarely is it good. For the most part, bread is outsourced from massive bakeries who generally do a decent job, considering the hundreds of pounds of bread they make each day. I have only worked at one restaurant that made its own bread very well, and that was The French Laundry, and it wasn't technically made on the premises, it was (is) made at Bouchon Bakery down the street. Per Se does make its own bread, and it is good from what I hear.
Some restaurants will keep their bread in a warmer, and while it is certainly nice to eat warm bread (although you are supposed to wait for it to cool down before you eat it... but who can wait really?), it kills it to be sitting too long in that environment.
Recently there was an article in the New York Times, in which its restaurant critic suggested that restaurants start charging for bread. And the reasoning behind this is that, not everyone wants bread and most of it goes to waste. If you charge for it, those who really want it can get it and it is one less major expense for the restaurant. I am not sure if I am sold on this idea, but I agree that most people eat the bread just because it is there. Which is also not a good idea from a chef/owner standpoint, since bread is a filler and might discourage people from ordering more food.

In any case, I think there are many opportunities in this area. Why just serve bread when it can become something very special? This is the first posting on restaurant bread service and I plan on many more to follow.
This actual item is plain white bread (house made obviously), baked in mini loaf pans (1" wide x 6" long). There is something trashy about white bread, but there's also something wonderful about its simplicity. I don't know of any other bread, except brioche, that has its particular texture when it is toasted: crispy outside and soft and chewy on the inside.

Once these mini loaves were baked, I let them cool down and sliced them, and then lightly toasted them. The idea is to serve a large amount of these mini-toasts to the table, with a very good butter that is so soft it is ideal to spread, but not too soft that it melts, along with a coarse grain salt (in this case black Hawaiian salt).

Monday, May 25, 2009

Bergamot layer cake

Bergamot is an ancient hybrid citrus fruit that is in season, at least in the U.S., during January. You can get it from Florida and California. I know it is May, but this dessert was made and photographed a few months ago.
For those of you who have never heard of bergamot, you may have heard of Earl Grey tea. Earl grey is black tea that is flavored with bergamot and it is what gives it its particular taste.
Bergamot is one of my favorite flavors of all time (along with lemon, cinnamon and vanilla), and when you can use it fresh, there are few things like it.
For this dessert, which one of my former students, Tea Mamut, was kind enough to photograph and share with me (thanks again Tea), uses bergamot as its main flavor component. We made a 3" long x 1" wide tube of very thin dark chocolate. Inside it is assembled as a layer cake, where layers of candied bergamot and sweet mascarpone are alternated with thin layers of moist angel food cake. The chocolate tube is meant to stand vertically, which makes it impossible to eat with a fork, you really should eat it with you fingers, like a candy bar really. It is garnished on top with a crystallized mimosa flower and a crystallized lilac petal. It is meant to be eaten in two to three bites.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Caramelized white chocolate

Many of us have accidentally burnt white chocolate in the microwave. I know I have on more than one occasion miscalculating how long it takes to melt it, which is much less than dark or milk chocolate. Of course one could melt it over a hot water bath, but sometimes that is way to slow.

Point is, the burnt little clusters that form inside the piping hot chocolate, were delicious to me. Tasted just like caramel, but better, since it was really a Maillard reaction (caramelizing of sugar in the presence of a protein, milk solids in this case). I wanted to find a way to replicate this flavor with more chocolate than just a few burnt clusters here and there. Working with Bryan Graham, a.k.a. "Chocolate Thunder" (our chocolate guy, or chocolatier at the cafe, if you want to get fancy), he decided to put the chocolate directly in a pot over a medium-high heat and stir constantly with a wooden spoon to caramelize all of the sugar and solids in the chocolate. It turned a light brown. Once it cooled down a little, he tempered it and it was outstanding, with a snap I had never felt from white chocolate. Problem was, it was slightly grainy. To fix this, Bryan has a melangeur at home, which basically works like a motorized mortar and pestle, smoothing pretty much anything out. He uses it to make his own chocolate from scratch, so for this all he had to do was put the melted chocolate in it and grind it till it was smooth as regular chocolate. It worked our perfectly, resulting in a very smooth product, with the same snap it had before.
With a chocolate like this, you don't need anything else (ganache for example).
Another person on our staff, Justen Nickell, made a caramelized white chocolate mousse that was out of this world. So this method has many uses.

Sadly, I discovered we were not the first to come up with this technique. I found out a few days later that Valrhona had produced a similar item but with a completely different method, which involved a very low temperature oven and a very long time in it, which produces the smooth chocolate, caramelized, minus the grit. Either way this is a wonderful product.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

More fun with foie...

This dish brings together two separate postings; the first was about conceptual desserts ("Conceptual Desserts that are Actually Good", Thursday, April 30 2009), which described a rhubarb poached in grenadine encased in elderflower gelee. The second was in regards to the Thermomix ("Thermomix, Uber-apparat", Sunday May 10 2009) and the manufacture of a very smooth foie mousse.
The original conceptual dessert all of the sudden becomes completely non-conceptual, and is used as a garnish that makes sense with a savory product like foie. As in the Thermomix posting, I made the foie mousse the same way and then I filled a rectangle of crisp feuille de brick with the mousse as soon as it was done. The trick to this item is to make the mousse a la minute, fill the baked brick rectangle and serve it right away. If you refrigerate the mousse then its just any old foie mousse. But when it is still smooth and you eat it with the crisp brick and then some of the tart-sweet rhubarb and the floral elderflower, it all comes together more than adequately.

On second thought this dish is completely conceptual. It takes two seemingly unrelated components, each one with its own gravitas and meaning, and then they are put together because they simply made sense like that. Even if one does not get the conceptual part, it just tastes really good, and at the end of the day, that is all that matters when you make food: was it delicious or not?

Friday, May 22, 2009

Saffron and Candied Apple Bread

Normally I am not a big fan of solid garnish in breads. Raisin this and walnut that. Nuts in bread will eventually and hopelessly become soggy and have a texture like chicken cartilage. No thanks.
But these candied apples are the exception for me, especially with the saffron.

I took the water portion of the dough and infused it with plenty of saffron, and left it in it (I did not strain it out). I also cooked the apples, nice and slow, in sugar with saffron. It seems to me that apples and saffron go very well together.
Once the dough was made, I portioned it, pre-shaped it into a flat disc and spread the candied apples throughout the surface, and then folded the dough as if I were making a won ton, trapping the apples inside it. As I rolled the dough on the table to give it the final shape, the apples made their way close to the surface. In the picture all the way above, you can see some of the candied apples oozing out of the crust. Just a great bread to eat on its own.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Birthday-cake Danish

Third in line of favorite laminated pastries are Danish. Not just any Danish will do though. Pinwheels and bear claws are best used as doorstops. This what I believe makes a good Danish:
.Crisp, flaky crust, soft, airy interior.
.Ratio of dough to filling should be 70%-30% to 60%-40%, in other words, there should be just enough filling so that each time I bite into the Danish, I get some of it. When there is too little filling it just feels like you are eating this chunk of dough. When there is too much filling it will just fall apart on you making one moist mess.
.Danish should be filled post-bake not pre-bake. See, here's my beef: when bakers put the filling inside the danish before baking it (usually something that resembles pie filling, or pastry cream... why would you put pastry cream, which is already completely cooked, inside a Danish, to cook it even further? no sense whatsoever) it inhibits the expansion of the danish during baking, and it turns the nice flaky Danish into a soggy wet pastry. Why would you go through all of the trouble of laminating, only to end up with a limp piece of bread? I fill my danish AFTER they are baked, ensuring the integrity of the Danish for at least a day.
This particular Danish, the birthday cake Danish, uses a method that is very special. We take a circle of dough, then place a sphere of baked flourless chocolate cake down the middle. We then place this over plastic wrap, and wrap it into a sphere, where the cake is completely enveloped by the dough. We let it sit overnight in refrigeration so that the dough and the butter in it can get to know each other well, then we take the plastic wrap off, score it, place it inside an aluminum tube lined with silicone paper and bake it. Once it is baked and cooled off, we fill it with sweet mascarpone, flavored with real vanilla pods. We garnish it with a dot of gold and rice paper. I know this danish may look enormous, but when it is just baked, it weighs only 100 g. It tastes just like birthday cake. At least to me.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Maple sugar pot de creme

This is hands down one of my favorite desserts. It is so simple it is almost ridiculous. Basically it is a pot de creme custard base, but instead of using sugar, we use maple sugar. Top it off with some creme fraiche and you are golden. The jar is nice too. Enough said.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Maillard cake

Maillard reaction is the caramelizing of sugars in the presence of a protein. It is what occurs when you bake bread (on the surface), roast a chicken, toast bread, make toffee, etc.
I wanted to make a cake where I could bring together the flavor of Maillard on different ingredients.

The sponge is cornbread, made with toasted cornmeal. The insert (or inclusion) is brown butter panna cotta, studded with toffee coated with caramelized white chocolate. The most exciting item though is the body of the cake. The reason is this: when you make a Bavarian cream, you combine almost equal parts of creme anglaise with some gelatin and lightly whipped heavy cream. The exciting part here happened almost by accident. I toasted a few baguettes (nice and dark) and steeped them in hot heavy cream. I left them in a little too long, so this made the bread soggy. I only wanted to infuse the flavor of the bread into the cream, but now I was stuck with a soggy mess. I fished as much of the bread as I could, but that was not enough. I pureed the liquid I had left in the pot with an immersion blender and then passed it through a chinois. The resulting liquid was identical in consistency as a creme anglaise. At this point I thought, why not replace the anglaise completely with this puree? I added some sugar to it and then proceeded with the regular Bavarian method. It worked out very well. The texture was both smooth and flavorful. Since then we have tried it with doughnuts and croissants with successful results. The trick is to get it to the right consistency.

This cake is coated with a combination of cocoa butter and vegetable ash, which is what gives it its dark hue. And a toasted morsel of sourdough.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Mucho Mochi

Mochi is a dough that is made with glutinous rice flour. Now, the classic method for making it entails a long process (2 hours) of beating the dough into submission with a wooden dowel until it becomes pliable, smooth and elastic. This method though is much easier.

Recipe: 400 g glutinous rice flour, 440 superfine sugar, 480 g water. Mix the whole thing, strain it. Then you microwave it on high in 2 minute intervals, stir it in between the intervals, and cook it until it is smooth and elastic. Roll it out by hand (copious amounts of rice flour on the bottom and on top so it won't stick to anything), and then let it cool off. I have to admit that I may not have finished this in he traditional fashion. Typically a ball of this dough is filled with either red bean paste or even ice cream. I assemble them as a ravioli: sheet of dough at the bottom, the filling (in this case a mixture of litchi jelly, mango and pineapple, both cooked in a light vanilla syrup until tender), and then a top sheet of dough. I use pasteurized egg whites to glue both sheets (water and other liquids do not work). And I did use some purple to enhance it.
Pictures were not taken by my crappy camera, they were taken by a former student of mine, Tea Mamut. Thank you Tea.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

So what's wrong with Jersey cake?

This is not what is known as Jersey cake (or cookie), also known as 7 layer cookies or rainbow cookies.
But when I made it, the question I was frequently asked was: is that Jersey cake? And the question usually was accompanied by a smirk. I suppose Jersey cake has a stigma. Would it have the same stigma attached to it had it been made originally in L.A. or Montreal? "Hey is that Montreal cake?"
I don't have the answer to that. I know that if I were from Jersey, I would be proud of this cake. My grandfather always bought these little cakes (because they are cakes, I mean, there is nothing cookie-like about them) and I loved them (still do, so what?). I also think there is some enhanced ridicule that is derived from the use of so many colors, as if that made it lame or non-foodie worthy.
Now, I have never made an actual Jersey cookie, but the layers in it are of almond cake, and raspberry jam, and then it is coated in chocolate.

The cake in the pictures is made out of joconde sponge cake (20 layers) soaked with a dark spiced rum and it is layered with a smooth chocolate ganache, then coated with a thin layer of white chocolate velvet spray. This makes for a total of 39 layers. 40 if you count the velvet.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Stinky cheese

Here is one of the prime examples of stinky cheese: petit Pont-l'Evêque (there is medium and grand, all the same. This just happened to be the small fellow). It is not the stinkiest, but it is definitely stinky. Barn and cows are what you smell. It does have some serious funk, but it is not translated into its taste, which is more subtle and some would say fruity.

I love stinky cheese. The stinkier the better. Not sure how this came about, since if I were to think about it and be rational about the foulness of it all, I would think that someone was trying to pull a prank on me. If I smelled the aroma of this cheese on someone or something other than the cheese, I would feel physically ill.
All you need with this cheese, is some sweetness, in this case the honeycomb from European bees, particularly enthused about acacia flowers. And bread, baguette, or a pain au levain (not a sourdough or rye, too many things going on there). Wine too of course. Cold Gew├╝rztraminer, Alsatian, on the dry side (not the sugary German kind, no offense, but sweet wine is a headache waiting to happen).

What cheese is, is up to personal interpretation. Can you see it as dessert? Or is it a different course all on its own, to be followed by dessert as we are familiar with? Either, or. There is no definitive answer.

Black Olive Raisins

I find olives to have just the right balance of salt and brininess to be a great snack on their own. But I also think that they can have a semi-sweet application. For these olives, I blanched them in water and then rinsed them so that they would be just salty and briny enough. And then they were cooked in a mixture of water and sugar (4 parts sugar to 1 part water) until the sugar reached 120 degrees Fahrenheit. After that they were strained and left to cool off on a Silpat. Once they cooled off the sugar on the surface hardened. The balance of flavor was pitch perfect: sweet, salty and still a little briny. Great snack.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Pain au chocolat x 2

I am not sure yet, I am undecided, if I am a croissant person or a pain au chocolat person. I guess it depends on the day. The croissant itself it a terrific vessel for jams, jellies, butter (yes, more butter. What?), etc., or just on its own, slightly warm. The pain au chocolat though (improperly called chocolate croissant, since it is not a croissant shape), is more independent, not really needing any extra help. Except that the fat(ter) person inside of me has always felt there is never enough chocolate. The ratio of chocolate to pastry is way off.

You can't just put more chocolate in the dough before it bakes, since it would weigh it down and you will not be able to obtain that beautiful honeycomb you can see on the photos. So what do you do?
I think it is a good idea to use the barely melted chocolate from my post from May 7th. It consists in keeping chocolate inside a dehydrator set to 25 to 28 degrees Celsius, just until it is soft but does not ooze all over. It still holds it shape, but it is perfectly spreadable.
So, this is the ideal scenario for maximum enjoyment:
You need a pain au chocolat, 20 minutes after it comes out of the oven (or you can do what we do at our establishment, which is re-crisp and slightly warm each croissant and pain au chocolat in a small convection oven for 1 minute... excellent). Break a piece off, feel its buttery crispness on your fingers, it is slightly warm, and then you take the soft chocolate and spread it (or pour it) on the pain au chocolat. Drink with very thick hot chocolate, or, better yet, a capuccino (do not dunk, that defeats the purpose of the flaky crispness of the croissant). Pure bliss.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Marshmallow, all grown up

I was working on a recipe I found for a Lillet flavored marshmallow. I am a big fan of Lillet Blanc, on the rocks with a twist of orange peel (Lillet is a wine that has been fortified and infused with different aromas and spices; great aperitif; there is also Lillet Rouge, very good as well). As I read through the recipe it occurred to me that it might be versatile enough to include other types of wines and spirits. I tested the Lillet version to use as the benchmark, and then I made one with elderflower liquor, another with Muscat wine, then Port, Sauternes and finally Violet liquor. All came out beautifully and quickly. The recipe calls for powdered gelatin, which I rarely use, bloomed with the liquor component of the recipe inside a kitchen aid mixer bowl, fitted with the whip attachment. In a sauce pot you cook sugar, light corn syrup, some more liquor and water to 238 degrees Fahrenheit, and pour it into the gelatin-liquor mix while the mixer is on low speed, once it cools down a bit, you whip it on high speed about 7 to 8 minutes until it has increased about three times in volume and is stiff (as in stiff peaks for meringue, sans the meringue). I added a few drops of natural coloring. So sue me.

This was poured into a steel square frame, lightly greased, and let to dry overnight. The next day, I was thinking if there was anything better to use than confectioner's sugar to coat the marshmallow. I have always thought this sugar to just add unnecessary sweetness, and it tends to clump up and dry out the marshmallow. Having worked a few wees ago with mochi dough (glutinous rice flour dough), I though that the glutinous rice flour could work better. And it does. It coats the marshmallow evenly without clumping, it is not sandy or gritty, and it is tasteless. This marshmallow can keep for more than 10 days in an airtight container, well coated with the rice flour. This is hands down the best recipe I have made for marshmallow.

Photographed (top photo) are: Lillet (orange), elderflower liquor (green), muscat (yellow) and port (purple). All were cut with a guitar.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Ink Bread

Squid ink is an acquired taste. It is fishy and earthy at the same time. I happen to like it and I am still not sure why. I think it has to do with the fact that it is a very deep black that is off-putting, but also fascinating. Black food.
I have had it in pasta, when it is used to make the actual dough, and the flavor is very mild. In rice or risotto it is very strong. Some people are also turned off by the smell.
I think that for me it was one of those things that was just eaten with my family and it was normal. But still, it does kind of stink.

I wanted to try it out with bread and see if it had any effect on the bread besides the flavor. I added the ink to the water portion of the dough and made it as I would any normal lean dough. As you can see from the pictures the crumb is right on point, nice and open and irregular. The flavor was very subtle to the point of being pleasant, even for those who cannot stomach it. I can see serving this with a paella or seafood soup.

I will be posting about a saffron bread, and saffron - candied apple bread that I made soon.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Thermomix - Uber apparat

This is one smart piece of equipment. It is a very powerful blender that can go from 100 rpm's to 12000 rpm's in fractions of a second. It has the added bonus of a heating element (which heats in intervals of 10 degree Celsius increments strangely starting at 37 degrees Celsius, then 50, 60, 70 and so on up to 100), an integrated scale, a sharp blade that can be switched to a paddle or a mixer attachment. If you go to the Thermomix website you can see all that this machine can do. Some of it I take exception to, such as kneading bread.
But here is a good example of complete functionality: you can scale all of the ingredients of a creme anglaise directly into the blender cup attached to the body of the machine. Switch to blend, and press the desired temperature, which is 80 degrees Celsius, for a set amount of time, let's say three to four minutes. Turn the machine on to speed 5 (speed 10 is reckless) and it will produce a very smooth, napped anglaise.
I have successfully made many excellent ganaches in it, simply by placing all of the ingredients in the cup, setting the time, the temperature and the speed. Always a smooth result.

Most exciting though, is that I was able to produce an outstanding foie gras mousse, fully cooked, in less than 3 minutes. It is in the picture at the beginning of this post. I had baked feuille de brick cylinders. Once the mousse was made, I was able to pipe it into the crisp brick tubes. You could effectively make foe mousse to order, perfectly smooth, like soft butter.

There are two cons to this machine, cost (close to $1700) and it only holds the equivalent of two liters of liquid or up to two kilos of solid matter, so it is not so much for a professional kitchen. Although it holds the perfect amount to fill a 12 inch steel caramel frame of ganache. And it can process two 700 g lobes of foie at one time.
Highly recommended. And here's a catch, you won't find them as readily as you would any old blender. It is usually sold from a real actual human being to another, and very few will sell it as a retail item. What they are looking for, I have heard, is to be able to show you in person how many things the machine can do, since it is not really much to look at. It is excellent for home use I suppose. You could potentially eliminate many appliances you have at home that are collecting dust. Here is one you could quickly recycle: your ice cream machine. How, you might ask, does this machine make sorbet or ice cream? Make your ice cream base or sorbet base, pour it into an ice tray, freeze it, pop the cubes out, put them in your Thermomix on the turbo setting (because this being a German machine it has a turbo setting) and in a few seconds it will grind your rock hard cubes into a smooth frozen dessert. Incredible.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Conceptual stuff... one more time

I really enjoyed eating and making this item. The gel is a sweetened white balsamic vinegar gelee (200 g water, 40 g white balsamic vinegar, 20 g sugar, 4 sheets gelatin). The pearls are tapioca cooked in soy sauce. The dessert is sweet, tart and salty with only two apparent components: the gelee and the tapioca.
I wouldn't say this is a dessert by any means. It can be an amuse bouche or another small course, all on its own.
To keep the pearls in place was not easy, but I figured out that if I lined them up one by one inside a frame, froze it, and then poured the gelee in when it had cooled down to room temperature, I could keep the pearls in place. It had to be set at room temperature, which did not take long since the frame and the base were very cold, and the gelee was pourable but cool.

This could be very good with a very thin slice of yellowtail sashimi. Or the tapioca could be replaced by tobiko wasabi and the gelee could be made of sake. The possibilities seem to be many.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Candy bar / cake

For this piece, I wanted to see if it was possible to make a candy bar that is built like a cake. The challenge though, is making the components shelf stable, since candy bars should ideally be kept at room temperature if that temperature happens to be 68 degrees Fahrenheit.

What I decided on for the candy bar's components was:
Bubble chocolate (or aero chocolate), which is chocolate with 10% of canola oil added, poured into a heavy cream whipper and filled with nitrogen charges to aerate the chocolate. The chocolate and oil mix is then pushed out of the whipper filled with thousands of bubbles. When the chocolate sets it sets with all of the bubbles in it. This preparation is meant to emulate chocolate mousse (aerated chocolate without the perishable ingredients). It is the top layer of the candy bar. Now, this is not a new preparation. It has been around for a while. In the UK it is a popular candy bar.

The next layer is a grapefruit jelly. It is sweet but tart at the same time and adds moisture.

When I was thinking of the cake component, I wanted a cake with a lot of moisture that could last for at least two weeks without going bad. The answer was a thin layer of angel food cake.
The last component is a thin layer of house made praline, which also adds some texture.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The components of chocolate mousse...

I have seen a lot, maybe too much, of deconstructed food. Basically, you take the components of a popular item, for example, a black forest cake. Then you take its components and re-interpret them and-or separate them. This gives a whole new concept to what we all know as a black forest cake. Boy has this been done over and over again. I think there is nothing left to deconstruct... except the actual deconstructed product itself. What I wanted to deconstruct, actually a more accurate term would be "break down", was an actual component that is typically a part of something. In this case, a chocolate mousse. The chocolate mousse we make at work has only four ingredients: chocolate, egg yolks, sugar and heavy cream.

For the chocolate I wanted to use a method I had read about in the Alinea book. It is so simple (why did I not think of it before?), it consists of holding a chunk of dark chocolate in a warm environment to soften it completely without melting it too far. I placed a piece of chocolate inside a plate, and placed it in a dehydrator set to 89 degrees Fahrenheit. The chocolate would be soft throughout and still hold its shape. It was already on the plate so I wouldn't need to move it anywhere. I had tested this method the day before. I think it is one of the best ways to eat chocolate. It reminded me exactly of the texture of Nutella, but it was only chocolate. Slightly warm, completely smooth. Amazing.

The cream part is very straight-forward, I just whipped heavy cream with an equal amount of creme fraiche and some sugar. This was quenelled next to the warm chocolate. The intention is that when the cold cream comes in contact with the warm chocolate in your mouth it will essentially form a mousse in your mouth.
The sugar was also simple. We cooked fondant sugar with glucose, then stretched it as thin as paper. This would add not just sweetness but also texture.
The huge challenge was: how do I incorporate the egg yolk portion? You can't just put an egg yolk on the plate. How many preparations can you think of that are just an egg yolk? I could not think of any that would suit this dessert. In fact I couldn't think of any, period.
It occurred to me that it might be possible to make a meringue out of egg yolks. Traditionally a meringue is made with egg whites, everyone knows that. But I think I can honestly say that I have never heard of a meringue made with egg yolks. I had a theory: if I whipped the egg yolks (6 of them @ 20 g each = 120 g) with 200 g of sugar over a hot water bath until they reached 120 degrees Fahrenheit, I would then add two sheets of bloomed silver gelatin while warm (this would encourage the aeration of the yolks), whip it on high speed on the kitchen aid mixer to form a thick ribbon, and then I would add methyl cellulose, 1% of the total weight of the recipe, which sets when it is hot (I was going to place the whipped yolk mixture in the dehydrator set to 160 degrees Fahrenheit once it was finished whipping to its full volume thus ensuring a crisp end result).

This method actually did work beautifully. It tasted like yolk without being eggy which was my concern. It was crisp and delicate and sweet just like meringue, adding a distinct texture to the dessert. So there you have it, a broken down mousse... not deconstructed.