Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Alma Chocolate - Portland, Oregon

I found this incredible chocolate shop in a tourist guide of all places ( that's what it's called; they have guides to most large cities, but the gist of it is that they feature restaurants, food shops and shops where the people who run it are passionate about their business and it shows in their product. I hope this doesn't sound like a commercial for the book, but it is very good and I highly recommend it).

The shop is called Alma Chocolate, and you can learn more about it here: , since I don't really want to write the entire background of the place or the chocolatier. What really caught my attention and sets this place apart from other chocolate shops is their icons. The actual molds are made by a local artist, so any hopes of getting a mold like these were shattered. I purchased two icons, a sacred heart and a devil. They had many more. The one I really wanted more than any of them was a heart, not a dumb cupid heart, but a human chocolate heart. So cool... but they were out of it.

The chocolate they use for their confections is of good quality; I tasted three of them and they were on point. I assume they use the same for the icons. I will never know, since I don't plan on eating the ones I bought. How could I? They are too precious.

And they also had this sand dollar below. I had to have it.

Monday, July 27, 2009

See-through chocolate wrap

I feel that this paper which I found online, is really good for wrapping chocolate. It is golden and tissue-like, with small circular imperfect perforations. These perforations allow you to see inside the wrap. This is a peanut butter and milk chocolate filled candy bar.

I know some may be turned off by the fact that the chocolate is exposed, but I feel that it is a very good way to show the chocolate without exposing it completely.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Cream ravioli

I originally wanted to make this ravioli out of milk just barely coagulated with animal rennet; unfortunately I only had vegetable "rennet" and it is a bad at coagulating as I had assumed. There's nothing like the enzymes from a cow's belly to get the job done.
So, gelatin was the next best thing. This is half and half, sweetened and lightly set with gelatin... just barely. It is filled with a dense chocolate cookie puree, originally almost like a brownie, pureed with little water, then frozen in a half-sphere flexi-mold. It has to be thawed on the plate it is to be served, otherwise it is impossible to move from point A to point B.
For texture, the ravioli is surrounded by a mixture of toasted almond flour, cocoa powder, sugar and butter.
The half and half is surprisingly rich and creamy. It almost has more of a cream taste than cream. I had never thought to use it before. It always seemed like something people (not me) added to their coffee. I think it is a great ingredient with much potential but a bad rap. It might be very good for making ice cream; if you think of it, many ice creams have a proportion of milk and heavy cream, which is essentially what half and half is. But half and half has its particular taste that neither milk nor heavy cream have on their own and that could yield very good results.

Monday, July 20, 2009

My new book

I hate doing this since it sounds like I am trying to pimp my new book, "The Modern Cafe", but I was just very excited to see it available for pre-order on Amazon today... so just give me a break! It's like having a baby... kind of.
It should be available by December. See details here:
There will be more photos of the items in the book exclusively available on, as well as demo videos and other cool stuff. Just wait till December.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Mint potato chip

This is a crisp film made with mint puree, potato starch and water. So it is technically a mint potato chip, without the potato flavor.

The method requires making a mint leaf puree (by shocking it in boiling water spiked with ascorbic acid to stop oxidation, and then an ice bath to stop the cooking process. Squeeze excess water out and puree in food processor), cooking 5 parts water to 1 part potato starch (bring to a boil until the starch has thickened the water... simmer for 1 minute), and then stirring in the mint puree, spreading on a thin sheet of plastic and then drying in the dehydrator for at least 6 hours. You can further crisp it in a fryer on the pick up. Not overkill at all.

I wouldn't use it fried as a dessert garnish. I would just use it right out of a dehydrator. I used mint puree but you can skip it altogether and just use a flavored liquid instead of water (like apple juice or a tea or infusion... saffron would be a good idea too). You can sprinkle the film with other solid flavors and textures before you put it in a dehydrator (before it dries, otherwise it would not attach), like black sesame seeds, poppy seeds, pearl sugar, etc.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Caramelized white chocolate ganache Danish with candied apples

This shape of Danish is another in our line of Danish that is proofed and baked inside a mold. The Danish is assembled with two rectangles of chiffon sponge cake and then sliced into .5 inch discs, which are then placed inside a silicone paper lined aluminum mold. Once the Danish is baked and cooled off, it is then filled with a caramelized white chocolate ganache, and then topped with candied apple cubes. he ribbon just brings it all together. Great product.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Root Beer float shot

The idea to use a Plexiglas tube is inspired by one of the desserts at Alinea. It is intelligent because it is portable, it contains the dessert in place and it makes the use of a utensil such as a spoon or fork unnecessary. You simply suck the contents of the tube in one shot to get the full effect of the dessert. It is essentially a giant straw.
The components are: vanilla and creme fraiche panna cotta, root beer (with some root beer extract added to it to intensify its flavor, and a very small amount of gelatin) and tapioca cooked in root beer. It is important that the components are able to stay in place since the tube lays horizontally. The full effect of flavor and texture can only happen if you are able to suction all of the components in one, well... suction. It is also over pretty quickly. But is that a bad thing?

The mouth model was our very own Sean Pera.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Tapioca film part 2

In my fist posting about tapioca film ( I had developed a method to extract the mucilaginous starch from tapioca pearls. Very complicated to an extent. But then it occurred to me that using plain tapioca starch might work as well if not better. The proportion is about 5 parts water to one part tapioca starch. They are both boiled together until the liquid is translucent and thick. Then it is spread onto a sheet of thin Plexiglas to dry out in a dehydrator. It worked much better and gave a higher yield than the initial method did.

This film was made with a sweetened hibiscus and strawberry infusion and tapioca starch. It needs to dry for a good 12 hours.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Decorative Japanese paper

... is ideal for wrapping candy bars. This candy bar is dark chocolate (65% Ivory Coast, house made from bean to bar), filled with a cream-less passion fruit filling (3 parts white chocolate - 1 part passion fruit puree; very long shelf life).

These papers can be somewhat expensive but they give the candy bar a very clean, simple look. They also don't damage the candy bar as much as other materials, such as foil do.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Finally here

I plucked these mini-strawberries from our local CSA a couple of days ago. They are minuscule but packed with flavor. I was surprised they were so good, considereing the Hudson Valley has been hit by rain almost non-stop.

It also made me think about the fact that when it comes to strawberries, and most fruit, the uglier and less uniform it is, the better it will be. That has to do with the fruit being grown naturally (organically, if you want), no growth hormones to make them look gargantuan like those specimens we get from Chile in December, no pesticides and nothing but good care from the farmer.

At first I thought these were fraises de bois, but they aren't, they are just small, but delicious none the less.

Come to think of it, I have never had a good fraise de bois. They have always been tart and flavorless. They are just pretty and they adorn desserts well, just like the mint sprig does. Does anyone use that anymore?

And yes, that is an albino strawberry (is that PC?, albino?). Fully ripe, just really white.

I am in Portland, Oregon now for the week. I plan on taking a look at Pearl Bakery, Little t American Baker, and Grand Central Bakery. Next week I will be in Colorado. So I don't know if I will be posting daily. But I will post as often as I can. If you care to know.

Friday, July 3, 2009

A loaf of milk

It is very hard to incorporate air into milk and to make it permanent. We tried many different approaches, and finally what worked was a combination of ingredients that help create and trap air bubbles through agitation: gelatin, soy lecithin powder and egg white powder. We also added some sugar, but what was also crucial was to use skim milk, since fat would inhibit aeration. The milk foam is assembled as a layered cake, where the sponge cake is a milk based genoise, cooked in a microwave for maximum expansion. This is the "slice of milk" we serve with a glass of cake.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Konjac flour

Konjac, also known as glucomannan, is a water soluble dietary fiber derived from the konjac plant. They are used to make a type of noodle known as "shirataki" in Japan.It is marketed as a no carb, no gluten, no calorie noodle, that makes you feel full quickly and for long periods of time, thus making it a good weight loss option. I don't care about that. What is very unique about this flour is its gelling properties. When cooked with water and a catalyst, which in this case it has to be lime, not the fruit but the mineral, its alkalinity contributes to its gelling. Once the water is gelled, it is not thermoreversible, in other words, it cannot melt through heat. So it is heat resistant to an extent, meaning that you can put it inside a hot liquid or broth and it won't break down. It will also take on the flavor of the liquid or broth. Once it is cooked it doesn't smell or taste like anything. While it is cooking though, it has a foul fishy aroma to it that is highly off-putting.

I tried it a few times with different instructions and recipes and I couldn't get it to gel correctly. Finally, I substituted the water for grape juice (Welch's... what?) and poured it into a very thin layer and let it set overnight. It seemed to do the trick, but only after I flipped it over and let that underside dry for a few more hours. It was a very elastic, chewy dough, and it was 100% grape flavors. I put it to the test by serving it with a very hot lightly sweetened jasmine tea and some tapioca pearls, very similar in texture, steeped in a hibiscus infusion. I found it very interesting that both tapioca and konjac have very similar properties, as far as texture, flavor neutrality and the capacity to absorb flavors without loosing its texture. Tapioca will eventually break down if exposed to excessive heat for a prolonged period of time. But when I recently cooked tapioca starch with water, it looked exactly the same as when I was cooking the konjac flour.

There are definitely many more possibilities for this product. I am very interested in using it s I use tapioca, but with hot desserts or other preparations.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Packaging chocolate bars

I have to say I was not 100% happy with the change we made to cryovak-ing our candy bars. They looked good, but not as good as with a wrapper. It also seemed that the bars were warping due to the sheer force of the suction from the cryovak machine. And sometimes the suction was such that it would suck the filling right out of the bar.
So I soon discarded that idea, and decided that we needed to go back to paper, but we would eliminate the foil, which was the most time consuming element. We would just wrap the bars in food safe paper, label them and ribbon them. It was much faster to do this than cryovak-ing was, and I think the results are much more something I can live with. And not so labor intensive which saves a few dollars.

The second part that is even more exciting is that we are making our own chocolate now for candy bars. Making as in from scratch, from cocoa beans. This initiative was headed by Bryan Graham, knower of all things chocolate. We purchased a melanger recently and have been using it to make a variety of chocolates in 5lb batches (I think I may have mentioned this in an earlier post...). This particular candy bar is a white chocolate, made with goat milk instead of the traditional cow milk, which is an improvement on white chocolate.