Sunday, August 30, 2009

French Toast and bacon candy bar

In the search for non traditional candy bar fillings, I thought to use brioche a few months ago for a special box of chocolates we made for Ferran Adria on his visit to the CIA in March. Not always do you need to make a ganache or a caramel to fill a chocolate (or marzipan... or pate de fruit). We have already used popcorn as a non-traditional filling. This time, based on a maple chocolate that Bryan, my head chocolate person made (the actual white chocolate was made with maple sugar instead of granulated sugar, and powdered yogurt instead of milk powder), we tried to replicate the flavors and texture of French toast, naturally.

Why not use the actual main ingredient as a filling? We were successful with it in the past. So what we did was soak it in a ganache with low Aw (that is water activity... to much of it makes it spoil quickly) that was flavored with spices and rum to act as the egg custard soak. And then to take it ever so slightly over the top we added crispy, salty, smoky bacon. It is one of my favorite candy bars ever. I find it very hard to stop eating them which is a problem.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Bubble sphere

The image above is of a sphere of a chrysanthemum and vanilla infusion that was previously distilled to obtain a clear liquid. The liquid is thickened with xanthan gum, which is what created those bubbles (and what inspired this very clever title), and then calcium lactate is added, so when dipped in a sodium alginate base, they form a membrane just on the surface like and egg yolk. I did not by any means invent this method... its has actually been around for a while, but I wanted to see what it did with a clear liquid, since it is typically made with fruit purees (among many other components, but fruit purees seem to be the most popular).
The look made me think of a carbonated drink, so I thought to make the same product but with tonic water (slightly sweetened). The result was more or less similar as you can see below, but it has way more bubbles and they are much smaller. This particular sphere would be great with gin, since it almost looks like ice, and well, it is made of tonic. The spheres would have to be way smaller, otherwise you would be chugging that gin down to get whole sphere in your mouth, and as we all know, gin can lead to bad things. Very. Bad. Things.

Below is a short video showing these wonderful spheres pop and ooze. Please enjoy,


Monday, August 24, 2009

Agar jelly "spaghetti"

I ordered a "spaghetto" (not "spaghetti") kit a couple of years ago from Spain. It was created for one of the items at el bulli, the parmesan spaghetto. Basically, it is an agar gelled Parmesan serum.

The method is brilliant, and it is one of those things that I wish I could have come up with myself. But I didn't. I used it once in 2007, succeeded, was in awe of it, then put it away until recently.

You make the agar jelly, then pour it into a squeeze bottle, then squeeze the liquid into a 3 ft long plastic tube, then dunk the tube into an ice bath so it sets quickly. They make a special attachment for the iSi heavy cream whippers, which is a plastic nozzle that screws into the whipper where you would typically screw in a tip where the contents of the whipper would come out of. This special nozzle fits snugly inside the tube with the gelled agar. Once you charge the whipper with nitrogen, you push the nozzle into the tube with the agar gel and gently squeeze. If it doesn't come out, you can put the tube inside a bowl with warm water to loosen it up without melting it (agar is not thermoreversible). Just a little pressure from the whipper will push the whole thing out. It looks disturbing but amazing at the same time, how this perfect tube of jelly slowly comes out of the plastic tube, coiling onto itself (I used 250 g cherry poaching liquid and 4 g of agar, combined, boiled them for 5 seconds, then forced it into the tube while it was still hot).

This dessert is a house made pistachio marzipan wrapped around a cherry genoise, with a quenelle of pistachio chantilly coated in pistachio velvet. The blackness is black sesame gelee.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Wafer paper - edible images

Is it wrong to eat Fernand Point's image? I don't know the answer to that, but I couldn't think of a better way to present his iconic dessert, a cake he named "Marjolaine" after his daughter. I didn't have a picture of his daughter, so Point would have to do. (If you do not know who point is, I recommend you look him up, or better yet, take a look at his book, the recently reprinted "Ma Gastronomie"... this is the old school in its purest form.) This is a classic picture taken of him in his heyday. I had a silkscreen made from it, then, using black food coloring, screened his image onto a sheet of wafer paper.
The wafer paper can also be flavored by spraying an intensely flavored liquid on it without saturating it (the flavors in the cake revolve around hazelnut, so I can see using Frangelico, a hazelnut liquor similar to Amaretto to flavor it, since the alcohol would evaporate faster than water), letting it dry (flat, to keep it from wrinkling), then applying the silkscreen.

I tried a different approach for the image below.

Instead of spraying it with a liquid, I smoked the paper with cherry wood, then, instead of using a silkscreen, used a rubber stamp and food coloring. The wafer paper suffers greatly in the presence of moisture, so I lightly coated it with cocoa butter, which helps it stay firm, and keeps the flavor of the smoke in. This particular image is used to garnish a dessert where all the components have been through the Maillard reaction, where smoke would make sense in a way (too much Maillard = burnt = smoke).

Monday, August 17, 2009

Using doughnuts as a bavarian base

I always used the classic method to make a bavarian cream without even posing any questions about it. It worked and that is all I needed to know. But it turns out that you can mix it up a bit. Typically a bavarian cream contains an anglaise or fruit puree base, an almost equal amount of heavy cream and gelatin as a stabilizer. Proportions vary according to the chef. But what I realized could be changed was the flavor base (anglaise or fruit puree). In other words, if you can have a flavor component with the consistency of a fruit puree or anglaise, you can make a bavarian. In this case made a puree, although it certainly is not fruit; I used doughnuts instead. Now, in order to get that unmistakable doughnut flavor, I couldn't use the doughnuts we fry at work since they are brioche doughnuts and don't taste like store bought doughnuts. So I used store bough doughnuts and it worked very well, resulting in a very smooth bavarian with a very defined flavor. The bavarian is sprayed with white chocolate velvet and it sits over pulverized espresso chocolate ("chocolate" that we made using coffee beans instead of cocoa beans. Coffee and doughnuts.

I have tried with method with other purees such as baguette and rye and in both case the results were positive. It opens up many flavor opportunities in regards to desserts and in particular cakes.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Poor Man's Distiller


I fantasized briefly about getting a rotary evaporator ( but my dreams were promptly shot down by a ludicrous price tag (about $10k). I also thought that, even if it is a great distiller (it's called an evaporator but what it essentially does is distill through evaporation... all distillers work through evaporation), how can I justify such a price tag? How much stuff can you distill before you make your money back?

Getting a massive clue after the price tag shock, I decided to aim much lower, and with the help of one of my sous, Sean Pera, we found this cheapo home distiller.

I distilled Earl Grey tea and it came out clear as water. It was off-putting to drink clear Earl Grey, but intriguing at the same time. And I can deal with a $100 machine that does what this one does.

I have also tried other teas and infusions and they have worked well. I am going to test using vodka instead of water as a distilling medium, since it appears that the evaporation process is much faster than with water, and this concentrates flavor better.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Popcorn candy bar

This candy bar is filled with popcorn.

We basically made popcorn right on a stove top, cooled it down, then ground it in a robot coupe, and then passed it through a tamis to obtain a fine popcorn powder. We also seasoned it with freeze dried salted butter powder: it tasted exactly like movie theater popcorn... if they used real butter. It contains a second element of flavor and texture which is a fleur de sel chewy caramel.

The trick with this candy bar is to keep the popcorn from falling all over your shirt, since it is loose inside the bar. To fix that, a small amount of anhydrous butter (butter without moisture... not the same as clarified butter) is added to keep it tightly in place, but just a small amount, otherwise it's like eating a stick of butter.

The mold we used is from this company:

This chef, Enric Rosich, has started a company that sells molds for pastry production. Its goal is to reduce waste and increase productivity as well as to provide consistency. You will see what I mean when you see the website.

The molds are intended to be single use. And even though they are recyclable, we will definitely try to use them as many times as possible.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Upside-down quenelle


Ever since I first saw Heston Blumenthal's "The Big Fat Duck Cookbook", I have been unhealthily obsessing over one thing and one thing only: the standing quenelles. If you have not seen the book, then you have no idea what I am talking about so I will try to explain: when you spoon a quenelle onto a plate or a dessert component, whatever it may be, it lays flat or it is at a gentle incline, leaning on something to keep it in place. A standing quenelle, or upside-down quenelle, is quite a novel idea, at least to me. So, how the hell did they do it? I want to think that they didn't cheat and scoop the quenelle ahead of time, blast-froze it, then stood it on a plate. Maybe they did, and there's nothing wrong with that, after all, dealing with ice cream in photo shoots is a real pain that I know a thing or two about.

But what would you do if you had to spoon an upside-down quenelle during service? I looked at one of my treasured silver quenelle spoons and I found the answer: the spoon part would have to be upside down. I asked one of the maintenance guys on campus to cut the spoon off the handle, flip it around and weld it back onto the handle. They had it ready in less than an hour. I took it out for a test drive and it worked very well as you can see by the video above.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Volcano Vaporizer - part 1

The most innocent use for this machine is to release flavors and the aroma particles from a given ingredient through vaporization through hot air. I say innocent because it is used to release the flavors and aromas of ingredients like herbs... most dried herbs (wink wink... get it?... no? alright). Vaporization is an alternative to combustion: combustion is what happens when you use a smoker... which is fine, if you are going for the smoky flavor in your food. I have an aberration for smoke in desserts. But its use is not limited to just herbs and not just to release flavors and aromas. For example, in the video above we used vanilla powder to infuse tequila. The entire process is ridiculously simple and it doesn't take very long. Almost anything dry can be used in the vaporizer (spices, lavender, cocoa nibs).
You can see the machines specs and uses here:
The first attempt was with a regular plastic hose, which melted rather quickly once the machine got going. I purchased a heat resistant rubber hose and that seemed to do the trick. To operate the vaporizer, you turn the heating element on and set it to the desired temperature, and then you turn the fan on. This forces the hot air through the desired ingredient and the aroma and thus flavor particles pass through the hose and into the final destination. Tequila in the above case.
But it also opened another whole stack of possibilities for our boxed desserts. Most of our desserts are displayed in these recyclable (and re-usable) plastic boxes to ensure freshness and to reduce packaging... but also, if we fill the box with vanilla particles it would keep them in place, saturating the dessert components. For example, in the video below, we filled the box we use for our peaches and cream dessert with Tahitian vanilla particles. The flavor clings on the components and stays in the box for more than a day, so when you open the box you get hit in the face with a vanilla fist.
This can also open possibilities for experimenting with the effect of aroma on desserts. What if we used clove instead of vanilla for another dessert identical to peaches and cream? I obviously know that they would be different, but it is fascinating how aroma can influence the perception of a dessert, even though its basic components are the same... they smell different and that changes everything.
Oh, the catch is the cost of the vaporizer. I won't say what it is here... you'll have to find out on your own.