Friday, August 23, 2013

Pastry and Science

In the pastry realm, one has to be exact for the appropriate outcome. Structure and behavior are determined by the correct ingredients and measurements as well as reactions. It's much more chemistry-oriented than what goes on in the savory side of the kitchen. 
One can add this and that to a soup (or "forget" to add something) to change the flavor and it won't generally change the soup's form.  However, if you forget baking powder or baking soda to your cake, it will probably be hard and flat since the leavener wasn't there to make it rise. 
A chemical reaction takes place to make a cake rise.

Along with seven chefs, a coworker and I recently took part in a class at the Callebaut Academy in Chicago taught by Spanish chef Jordi Puigvert. The content was science-oriented information for plated desserts, confection, and pastry. More specifically, it was what is called modern pastry, molecular gastronomy, or culinary physics.

It's about changing the expected textures, chemical phases (solid/liquid/gas), and tastes into something new, and you end up with something surprising and unexpected on the plate as well as for the palate. Those things one might expect to only be appropriate as a visual garnish and not add much to the flavor aspect of a dish easily change the notion.

Here are some examples of a few things we worked on earlier this week.

Blood orange and mint whipped gels.

You might expect them to be gummy, but they aren't. The texture is very light, and more like a vibrantly flavored sponge cake that melts in the mouth.  The whipped gels are easily cut and added to other deserts. 

A fruit puree mixed with a few other ingredients and dripped from a bottle can create...

Raspberry caviar

Microwave chocolate sponge cake pieces, topped with a quenelle of milk chocolate and macerated semi-sorbet, raspberry flexible ganache, chocolate "clay" coated in raspberry powder, raspberry caviar, and a piped chocolate and blackcurrant frozen foam. Underneath is either a crumbed "dehydrated" peanut paste or hazelnut paste.

Piping the microwave chocolate sponge cake from an N2O charged whipped cream canister to create the light and spongy texture for the cake.

Unmoulded frozen chocolate mint mousse

Dipped into a cocoa glaze while frozen, chocolate mint mousse is placed on a bed of chocolate crumbles and becomes is the center of a dessert flanked by spheres of chocolate and light licorice panna cotta, cubes of whipped mint gel, basil cream, and a cocoa and licorice sauce. 

Spherification of blood orange and passion fruit puree- 
a very thin semi-solid layer holds the puree inside

A squiggle of lime and white chocolate curd, lime crumble, orange juice soaked passion fruit sponge cake, whipped blood orange gel, white chocolate and passion fruit flexible ganache, orange and passion fruit spheres, topped with a lime and white chocolate semi-sorbet and lemon bubbles. 
(Sorbets will eventually melt and bubbles will eventually dissipate... even for chefs.)

Blackcurrant and chocolate marshmallows

The photo above shows piped interiors of mojito truffles, below are the finished truffles on either side of chocolate-coated pina colada dragees with coconut cubes, pineapple and lime flavors. 

Smooth interior sesame and hazelnut truffles coated in chocolate and rolled in caramelized sesame seeds (center)... (apparently you can finish a 1kg bag of the seeds at the cinema- no problem), flanked by vibrant-tasting lime, basil, and yogurt truffles, some chocolate-coated and others left uncoated.

Tartlets with vanilla bean mousse, vacuum-packed pineapple (flavored with simple syrup, rum, lime zest, and vanilla bean with the help of osmosis), soft coconut cubes, and pineapple-rum gel. Coconut caviar was added later.

Chocolate financiers with a heat-resistant raspberry filling. The raspberry slice is like an extremely thick jam, reminiscent of membrillo, that very easily dissipates in the mouth. When the cake is cooked the raspberry will melt, but it solidifies again once the cake cools. 

Frozen green apple mousse being coated in thin fruit glaze

Yogurt foam spooned into a mould and frozen so it can be sliced

Green apple mousse moulded around apple confit cubes, vanilla mousse, and an eggless caramel bavaroise, dipped in apple glaze, placed upon a bed of yogurt and green tea sponge cake, iced apple gel, frozen yogurt bubbles, apple meringue, and sliced fresh green apple. 

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Coconut Macaroons and Mango Sauce


While much of the time we are able to do what we want and try creating new flavor combinations and confections at Kakao (provided we have the time for it), every now and then we have "assignments" or "challenges" for the confectioners at the shop.
I suppose you might call it forced inspiration.
Called Peculiar Pairings, we're given an ingredient or a style and we're supposed to create a confection with it in mind. For example, in the very recent past we've had "Indian" and another using local craft beers. Sometimes the ideas come easier than at other times.
Then there can be the whole question of how to go about making actual the flavor and texture that you happen to envision...

The pairing coming up soon is "comfort food." Well, I couldn't quite come up with anything. I racked my brain trying to think of what I might personally use as comfort food. Suggestions were there, the worst was mashed potatoes, but it was thankfully a joke (what in the world would I do with that even if I wanted to?). I thought of Cheetos myself, and while they fit the bill for comfort food (a good reason I do not buy them) and they do happen to be more usable in their form and texture than the potatoes, I decided that I wasn't ready for Cheetos and chocolate. It might take more finesse than I am able to provide the project. Then again, maybe there's no amount of finesse that would take care of the Cheetos.
Truthfully we do sometimes use things in our confections that one might not immediately expect as appropriate for sweets. But very often, the slightly odd is what people expect from us anyway.

It's not a crunchy, salty snack, but I finally decided on tea for the comfort food I would utilize. Ok, so I suppose it's technically not a food, but I do find tea comforting (in the evening, when it's cold outside, if I'm sick, as an accompaniment to a book). I especially like a good lavender earl grey.
And so, to create the flavor, loose earl grey tea leaves and dried lavender buds were infused in cream. The infused cream was then used to make a batch of caramel. Ta-da.
The caramels were cut and dipped in 72% dark chocolate, topped with a sprinkle of raw sugar for the tea, and one lavender but as an identifier and flavor booster.
While certainly I like it, I have a couple ideas of how I would change it if I made it again...

In addition to all the chocolate, Kakao also carries ice cream from a local ice cream shop. We have two flavors available: a natural vanilla, and classic chocolate.
In addition to the things we have to offer in the day-to-day made in-store (salted burnt caramel sauce, chocolate sauce, lavender syrup...), we also have a specialty sundae every two weeks or so.

Working in a chocolate shop, we're obviously always surrounded by chocolate. Easy access, it's not as tempting as you might think (we often comment on how we really want salt).
Don't get me wrong, it's great chocolate. Most, if not all of us, who work at Kakao eat chocolate every day. The good news is that if you have good chocolate, you don't need as much of it to satisfy a chocolate need.
Maybe that shouldn't be a blanket statement. Maybe quality doesn't matter as much as quantity for some people, but it does for me.

Anyway, the point I was trying to make is that since we're working with chocolate all the time, we frequently crave other flavors. Sometimes it's nice to work with other foods, flavors, and textures to see what we can come up with.
Back to the ice cream...

One of my favorite flavor combinations is coconut and mango, and I especially love good coconut sticky rice with mango for a special dessert following a meal at a Thai restaurant.
So, I wanted to make fresh mango sauce for vanilla ice cream and serve it with a coconut macaroon.

Fresh mango, a little coconut oil, brown sugar, and lime juice... and things turned out pretty well!
(And no, the photo below does not show toasted coconut.)

So, this time around, two recipes in one post, though they certainly don't have to go together (they just did for my purposes).
Use them however you would like.  Or not.
I understand that coconut is one of those things. People are either coconut lovers or coconut haters. The grey area seems very small in this instance, and opinions can be quite strong.
If you happen to like coconut and feel like taking things a little further, temper some good dark chocolate, dip the bottom half of the coconut macaroons, and place them on parchment to set.

As far as the mango-lime sauce goes, it's very nice poured over good vanilla ice cream (sweet and creamy goes well with the fruity and slightly tart sauce- they seem to enhance each other), but it would also be great spooned over cheesecake, with fresh strawberries, or over pound cake with some whipped cream.

Coconut Macaroons
makes about 48, 1 T cookies

14 oz (397 g) unsweetened coconut
14 oz (397 g) sweetened condensed milk
1 t (5 ml) vanilla extract
2 large egg whites, room temperature
1/4 t (1 g) kosher salt
2 T (32 g)  granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 325 F/160 C.
In a large bowl and with a spatula, mix the coconut, condensed milk, and vanilla until well combined. 
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, whip the egg whites together with the salt until soft peaks form. While the mixer is running, slowly add the sugar and continue whisking until stiff peaks form. Gently fold the egg white mixture into the coconut mixture until incorporated. 

Using a small cookie scoop or spoon, portion out the macaroon mixture in about 1 T (visually 15 ml) mounds onto parchment paper lined sheet pans. 
Bake the cookies in the center of the oven 15-20 minutes, until golden, turing the pan back to front about 8 minutes through the cooking time. 

Remove the pan from the heat and let cool before removing the cookies from the paper. 
(*Coconut macaroons freeze well.)

Mango-Lime Sauce
makes a generous pint (more than 473 ml)

about 2 lb. (907 kg) ripe mango
3 T (45 ml) water
1/4 c (50 g) brown sugar
2 T (30 g) coconut oil
1/4 t ( 1 g) salt
2 1/2 T (around 37 ml) fresh squeezed lime juice

Cut the mango fruit from the flat central seed. To do so, I like to use the stem as a guide and cut the "cheeks" away from either side. If it's difficult you may be cutting too deeply, and into the seed. Then score each half mango on the flesh side 3-4 times in one direction to the skin but not through, and then 3-4 times perpendicularly through the flesh so you have a grid cut into it. Flip the skin inside-out so that the cubes you have cut separate from each other and appear to pop out  from the skin. Using a spoon, scoop the cut mango from the skin and into a medium saucepan. Repeat until all the mango is in the pan. Don't forget to peel the skin from the perimeter of the seed and cut the fruit that's still around the seed off into the pan with the rest of the mango. 

Add the water, brown sugar, coconut oil, and salt to the pan with the mango. Simmer over medium-low heat 3 minutes, stirring several times to make sure the fruit doesn't scorch. 
Let the mixture cool slightly and then pour everything into the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth. Add the lime juice and process again until combined. Taste and adjust as necessary (salt, lime juice, a little extra water to thin the sauce).

If not using immediately, let cool completely, place in a covered container and refrigerate until ready to use (the sauce should be fine several days in the fridge). Bring to room temperature before using. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Argentinian-Style Flank Steak and Chimichurri

It's been a while since I posted anything "meat," so I thought it was about time.
Grilled foods are such a nice summery option. The only problem is that I'm not exactly grill-proficient. I do like the grill- vegetables are fantastic and easy to gauge, hamburgers aren't difficult to tackle, and neither are things like a pork shoulder that have a low heat and extremely slow cooking time.

My problem happens to be those things that need a somewhat high heat and more controlled cooking time for a perfect medium-rare. Problem being that I can't seem to obtain the necessary control for long because the grill I use decides to suddenly drop in temperature. It's finished for the day, it's not going to do any more work.
Then the timing doesn't work out because the temperature decided not to cooperate.  You're at the point when you have meat that's partially cooked, but you have no idea exactly HOW cooked it is, and maybe you're not certain how long the temperature was at the desired level before it dropped... well, what is one supposed to do?
Rather than spearing the steak to check it's doneness and lose all the juices, I prefer something a little more consistent from the beginning.
For precision, I prefer to cook on the stove. See, I'm comfortable with that. A grill pan is great, but a heavy frying pan such as one made of cast iron will also work well. The grill flavor may not exactly be there (sorry), but a really nice sear can still be attained.
If you're happy with your grill and comfortable using it for something like this, have at it. I'm sure you'll be pleased.

I give instructions for medium-rare steak because that's what I like. (Although, quite honestly,  this time around I changed things a bit by not paying attention to what I was doing, heating the pan over high, walking away, then dropping the temperature to medium-high after I put the steak in the pan. This seems to be better instruction on a steak that's closer to medium than medium-rare. The real medium-rare instructions are below. My apologies, but there was no time for a "round two" to fix it for photographic purposes.)
That said, cooking your meat more rare or more done is completely up to you. I don't plan to give instruction on how to play Russian roulette food poisoning (do you trust your butcher?) or grill up some nice hockey pucks.  But I don't know that either of those require much instruction- and if that's what you like, it's your dinner.

One other thing is that the cooking method in the recipe is the one I always use for a flank steak: hot pan, salt and pepper the steak, cook on one side, turn and cook on the other, let the meat rest off the heat in the pan.  It's my basic flank steak how-to, and I like how it turns out.
The "different" thing in this case is the marinade and chimichurri (which tastes like green and garlic with a little bite).
Earlier on I had a recipe for some steak and chimichurri, but I think I like this version much better.

If you're looking for a different herby green sauce for flank steak, a fresh basil pesto might be nice.

Oh yes! Speaking to a vegetarian who thought the marinade smelled fantastic (after it sat a while but before the meat went in), we decided it had the potential to make a really nice vegetarian meal. Marinate some meaty vegetables (like mushrooms) and serve the chimichurri alongside...

You'll just have to imagine what the vegetables would look like. 

Argentinian-Style Flank Steak and Chimichurri
serves 4-6
Marinade adapted from a recipe in Gourmet, August 2008 (originally adapted from Abingdon Manor)

1/4 c (60 ml) vegetable oil (sunflower, peanut)
1/2 c (120 ml) white vinegar
1/2 c (32 g) chopped fresh cilantro (stems are fine to use)
3 large cloves garlic, minced
2/3 c (80 g) chopped onion
1 T (2 g, or 15 ml if weight is too small to measure) fresh minced thyme leaves 
2 t (1 g, or 10 ml) fresh minced oregano
1 1/2 t (5 g) ground cumin

1 1/2- 2 lb (680-907g) flank steak

Before cooking: kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/4 c (60 ml) red wine vinegar
1/4 c (60 ml) olive oil
1/4 c (33 g) minced onion
3 cloves garlic, minced 
1 1/2 t (7 ml) lemon juice
1/3 c (24 g) minced fresh parsley, lightly packed
2 t (3 g, or 10 ml if weight is too small to measure) minced fresh oregano
a nice pinch of hot red pepper flakes
1/2 t (2 g, or 2.5 ml) freshly ground black pepper
3/4 t (6 g) kosher salt

In a large resealable plastic bag, place the oil, vinegar, cilantro, garlic, onion, thyme, oregano, and cumin. Mix the ingredients to combine well, and place the flank steak in the bag. Coat the steak in the marinade, remove excess air from the bag, and seal.  Of course, this could easily be done in a bowl, but you may have to turn the steak a few times so it all marinates evenly. Refrigerate 4-5 hours. 

While the steak marinates, make the chimichurri. 
Stir together all chimichurri ingredients in a medium bowl. Set aside and let stand at least 2 hours so the flavors meld. 

When ready to cook the steak, heat a large heavy frying pan or grill pan over medium-high heat a couple minutes. Remove the steak from the bag and wipe off excess marinade. Generously salt and pepper the steak and place the steak seasoned-side down in the hot pan. Salt and pepper the other side as the first side cooks. For a 2 lb. steak, cook 8 minutes per side for medium-rare. For a smaller steak, 1 1/2 lb., maybe 7 minutes per side.  
When the first side has finished cooking, flip the steak and cook on the other side. Remove the pan from the heat and let the steak rest in the hot pan about 10 minutes. 

Slice the flank steak against the grain and serve with the chimichurri. 

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Peaches in Lavender Tea

Just recently, I saw a recipe for a fruit salad steeped in chamomile tea. It sounded interesting... the only problem was that I really don't like chamomile. At all.
I'm not partial to that mouth-full-of-pollen taste that (in my opinion) goes with chamomile.
Honeys with strong pollen tastes, or anything that tastes at all like any type of little white flower is not for me.
And so, a way to improve upon the idea and fit it to my own preferences was to instead make use of lavender.

The use of a tea in which to marinate fruit is certainly a different way to add flavor, and the end result turns out to be a refreshing change.
In this case lavender isn't too bold, but understated, and seems to pair well with peaches.
(Because the flavor combination is likely not a familiar one, you'll just have to trust me on this one.)
The tea lends a bit of perfume to the fruit- and while some may be able to identify the flavor, others may not.

And with a light meal, a simple fruit salad can be practically perfect ending. 

If you want to add some richness to the dish, maybe try topping with a little whipped cream, or serve the fruit with vanilla ice cream (although the lavender flavor becomes a little blunted with the addition of cream).

Peaches in Lavender Tea
serves 4-6

4 large ripe peaches
2/3 c (160 ml) water
2 teaspoons lavender tea (or dried lavender)
1 T (16 g) sugar (vanilla sugar if you have it)
1 T (15 ml) lemon juice
6 oz (170 g) raspberries

Bring the water to a boil and pour into a heat-safe cup or dish. Add the lavender to the hot water and let steep 5-7 minutes. Strain the tea, removing the lavender buds, into a large bowl. Add the sugar and lemon juice and whisk until the sugar is dissolved. 
Cut each peach into 8-12 slices and add them to the bowl with the tea. 

Marinate 15 minutes, gently tossing a few times. Add the raspberries and toss gently again.
At this point the fruit and syrup can be served in dessert bowls, or refrigerated an hour or two and served cold.