Dessert #2
Mar 13th, 2012 by

Now this is a dessert I LOVE. The rest of my class agreed, though some people preferred the dessert in the next post more. I like it because it feels like a dessert, but it is still light and refreshing. My chef agrees that this is a tasty dish; however, he admonished those of us who liked it for having simple tastes, as it has basically three flavors that are repeated, and so there is little complexity or finesse to this dessert.

This dessert started with a great recipe for a sobao cake. Sobao is a cake produced in the Cantabria region of Spain. It’s basically a slightly dense, butter cake, but in this case they added extra salt and froze the cake so that it could be sliced very thinly. Using this cake as a focus, my chef wanted to come up with a dessert in which butter was a major flavor. In his opinion there are six main ways to add the flavor of butter to a dessert, they are: a shortbread cookie, a butter cream, sobao, toffee, brioche, and Filo dough. He chose to use the first four, by having four components with the same flavor, he really emphasizes the flavor on the plate. To this he added two classically refreshing flavors: lime and basil. The lime, because it is a citrus, brings a nice acidness to the plate that helps to balance some of the fattiness of the butter. Lime is a better choice than lemon because it has a little more character: more complexity of flavor and an earthiness. The basil was chosen because it is sweet and comfortable, but also because it has a strong mintiness and even a pepperiness when fresh. Together the two heighten and complement the different butter elements to form a dish that I found intensely satisfying.

This dish is difficult to describe because instead of having all of the components stacked on top of one another,  there are basically two distinct lines of food. I will try to explain the dish in a manner that makes sense but feel free to not completely understand the description, because not understanding it is actually one of the best parts about this dish. The flavors are repeated so carefully that is hard to find a bite without some of each flavor.

On the very bottom of this dish is a smear of very rich toffee which is topped with crumbled up shortbread cookie. This short bread cookie bisects both lines of the dessert and keeps the sorbet from moving around. The sorbet, which is on the left, is made from yogurt and is lime flavored. We would call this a sherbet, because it has milk product, but Spanish doesn’t have a word for a sherbet, so instead they call this sorbet with milk base. In the back (refer to the picture at the top) is a very thin slice of the sobao cake, which sits on top of the toffee and the crumble, and is topped with large piped line of lime-basil mousse. The mousse has white chocolate as its base, so it’s very creamy and rich. It is topped with another thinner line of a butter cream. This is simply browned butter or noisette that has been whipped with simple syrup. This is topped with three small cubes of super acidic lime gellies and micro basil. Returning to the front, on the right side are four cubes of golden apple that have been poached in a butter sauce and topped with a lime foam (easier to see on the bottom picture).  I really admire how each flavor is so effortlessly integrated, and how, even though there are only three flavors, each time a flavor appears it is different in a way that keeps the dish interesting.

Dessert #1
Mar 8th, 2012 by

Tasting menus are built to be a progression, so, for instance a dinner tasting menu would begin with lighter courses (fish or a soup) and then move to heavier courses (meat or pasta).  This is also true with dessert tastings, starting with something fresh, and refreshing, and ending with heavier, richer desserts. Therefore, when designing this first dessert my chef began with the idea that he needed a new, refreshing, palate-cleansing dessert to be the opening to one of his tasting menus. A palate cleanser is generally served between the entree and dessert to remove lingering flavors from the mouth so that the dessert may be enjoyed unhindered by garlic, onions or other pervasive spices.  It can be a sorbet, a light beverage, or a small bite that has cleansing properties. The most famous French palate cleanser is a shot of Calvados (an apple brandy), called  le trou Normand in French. It was with this Calvados in mind that my chef started designing this first dessert.

Being a liquid Calvados limits in some ways how it can be used in a dish. My chef began by pairing it with apple. This seems almost counter-intuitive because apple flavor already is in Calvados, but it actually works well because the fresh apple reinforces the apple-y-ness of the Calvados and it begins to bring this dish in a refreshing direction. Although Calvados is an excellent palette cleanser, it is not very refreshing.

So, what is refreshing? The first thing that I think of is toothpaste. Toothpaste is a great example of a product that makes your mouth feel cleaner (even without the brushing action). So mentholated things are refreshing as are acidic things, spicy flavors, fermented products like yogurt, and, not quite as pronouncedly, bitterness, saltiness, and alcohols.

The next flavors my chef chose to add were from the anise family: Green anise which is a seed similar to fennel but with stronger notes of licorice and fresh celery which actually has quite a bit of natural licorice flavor. Then for that toothpaste “ah” feeling  he utilized a Spanish cough drop. The brand they prefer is called Fisherman’s much like we like Ricola. I like the Fisherman’s flavor, it is very herbaceous and minty. This flavor he paired with some apple cider vinegar, which is fermented but once again reinforces the original apple. At this point we have Calvados, apple, green licorice, and minty flavors; the problem with this dish then is that all of these flavors are clean and water based, they would make a very good smoothie. There is no fat or creaminess, things that are frequently associated with dessert. The problem with most fat or creamy elements is that they are not refreshing and can in fact be heavy on the palate. Therefore, as a last flavor component my chef added kefir – a fermented milk drink – which is refreshing because of the fermentation flavor.

So, now that we have all of our flavors let’s put them together with techniques. Please, note that with all of his desserts, my chef layers the flavors in each component so that few components are only one flavor and few flavors are in only one place on the dish. So from bottom to top: There is a thin layer of kefir on the bottom which has been thickened to the consistency of cream cheese. The cubes are apple that have had Calvados forced into them. There are three on the left holding up the sorbet and then four more in the front. The sorbet is apple juice, Calvados and apple cider vinegar which is topped with a vinegar and Fishermans foam. To the right is a long rectangle of gelee flavored with juiced celery and green anise topped with small diced celery that has been scalded in sugar syrup to keep it from turning color and to give it some sweetness. (These are hard to see in the photo.) This is topped with long matchsticks of apple that have been flavored with the Fisherman liquid.

When describing this dish later to a friend, the only word that popped to mind was: Clean. The dish accomplished everything that it set out to do: it was a palate cleanser; it was a nice start to a menu, it wasn’t heavy or overwhelming but at the same time, while it tasted good, it didn’t really do anything for me. I liked it but I wouldn’t eat it again without a reason. Intellectually, I know that a dessert tasting menu needs dishes like this: clean, refreshing, with lots of different textures but somehow this one didn’t knock my socks off. There wasn’t enough of the kefir, celery is a strange flavor in desserts, and I didn’t feel like it was integrated enough to make it work for me. I also just wanted a little more content; there were a lot of components that sort of slid away in my mouth without requiring chewing or thought as to how the flavors were working together. However, I loved the licorice and vinegar foam. I actually didn’t expect to like it because it seems like a strange combination but it really worked: it was refreshing and bright and harmonious. Overall, this is a good starter course and I did enjoy it.

Dinner at Espai Sucre
Mar 4th, 2012 by

This past week, my class and I had the opportunity to eat at the school’s restaurant; our teacher suggested this as a way to illustrate how many of concepts we have been learning come together in a finished product. We ate at the restaurant in the evening, so during class on the appointed day, we went through the desserts that we were going to have. My teacher talked us through the steps he took in their development, explaining each decision that he made, so that when we got to the restaurant we knew what to expect with each dish and could more fully appreciate what we were eating. We had four dishes in total. I will break them down in separate postings as I suspect some people may also be interested in what I have been learning and  the process of creating restaurant style desserts.

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