Let’s play a little game.
I’m going to start listing off ingredients, and I want you to stop me when you think that their combination is starting to get weird. Here we go:
Orange, olive oil, basil, almond, saffron, olive brine, chamomile, vanilla… Have you gagged yet? No? Good. Let’s move on.
Out of the few dishes that I have made from the Alinea cookbook, I have to say, this has been the most fun to make. I know that there are professional chefs that shy away from making desserts, and there are those for whom dessert is their main focus. I guess it’s a benefit to me that I’m in no way a professional chef, because I love to do both. This dessert straddles both worlds, as it combines both sweet and savory elements. Additionally, this dish also afforded me the opportunity to play with some new “Modernist” chemicals, which you may have already read about here.
One of the many great parts of the Alinea cookbook, is all of the introductory essays that come before the actual recipes. In Chef Achatz’s own introduction, he highlights some of the creative techniques that go into the restaurant’s menu-development. It’s a fascinating insight into the mind of a culinary genius. One such technique, I believe was dubbed “role-reversal.” I could be wrong about that, though. The basic premise, however, is that once you know that a set of flavors goes well together, then, in theory, they should always go well together, regardless of the setting. Things which normally go well together in a salad, can be served as dessert. Or flavors from a dessert could be served as a main course. The key, is balancing the elements of sweet, or salt, sour or savory, etc.
Many of you may not have tried the combination of olive and orange, but in many Mediterranean cuisines, the combination is fairly ubiquitous. Indeed, one of the many salads that my mother prepares for Shabbos, is from this very combination. The short ribs that were served (Catalan beef stew) at the same meal as this dessert, by Dan and me, also had orange zest and olives in their sauce. The trick here, is making this salad combination into a delicious dessert. And boy, was it delicious–and time consuming, but well worth it.
The central piece of the dessert was, what Dan called, “the Spanish Dreamsicle,” a la those orange and cream popsicles we all grew up with. Except that this one was orange sorbet and olive oil ice cream, on top of a liquefied and re-frozen almond and olive oil cookie.
To make the cookie, I had to start with a basic almond shortbread, or “sable” as it is also known. Sugar and margarine were creamed together–
to which a mix of almond and regular flour were added, along with some salt. I formed it into a sheet, then froze it before baking.
The cookies that were baked out of this, are known as Sable cookies in France. Sable, meaning sandy, is basically the French version of our sugar cookies. Indeed, when these baked up, they crumbled in the mouth like some sandy, sugary goodness. But, this was not their last step in the process. Because there’s an underlying olive oiled theme in this dessert, Chef Achatz adds an additional, brilliant step, in which the cookies are ground up in a blender, and emulsified with olive oil. The resulting mix is then smoothed into a sheet and frozen, as we’ll soon see, later.
One of the reasons I had a lot of fun making this dessert, was that it gave me an opportunity to use these–
my chemical toolbox.
For the vanilla-olive oil powder component (that’s right, I said vanilla, olive oil, and powder in the same sentence,) all I needed to do was empty the seeds from ten vanilla beans into a bowl with some sugar and salt, add some olive oil, and whisk in that bag up there labeled N-Zorbit M. Now, a little preparation went a long way here. I remembered reading here how Carol had a hard time making this component in the recipe work. While I was researching the kosher status of the products from Modernist Pantry for this post, I remembered reading that N-Zorbit M needs to be added to an oil based mixture in a precise 2:1 ratio. I looked back at the instructions in Alinea, and, sure enough, the ratios were off. My good luck allowed me to produce this–
vanilla-olive oil POWDER!
The amazing illusion this powder accomplishes, is letting you think that it’s a powder, until you place it on your tongue, and it turns right back into oil, coating your mouth in a savory, salty, and sweet confection which is a true delight.
Almond brittle is easy enough to make. Boil some sugar and water until all the water evaporates, and watch the temperature climb to 350 degrees. Once it hits that point, mix in the roasted and salted almonds, pour onto a silicone mat, and let cool.
But that wasn’t the end of it. To make a tuille, I also had to make a fondant version of this hard candy,
(the recipe called for 240 grams–pretty good for a first try) where the fondant was boiled with some isomalt (an inverse sugar) and sugar–
then cooled into a hard sheet. Once both these candies had hardened, I ground them separately in a spice grinder, mixed and sifted them onto a Teflon-paper coated baking sheet, and baked them for a minute at 400 degrees.
The basil sauce was easy enough to make. Blanch and shock the basil, blend with some sugar and salt, then add some Ultra-Tex3 to thicken it to an almost oily like consistency.
That vibrant green color is due to the process of blanching and shocking. Otherwise, soft herbs tend to turn a very unappetizing shade of green once they’re bruised. A good trick to know if you’re making pesto, as well.
The olive brine candy followed the same process as the almond brittl. The remaining olive brine from a jar of Picholine olives was sweetened with sugar, made a little more acidic with some citric acid, and brought to 320 degrees, then cooled.
Due to the 30 degree temperature difference between this and the almond brittle, the brine candy had the texture of a soft taffy.
The chamomile pudding (which I forgot in the final plating) follows the same process as the banana pudding in the Alinea Thai duck dish, meaning that agar-agar is used to set the flavored liquid, and once set into a gel, it is blended and then strained, giving it the texture of a pudding, with the one clear flavor of its main ingredient.
(I didn’t have time to run out to the health food store to buy dried chamomile, so I ran through an entire box of tea bags to get the desired 50 grams.)
The dehydrated olives were done at Dan’s house, so I have no picture. My terrible oven cannot hold a low enough temperature for me to attempt to dehydrate something without burning it, so, there you go.
Done! Finally. Now onto the final plating.
Clockwise from left:
Vanilla-olive oil powder, the “Dreamsicle” centerpiece, topped with the almond brittle tuille, a smear of dehydrated Picholine olive sauce, four dots of basil sauce, one plain orange segment, and one enrobed in Sanrgria (not part of the recipe, but Dan’s idea, and a great addition), and at the bottom, the olive brine candy.
This was a FANTASTIC dessert. The combination of the flavors was so unique, and they all worked as a dessert, when their normal function is salad! Seriously, a candy made from the gross liquid from a jar of olives that most people wouldn’t eat for a bet? It was delicious. I had a lot of fun bringing that into school, having the kids try it and like it, and blowing their minds when they found out what it was made from. The vanilla powder is such a cool trick, I can’t wait to incorporate that technique into other dishes of my own.
In fact, a couple of weeks later, I made an ice cream straight out of this dish, and I suggest many of you do the same. Instead of a bar, I made the olive oil ice cream, and the orange sorbet, swirled them together, and topped them with crushed almond brittle (skipping the fondant step.) It was phenomenal. Just goes to show you that cooking from Alinea can actually translate into real world use.
Have a great Shavuos!