Tuesday, May 18, 2010


My girlfriend’s birthday has come and gone. It’s one of the great ironies of our relationship that in the five years that we have been together, I’ve only made dessert for her a handful of times. So this year, I decided that I would actually make her a cake for once.

Inspired by Fransisco Migoya’s The Modern Café, I wanted to try my hand at another entremet. For those who don’t know, an entremet is a cake… sort of. It can really be made of anything, but it serves the same purpose. Commonly, an entremet will consist of layers of some sort of cake, and typically a mousse of some sort. The idea is to have flavors and textures that complement and contrast each other in one bite. It is like an entire dessert in cake form.

The first thing I did was to decide some flavors I wanted to pair together: Crème fraiche, chocolate, nuts. Chocolate is a great ingredient to use for entremet, because cocoa butter will help stabilize the chocolate components of the cake without having to add a ton of gelatin, which can ruin the texture. I chose to add the crème fraiche because, along with being incredibly delicious on its own, I think it is chocolate’s best friend, and the tanginess helps to cut the richness of the chocolate. The nuts I chose because they are just plain tasty.

What I came up with was a Milk Chocolate Chantilly Cake, Chocolate Jaconde—a thin almond sponge cake, Krispy Chocolate, and Crème Fraiche Crème Brulée.

Building it was relatively easy. I made all the individual components ahead of time, and had them stored in the freezer, ready to go. Assembly was nothing more than piping the mousse into the bottom (which became the top) and sides of the mold, and then stacking the pre-made rings of crème brulée, jaconde, and Krispy chocolate, making sure to add more mousse where needed. After all that was finished, it took another trip to the freezer to get rock hard.

After that came glazing. In retrospect, I think I need a new glaze recipe, because it is too viscous, even at the correct temperature. I ended up with lumps and streaks where it should have been completely smooth. That was ok though, because the chocolate décor covered most of it up.

The most stressful part of the whole process is thawing the cake. After glazing, the cake is pulled out of the freezer and left to thaw overnight. If there wasn’t enough gelatin in the mousse, or if it was over-whipped, or if the crème brulée layer was too soft, the whole thing could collapse in on itself and be just a big pile of stuff in the morning. Luckily the gods were with me, and it stayed stable.

I would call that a success!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Shiso Tasty

Shiso—like basil, mint, thyme, oregano and sage—belongs to the mint family; and, like all the herbs listed above, it has its own unique flavor. Some people that I work with describe it as being “like mint.” It’s not. It tastes like shiso: a strong, slightly bitter flavor with a little fruitiness at the end. Chances are, if you have ever eaten at a sushi bar, you have probably come across it at some point.

I don’t really like it. It has its place, certainly, with good Uni, or paired with pickled plum, but it isn’t something that I seek out. Other people I know will eat it like it’s popcorn. I suppose my taste buds just aren’t as mature.

It is a hard ingredient to incorporate into a dessert, which is why I havn’t used it thus far. While shopping around the other day, I found strawberries for $1.50 per pound, and knew that it was time to bring strawberries back to the specials menu. It has been a long winter, using the tart, flavorless off-season berries, so I was excited to be able to feature them at the forefront of a dessert. I also knew I had a place to use shiso.

I think people often pair strawberries with basil because they are both in peak season around the same time, and basil is a delicious complement to strawberries. The basil brings a certain spiciness to the party that balances out the strawberries, while it is sweet enough to still feel like a dessert item. Basil, however, doesn’t have much to do with sushi. I wanted to marry the shiso flavor with the strawberries in such a way that it was a major flavor, without masking or over-powering the other components.

Of course, the first thing that jumped to mind was a Strawberry-shiso sorbet. The idea seemed promising enough that I came up with what seemed to be a decent recipe, and tried it out. It was too sweet and the shiso flavor didn’t really come through, but it was worth a second try. After some trial and error, I ended up with a Strawberry, Shiso and Buttermilk Sherbet:

Strawberry+Shiso+Buttermilk Sherbet

Yield: ~ 2 liters

750g Strawberry puree

360g Sugar

400g Buttermilk

50g Water

5-6ea Shiso Leaves, washed and picked

1) Warm buttermilk just enough to completely dissolve the sugar

2) Combine all ingredients, thoroughly blend, and pass through a fine mesh sieve

3) Allow to chill in the refrigerator until it reaches 40°F or below

4) Process in an ice cream machine and allow to harden in the freezer for at least 2 hours

That was a good start. By this point, I had most of my dessert worked out. I was going to do a play on strawberry shortcake, with the sherbet, some macerated strawberries, and buttermilk biscuits, but it needed something more.

It was the perfect time for me to use another ingredient that I have been waiting for the opportunity to use. Soy lecithin, among other things, is really good at making foams. It can simply be added to a liquid and then frothed with an immersion blender or other frothing device, and you have foam. The beauty of the foams are that they can add a lot of flavor without adding a lot more “stuff” to eat. At the end of a meal, you should still be able to finish your dessert without feeling like you’re going to explode. Foams can pack a lot of flavor into literally no bites. As an added bonus, the shiso and buttermilk foam added a nice splash of green and an extra hit of shiso to the plate.