concept development

I’ve been reading a lot lately about chefs and bartenders who develop recipes by seeking inspiration from other creative spheres. I stumbled across this blog post today, (Meadowlark). The writer spent some time creating a drink to match an album by Sufjan Stevens. The drink was fairly simple, but I was immediately struck by the depth of research that went into creating it. She spent time looking at the artist’s inspiration, and used that to inform her own creation. Each ingredient was reasoned, and the recipe read well because of it. (btw, I noticed that huge amount of rosewater too, but in an earlier post she has a recipe for ‘rose water’ which is actually more of a petal tisane, which would definitely work at that volume.)

In this article from last month on Punch, Drew Lazor explores different approaches to concept development (How To Develop a Concept Cocktail). I’m smitten with Chantal Tseng’s ‘limited edition’ menus at The Reading Room, in Washington D.C, that revolve around the book she’s reading that week. She uses narrative, geography, characters, and the author’s persona to inspire her ingredients.

Cerebral stuff isn’t necessarily the way to go every time, but I’ve always found that the best names and recipes (of my own) are always tightly knit together by a solid concept that drew inspiration from a clear source.

A recent recipe comes from, at first, a pretty vague space that slowly developed into a combination of dew drops on winter green, Fern Gully, the flavours I associate with the word “nectar”, and how sweet and clean I imagine this water tastes to this little guy:

dewdrop
I truly believe it would definitely taste like Dolin Blanc

The idea hung about in my head and in a few variations for about a six months. By the time I got around to making it, I’d spent so long messing with the concept and had such a clear idea of how I wanted it to taste that it took less than 20 minutes to nail down a recipe. The drink ended up as a light, clean, carbonated thing with a hint of sweetness that is balanced with tartaric and malic acids to give the impression of a sparkling wine.

Who knows if people are going to taste the idea of a fairy with a dewdrop cupped between their tiny, webbed fingers. I doubt it, and I’m not going to tell them that they have to. I’d be delighted to hear that someone has drawn that conclusion independently, but it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that having a concise and well developed concept helped to develop a good recipe.

 

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the origins of fat-washing

Read this excellent run down of fat-washing on Serious Eats. I refer to it often, as my knowledge develops, and the more scientific elements the author discusses make more sense to me each time. The best thing to me though, is the discovery that the origins of fat-washing lie in an antiquated perfume extracting technique called enfleurage. There are two types of enfleurage: cold and hot. They’re used to infuse odourless and flavourless animal or vegetable fats with the scents of flowers like jasmine or tuberose that are too delicate for other infusions. In cold enfleurage that fat is spread out in a flat tray and the fresh petals are pressed into the fat. They are left to infuse, and once spent, are replaced with a fresh batch a few times. Once the fat is saturated with the scent, it is washed with neutral alcohol to extract those essential oils. This article on Punch  mentions a peanut butter infused spirit where the creator used this second step of the cold enfleurage method to extract the flavour. Hot enfleurage is faster and good for scents like lavender and rose. The flowers are submerged in hot oil and like with cold, they are spent and replaced a few times, and then the oil is washed with alcohol. I asked a perfumer what kind of oil she used for infusion and she recommended safflower.

I’m hoping that I can use this technique to make my own perfumed fat-washed alcohol. So it might carry some of the silky texture, but mostly it will be far more to create a more aromatic spirit. Like maybe cognac pumped up with rose.

foams, airs, mousses: part 2

Soy lecithin has proven to be an overwhelming success for my purposes, although now I would like to experiment with how the starting texture, density and acidity of the liquid impacts the size of the bubbles and the ratio of lecithin required.

The drink I am working on is the first of a five course degustation. The foam is a very strong, sweetened hibiscus tea, or tisane really, that will be layered extravagantly over the top of a punch bowl. The punch itself, (peach & fenugreek syrup, white wine vinegar, Star of Bombay Gin, and still water), is a very pale yellow-pink, so the bright pink foam will slowly seep into the drink and colour it. The levels of sweetness need a little tweaking, and a more solid concept of how much foam I would need to produce per serve is required too.

Out of curiosity, I first made a foam with a whole egg white (approx 40mL) and 200mL of the tea, although the foam held excellently, it was far too dense for my purposes. I then made the foam with soy lecithin powder, using 1g to 200mL of tea (a proportion of 0.5%). Pictured below are the foams at least 30 minutes after making. Egg white is on the left and lecithin on the right. At the bottom the two punch glasses show the look of the foam after it’s been in a drinkers hands for a while, again egg white on the left and lecithin on the right. The soy lecithin foam is so much prettier, while the egg white foam has grown clumpy and dry.

 

egg white (L) vs soy lecithin (R) foams

 

I get the idea that perhaps the more acidic a liquid is, the less lecithin is required? The chef tells me he uses just 1g of lecithin to 1000mL liquid to make a foam using vinegar, and he creates large bubbles in that air, so perhaps in my sweetened, low acidity liquid, I can push the proportion of lecithin much higher to achieve the same results. I have more to research, I guess.

foams, airs, mousses

When you consider texture in drinks that often only extends to the viscosity of the drink as a whole, often in relation to dilution or the desired impact of the flavours. The light astringency of citrus or other acids is great for palate cleansing aperitif style drinks, and the rich tongue-coating effect of chilled gin or vodka is somehow syrup-like and refreshing at the same time. We use foams all the time in sours and fizzes with egg white, but I want to go a step further, and make that layer of foam a separate flavour. I’d seen chefs using coarse foams on dishes, and the last few iterations of the menu at work have included a drink or two topped with a dense, egg white based, flavoured mousse.

Recently, talking with my workmate, Jimmy, we were pondering how to incorporate the sweet distinctive flavour of cola into a cocktail without it immediately dominating the drink. He suggested a flavoured foam, of the style we already used (the dense, egg white based mousse), and it got me thinking about the huge volumes of effervescent fluff you create when you first open and pour a room temperature bottle of carbonated soft drink. It’s even better if you’re pouring the room temperature drink over ice. The fast temperature change must shock it into foaming up even more. In my experience Diet Coke is best/worst for it. (Waiting for your mixer to settle when it’s busy is the worst.) So. what if the foam was actually that light, aerated froth rather than something dense and almost creamy, and how was I going to get it to keep its form for longer than a few minutes?

Peering over shoulders in kitchens had informed me that the creation of a flavoured, beer-head style froth was a pretty common technique, so I turned my research to culinary foams, which has been enlightening. There are wet foams and dry foams, coarse foams and airs with large bubbles, and dense mousses with tightly beaded and bonded bubbles. I even learnt that bread is a “set foam”, which actually makes a lot of sense coz when you look at slice of bread its whole structure is a network of bubbles. I’ve seen Lecithin powder amongst the modern ingredients of the top shelf in the kitchen, so tomorrow, armed with the very handy digital scales, I’m going to attempt a flavoured, (and coloured), coarse foam/air.

So far I know:

-Soy Lecithin is a commonly used stabiliser and emulsifier, which can be used to replace the lecithin that naturally occurs in things like egg yolk.
-The liquid I’m trying to foam will need to be very strong, because I’m going to be diluting it so much with air.
-I should be trying to add by weight at a volume of 0.3%-1% of the total liquid, depending on what I’m trying to foam. A recipe for a citrus foam that I’ve found uses something close to 0.6% of total volume, but I was planning on my foam being made from a starting liquid that was a little denser, so I’m not sure how that will impact it yet.
-I need to mix the foam in a low flat container with something like a stick blender, to allow as much air interaction and incorporation as possible.

More on this later.

pistachio syrup with xanthan

I really want to batch my pistachio syrup in with my more stable ingredients without the oil separating out. The bottle looks so gross as it settles, and then if the batch is left too long the fats start to solidify around the neck. The syrup does the same on its own, and the clear syrup left after the milky solids have risen looks beautiful and tastes amazing, but I don’t want to lose up to half of my volume skimming the top off to get to that. I can accept that my syrup will probably be milky and opaque.

If I could be bothered straining the seemingly never ending tiny particles of nut then I might have something a little prettier, but I also don’t want to spend hours on the clarification of one syrup, and it’s kind of important to me that I keep that oily texture to some extent. When you’re eating or drinking something you can tell if it’s creamy, but potentially that’s a different thing to actually tasting the fats that make it creamy. Researchers at Deakin University in Victoria, Australia, have suggested that fat could be the sixth flavour that we can perceive, alongside salty, sweet, sour, bitter and umami. (foodnavigator)(flavourjournal).

I can batch commercially produced orgeat without separation being a problem, so the solution has got to be in the emulsifier. I’m still figuring out the practical applications of xanthan gum but I know I have a one major potential problem to avoid… If I add too much xanthan then the syrup will be incredibly thick, maybe even jelly-like, which will alter the texture of the drink it’s used in. I’m really happy with the flavour profile already, so I don’t want to drop my sugar content to make room for more viscosity. Looking ahead, what if I can stabilize the syrup, but then it won’t bond in the batch. Well, then I guess it’s not really stable, and it’ll be back to the start.

So for now, I have set aside 200mL of my already prepared pistachio syrup mixed with 0.1g of xanthan, (I know I should have weighed that pistachio syrup. I always do this to myself, mixing my units of measurement), so I’m using between 0.05% and 0.1% of total ingredients. The swelling of the xanthan had already added 30mL to my total volume when I left it to refrigerate though. I’ve left it for 24 hrs to allow time for it to separate if it’s going to.

scented fogs

I’ve always been moved by the memory associations that people have with certain smells and flavours. Rinquinquin reminds me of nasturtiums in my mother’s garden. Yamazaki is cruising through blistering hot summer air past a crispy dry field. Every time I pick up something in a spirit or a drink, processing that information seems to dig up a memory at random. Marmalade is pretty much always the cumquat jam that my best friend’s mum made when I was eight years old, but sometimes it’s the dirty chopping board in the kitchen of the share house I lived in when I was 20 (one of the boys in that house ate a lot of toast).

Actually, it’s not that surprising. The part of our brain that processes smell is closely connected to both the amygdala and the hippocampus where our emotions and memories are processed.

So liquid nitrogen is a pretty fun toy for me. The fog produced from mixing it with liquid can be voluminous and dramatic, and more importantly, you can scent that cloud. I’ve been trying to recreate the smell of bushfire in summer, because I feel like that’s something that a lot of Australians are familiar with. I’ve been spending some time in aromatherapy and soap shops and trying to create some of my own herb and spice infusions. There’s a sweet note from that eucalyptus sap boiling that I couldn’t quite get from honey, but a fenugreek tincture seems to capture that earthiness without overpowering the others scents. Also strawberry seems to work really well, maybe just because it’s a such a summer smell.

I was a little nervous at first about mixing ingredients with nitrogen at random, because I was worried that I might somehow extract a toxic chemical with the fog and accidentally create a poisonous gas, but further research settled that. The fog isn’t nitrogen or smoke. It’s just water molecules suspended in the air, in the same way as when you can make misty little clouds with your breath on a cold night. However, the fog from liquid nitrogen displaces oxygen so if you go super overboard there’s the potential that you could asphyxiate peeps, which would obviously suck if you were just trying to make them feel like they really were in a rain forest.

experimenting with emulsions

recipe trial #1

Inspired by Dave Arnold’s Butter Syrup (cookingissues) and the potential for the use of xanthan gum in nut syrups like orgeat and common emulsions such has hollandaise sauce and mayonnaise, I took a stab at bonding oil and water. Aided by a little google searching I came up with a trial run method using some clarified unsalted butter left over from a butter bourbon fatwash and a 1:1 (by weight) sugar syrup.

Most information I could find recommended that you only use 0.1% xanthan gum to the total amount of ingredients, as the more you add, the more viscous your final product will be. Xanthan swells very quickly in water so it can be a slow process blending it through evenly. Alternate methods I came across suggest either mixing the xanthan into the liquid oil as it would disperse evenly without swelling, or mixing it through your dry sugar before adding water.

To keep things simple and fast for the first trial run, I kept to basic equal parts recipe of melted butter and 1:1 sugar syrup, and chose to mix the xanthan into the melted butter before mixing with the syrup. I also warmed the sugar syrup to 50˚C before I whisked it into the butter/xanthan mixture, so that I could monitor the behaviour of the resulting emulsion as the temperature dropped. Once the temperature dropped below 26˚C the butter and sugar syrup began to separate, so I strained the sugar syrup off.

Both the butter and sugar syrup were far more viscous than they had been originally. The sugar syrup retained a fair amount of butter flavour, and I had accidentally achieved particle suspension (something that xanthan gum can be used for in making sauces and drinks that contain small particles of herbs etc)…. so I think I need to fine strain the sugar syrup again after chilling to remove those small pieces of butter left behind. It almost has the texture and behaviour of egg white.

The final goal of the emulsion recipe is an oil syrup in a “hot buttered” style drink, so I trialled the butter syrup, replacing a liqueur in a blazer recipe my workmate was messing around with and heated the combined ingredients quickly without letting the mixture ignite. We left the drink for up to 20 minutes without it separating dramatically. It definitely had an oily sheen and left traces of oil on the glass, but it retained the flavour and viscosity to the last sip.

So this recipe is half failure/half success. It’s not the result I was looking for, but the result tasted good and was an interesting and fairly stable ingredient in a warm to room temperature cocktail. I would definitely like to try this with an oil or fat that is liquid at room temperature, and it would be worth using sugar and water instead of the 1:1 syrup. The mixture was nowhere near sweet enough before it separated.