Applewood, Muscovado Sugar, Fenugreek

After noting in my last post that I’m trying to pay more mind to the seasons as laid out in this book, I promptly contradicted myself and made this dish, which falls into the ‘Winter’ menu at Alinea. After making it, I think I understand why (more on that later), but the main component of the dish involves ice cream flavored with wood chips, and what’s synonymous with summer in New Zealand if not BBQ and ice cream?

In keeping with my contemporaneous flavor riffing, I decided to try varying the type of wood used here.  The BBQ section at Mitre 10 offers Applewood chips, as well as various others, so I also bought bags of oak chips made from Jack Daniel’s bourbon barrels as well as Pohutakawa chips.  I suspected my addictive personality and appreciation for doing things to the extreme would lead me to favoring the JD wood.

The flaky stuff stuck to the outside perimeter of the ice cream is called “feuilletine”.  A LOT of searching turned up very little for this.  I finally came across a site that mentioned it’s very similar to the thinnest, crispiest bits of flake you get when making crepes.  So I went about trying to make my own.  I like buckwheat crepes, so that’s what I went in for.  What I found to be the trick in making this vs. crepes is that feuilletine is much easier to make in batch if the pan is cool when starting. I put a few spoonfuls into my skillet and rolled it around until it coated the bottom, then applied heat until it cooked evenly. Having the pan hot makes the batter start cooking on contact, and it’s way harder to smear it around to be thin enough for this use.  After a few minutes, I ended up with a large round uber-thin crepe that I could snap up into tiny shards and roll the cylinders of ice cream in.

Also included are Fenugreek seed and syrup, and muscovado sugar flakes. I found both light and dark muscovado sugars, so again I decided to try making both. A matrix of flavor permutations! Because of all the mixing and matching, I decided to express my results in table form:

Light Muscovado

Dark Muscovado

Applewood Applewood ice cream offers a very pleasant flavor that’s not overpowering and would be difficult to articulate if I didn’t know what it was. “Seamless” pairing with light muscovado; the flavors blend very well together. Overall experience was delicious without offering much in the way of ‘picking out individual flavors’ experience.

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Works well together; dark muscovado has a gingerbready flavor, easier to pick out from the ice cream. More interesting/complex taste experience.
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Pohutakawa Pohutakawa ice cream tastes overwhelmingly ‘woody’. By that I mean it tastes like eating a frozen branch. Light muscovado almost completely overwhelmed by this.

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Dark muscovado more easy to distinguish compared to light muscovado, but overwhelming woody flavor of ice cream doesn’t compliment it. Generally the ‘weirdest’ combination.

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Jack Daniel’s Oak I didn’t cook this ice cream as long as others, nor did it spend as much time in the ice cream machine. It was notably more crystallized. I’m not sure if this affected flavor, but it had almost no taste, which was surprising given that the chips are incredibly aromatic. All I could taste was the light muscovado. Same as above; only flavor present was dark muscovado. I’d like to try making this one again more carefully, as I suspect this combination would be the one I’d enjoy the most.

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For as heady as the fenugreek seeds (and, to a much lesser degree, the syrup) were, I was struck by how little of it I tasted in the final dish.  In the end I think I prefer Chef Achatz’ original recipe; it melded together into something that had a warmth to it that would make sense in winter.  I slightly-preferred the dark muscovado in the end; the molasses in it added more of an ‘arc’ to the tasting experience. I’m pretty disappointed that the Jack Daniel’s chips yielded something so uninteresting; I had high hopes for it.  I might revisit that again later.

I’ll finish this post by talking a little about the photography of it. I’m a bit of a mess in my studio, not entirely unlike how I work in the kitchen. I move stuff around and just shoot until I hone in on something that works, and my setup is different every time. Here’s my lighting setup for this, roughly (I shifted the lights around every time I took a photo, and in the end I just pick my favorite).  What we see here is a strobe with a small softbox modifier on it on the left, ad a strobe firing onto a sheet of foam core on the right. The left strobe is brighter, so it’s my key light; the right one offers softer bounce light to fill in the right sides of the subjects:

For time-critical dishes like this, I usually try to set up my lights with a proxy first, then assemble the dish on my shooting table.

I also sometimes do some little cheats for the sake of sweetening things up; this is probably a direct result of being a VFX artist. We’re constantly tweaking little details to enhance the overall experience of an image. Given the overall philosophy of Chef Achatz with food, I figure this is ok. For the triplet image above, I found the dark background made the bourbon look pretty boring. There’s a technique called “Dark Field” lighting that can really ping out glass and make it look much sexier, but I didn’t have the space for that this time, nor would it have served the rest of the photo well. So I gaffer-taped a small piece of white paper to the back of the shot glass; it caught some light, and we can see the color of the bourbon much better.

My shiny apple, though, betrays where all my lights are and kind of cheapens the overall image.  I wanted to soften out the specular kicks on it. I first tried ‘powdering’ the apple with flour, but that didn’t really work, so I opted to just handle it digitally. I cloned out the hot kicks, then drew in a softbox reflection on the apple, which makes the light look softer but still keeps the apple looking shiny and tasty. In CG we almost never want to see the specular response of bounce lighting (that’s what the two rightmost spots on the apple are); I took that same approach here.

One Comment

  1. Posted January 11, 2010 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    Very nice as usual and thanks for the photography tips