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Raspberry, Goat’s Milk, Red Pepper Taffy, Pistachio

By February 28, 2010Cooking

All right guys, you know all those presuppositions you have about lavender pudding being for grannies? Well strap on your Depends, because you’re gonna want to get on board with this.

Jeanne pointed out this dish back when I first got this book (nearly a year ago) and said “Make that one!” I’m only now getting up the nerve to try it. I’m not sure what my mental block has been but now I regret everything. This dish is out of control cool.

Visually it’s pretty tough to tell what’s going on, so let me give you the Michael Scott tour. The star of the show are fresh raspberries filled with the eponymous red pepper taffy. These raspberries are bedded amongst some small dollops of goat milk tapioca pearls and pistachio puree, surrounded by small droplets of lavender pudding. Atop all of this is a sheet of raspberry ‘stuff’, which is then topped by pistachio brittle and pistachio chips.

So far when I’ve set out on each of these dishes, I taste each component with a bit of interest but mostly anticipation for how it will fit into the final product. As I tasted each bit of this one, though, I just got more and more excited, because every component is intrinsically awesome in itself.

Part of what made this dish fun to make was feeling a familiarity with the techniques I’m seeing repeated here. I’ve made flavored puddings several times so far, so the lavender and goat milk puddings came fast and easy for me. These puddings rely on Agar, which is usually used to make gelee (or a less-offensive version of Jell-o). Once the gelee has set, it’s blended and strained to produce a smooth pudding that can be stored in a squirt bottle.

The goat’s milk pudding tasted amazingly like a very smooth chevre; it was creamy and ‘cheesy’, with a nice freshness to it. The lavender pudding was amazing. It had a bit of citric acid in it, to add a tangy note to the scented sweetness of it. A little bit of the stuff goes a long way, too; just a drop on a spoon mixed with heaps of other components was enough to nearly overpower them all.

The lead guitar in this dish is pistachio. It’s presented in three forms: drops of pistachio puree, dehydrated puree that’s been dried into ‘chips’ that have been dusted with pistachio powder, and pistachio brittle. The brittle was fun to make; it’s basically caramel with baking soda added. The baking soda seemed to ‘fizz up’ the caramel into a crumbly, near-fragile texture. When I was a kid, peanut brittle was a staple around christmas, but it was usually like brown glass that got stuck in your teeth easily. This brittle seems vivid with the essence of pistachio and crumbles in a near-effervescent way in the mouth.

Each fresh raspberry is filled with what the book calls “Red Pepper Taffy”.  While my taffy didn’t turn out too taffy-like, the flavor was dead-on.  I’ve cooked sugar enough at this point to know that the temperatures for various sugar states (soft ball, hard crack, etc) are related to the water-to-sugar ratio of the mixture. The lower the water content, the firmer the sugar gets when cooled; so I think I just didn’t evaporate enough water out of my taffy when cooking it, so it was just a bit runny.

The taffy contained glycerin, which I find curious. Glycerin is a sugar-based alcohol. I thought at first it might have been included to lower the surface tension of the taffy (to allow it to boil more easily), but decided in the end that’s probably not the reason. Some google searches told me that glycerin is often used as an edible sweetener. Huh. It definitely does have a taste that’s distinctive and that comes through at the end, so maybe it’s purely a flavoring additive here. Curious, too, is the fact that the taffy recipe calls for 4 different types of sugar (sugar, isomalt, glucose, and the glycerin).  I’d like to do some exploring to figure out why that might be.

Music to cook to for this dish: The Rushmore soundtrack.

In addition to the pudding, the goat’s milk found another expression by way of tapioca I haven’t had tapioca since I was a kid, so I have little calibration here. I think the tapioca I bought might be different than what’s used in the recipe; Moore Wilson’s sells it in pearl form, but the pearls are maybe the size of a fingernail in diameter, which seems pretty big. There was a bag of something called “Sago” right next to it, which looked quite similar and more size-appropriate, but in the end I stuck with the tapioca. The recipe makes mention of cooking the tapioca to a point of translucency, which mine never achieved. And the texture was odd; it was chalky at first bite, which gave way to a gel-like chewiness. The flavor again was of rich chevre, but the texture seemed like it might not have been ‘correct’.

Blanketing most components is a sheet of raspberry. This part is straight-up magic trick. They did this a few times at Alinea when I ate there, and each time I wondered how the hell they must be doing it. Note how, in the final dish, the ribbon of raspberry puree draped over the items looks like a precision-stenciled band:

“Surely this must involve some high-tech dispensing gun to make a puree ribbon like that” I thought. Nope. The trick is to freeze the puree. Then, simply peel it up and lay it across the components. The play the waiting game for about 10 minutes while the strip melts lovingly and precisely over everything. Magic.

Putting this all together was extra-fun, because of all the little bits and bobs to collect around the plate. Thanks to Sarah for covering the action.

The end result is predictably more than the sum of its parts; because the dish is pretty sizeble, you can explore your way around the plate, picking and choosing flavor combinations without running out of options too soon. My favorite was the red pepper taffy. I think it was Movida’s most excellent Paprika Chicken recipe that turned me on to the awesome power of red capsicum, and ever since I’ve loved the flavor of this pepper. The sweetness of the pepper and the odd tang of the glycerin were fantastic. A big spoonful of everything all at once was interesting too; I could pick out beginning, middle, and end notes with the raspberry, goat milk, and pepper mixing together. All in all, totally awesome, and so pretty!