It’s my birthday! Well, not really; it was this past week. But tomorrow some friends are coming over to our place for a sumptuous Southern-style dinner of fried chicken and the proverbial fixin’s. I’ve spent most of today developing a deep hatred for baking pies; I wanted to come up with a way to thank some people at work for completing a particularly hard problem in a particularly awesome way, and Sarah suggested making Derby Pies. This is an awesome idea, except that I’ve never gotten too far into baking, so making a single pie might have been a better place to start than trying to make 6. My day was complicated by the fact that our oven sucks balls and can’t hold a constant temperature at all. To try to make the most of the fact that I had a bag of pecans that cost $75nzd (argh), Sarah and I decided to try to make Luxirare’s awesome Pie Pops. This again was met with limited success; they looked really pretty, but the innards (derby pie goo) weren’t terribly well-suited to this. I tried one pop with some freeze-dried raspberries and chocolate drops, but it didn’t turn out well at all. I’d used flaky puff pastry, so what I ended up with looked like two pillows stacked one atop the other with some blackened crud in between. Store-bought pie dough in NZ comes in one of two flavors (shortbread or flaky puff pastry); neither is suited for this project, we decided.
To go with the Derby Pies, I went to a bottle wholesaler in town and bought some nice small flask-like bottles and filled them with some good KY Bourbon. Bourbon is a natural pair with derby pie, but I wanted to make it a bit more special, so I dropped a fresh mint leaf, a chunk of while vanilla bean, a Balinese long black peppercorn, and a few pink peppercorns into each of the bottles, to add some complexity that might pair well with the pies. Turns out this was the most successful part of this whole experiment.
One thing I did manage to get working today, though, was a cocktail I plan to serve at dinner tomorrow. This was mainly inspired by a similar dish Sarah and I had at Saffron in Queenstown. It exploits Reverse Spherification techniques, though it’s taken me a while to get the actual Bloody Mary mix tasting right. A good Bloody Mary is complex…lemon, tomato, celery, pepper, tabasco, horseradish, etc. You want to taste each one of these flavors. Bottled Keri Tomato Juice that you find in the shops here is way too sweet; I prefer V8. The idea here is to mix Calcium Lactate into the cocktail mix, then freeze the liquid into spheres. You then make a bath of Sodium Alginate, and drop the frozen spheres into it. A thin membrane forms around the sphere so that as it melts, it keeps a bubblelike shape. The bubble ‘pops’ inside your mouth when you eat it, spilling out the contents.
Making these things is fun as hell, though it took me several tries before I made one that didn’t immediately explode when I removed it from the bath. These things are insanely delicate; the smallest jar can cause a rip in the membrane, and you get a collapsed skin with cocktail mix everywhere.
To plate, I used some pickled some celery I’d cut into very thin ribbons. The Bloody Mary sphere is topped with some of these ribbons, along with a fresh stalk of micro celery and some leaves of the same, and a very small ring of chili from a chili plant my friend Clodagh bought us when we moved into this house (it very recently started blooming with tiny, delicious, fiery hot chilis). The spoon servingware was a gift from Kris and Joe last Christmas; the spoons are from the venerable El Bulli.
I have to say, this makes up for the disaster of the pies. The flavor is exactly what I wanted, and it looks quite pretty. I’m excited to share this tomorrow.