Pâtes de fruit

5 07 2010

Well, it seems we are on the path to French candy land. Another day, I will tell you about our caramel adventures. For today, we have a pâte de fruit story. This summer, we have been exploring how to make the fruit jellies called pâte de fruit (pronounced paht de fwee, translated as fruit paste). When done right, they have bright, concentrated fruit flavors. When done wrong, well they are just nasty. My only experience with fruit jellies as a kid was spitting them out. In France, however, they are held in high regard and can often be quite expensive. So, we figured with really good fruit and a solid recipe, we could probably make something quite good.

Fruit pastes are some of the oldest sorts of candies. They are basically stiff jam that has been cut into pieces. The ingredients are the same: fruit, sugar, pectin, and some acid, but it is cooked longer. Pâte de fruit recipes often have corn syrup/glucose to prevent crystallization, too. Quince fruit was historically used as it contains plentiful pectin and tastes wonderful after a long cooking.

Now, when we started this project, we thought that pectin was pretty much the same wherever you went. Turns out we were wrong — there are a bunch of different kinds. Generally speaking, there are two types: high methoxyl and low methoxyl. Pectin is a polymer and the number of methoxyl (-OCH3) groups that are attached influence how the pectin sets. High methoxyl requires low pH and high dissolved solids (mostly sugar, about 55%) to set well. Low methoxyl requires less sugar, but needs calcium to set — it is what is used in low sugar jellies. Within low and high, there are additional ranges, with some setting rapidly and other setting slowly. Slower setting pectins are better for clear jellies and faster setting better for things with inclusions. Pectin is unfortunately not labeled very well and it can sometimes be hard to figure out what you are buying. Pectins used for making jams and jellies in the US are not pure pectin and are calibrated to certain recipes. Pâte de fruit recipes aren’t calibrated for these types of pectin. They assume pure pectin and call for things like apple pectin or yellow pectin. Apple pectin and yellow pectin are not usually found in stores. You can find them at L’Epicerie (yellow and apple) and Le Sanctuaire (yellow). If you find other sources, please post a link.

This is our starting formula for pâte de fruit, although the specifics will vary depending on your fruit.

for ~50 small pieces (can be doubled or quadrupled easily)
250g fruit puree (225g fruit puree + 25g sugar)
250g sugar
50g corn syrup
50g sugar + 7.5g pectin, whisked together
5mL lemon juice

This is pretty much the recipe that comes on the apple pectin package from L’Epicerie and is also based on the recipes for Boiron purees, which are high quality purees that are usually used for this sort of thing. We use lemon juice not because we can’t get tartaric/citric/malic acid (check your local brew supply store, here’s ours), but because when we used it, the candy was really strongly acid flavored. We feel that good fruit will have high acid content and if not, lemon juice seems to do the trick for flavor and final gelling of the pectin. We use the acids when we are not using fruit (e.g. vanilla-mint). The amount of pectin that you will use will vary depending on how much is in the fruit. We have found 7.5g/250g puree to be a good starting point.

The Fruit
Now, we finally get to the most important part — the fruit. Make sure to get the best fruit that you can. It doesn’t need to be completely ripe, but it does need to be fruit that would taste amazing when ripe. We find our fruit at Chino Farm, where they consistently produce amazing fruits and veggies. We did a few test runs with fruit we got at a less expensive market and most people had trouble identifying the flavor. By spending $3-5/50 pieces of candy more on fruit, we went from a nondescript sweet treat to a deep fruit experience.

For this summer’s project, we attempted to make 7 kinds and succeeded at 5: strawberry, vanilla-mint, beet, nectarine, and rose geranium. We failed moderately or pretty badly at two: watermelon and corn.

First off, a success:

Beet pâte de fruit:

Now, beets are not normally used for pâte de fruit, but they are naturally very sweet and the Chinos grow wonderful ones. We began with about 5 medium-large beets, peeled & chopped:

And juiced:

Since you will be stirring nonstop, it is important to have everything in place before you start. Set up the sugar, corn syrup, lemon juice, and sugar/pectin mixture in bowls.

Also, get ready whatever you are going to use to form the candies. You can use a rectangular container, lined with plastic wrap. We have these aluminum bars that we got from Online Metals that work as caramel bars. We set them up on a silpat on top of a marble board to insulate the heat from the table. There is no need to oil them as the candy will pull away cleanly.

To cook the candy, we have seen a number of different methods. You can bring the fruit puree to a boil, then add sugar/glucose, bring to a boil again, and then add pectin. When it reaches 224F, you add the acid and pour into the mold. You can also make a syrup with the sugar/glucose and a little water, boil to ~230, add half the fruit, boil, add the rest of the fruit and the pectin, boil to 224F, and add acid and pour. You always add the acid at the end. Adding fruit later I think helps the flavor, but I am not sure. For this version, we added the fruit later. Both ways work. Here’s a pic of the beet with everything but the lemon juice added:

And poured into the mold after reaching 224F and adding lemon juice:

After about an hour, the candy is cooled, ready for cutting, and tossing in sugar. We cut with a chef’s knife into 3/4 in x 3/4 in pieces. We use normal C&H sugar for this, but you can get fancier with larger crystaled sanding sugar. Here’s nectarine, beet, vanilla-mint, and strawberry.

Nectarine pâte de fruit
5g pectin

Strawberry pâte de fruit
5g pectin

Vanilla-mint pâte de fruit
enough water to make a syrup (1/2 c)
1 Tahitian vanilla pod, scrapped into syrup while cooking
bring to a boil & then add pectin

1/2 bunch fresh mint, chopped, added with acid
4g citric acid in a little water

Rose geranium pâte de fruit
1c water + 25g sugar
1 small bunch (7-8 flower clusters) rose geranium, with flower petals separated and reserved.
Bring to boil water, 25g sugar and rose geranium leaves. Add 250g sugar, and corn syrup. Bring to a boil and add 7.5g pectin.
4g acid (half citric, half malic), in a little water
When solution reaches 224F, remove from heat and add acid. Stir in acid and boil for a minute. Add reserved flower petals and pour into mold.

For watermelon, we reduced the juice about 2.5x before making it with 7.5g pectin. The result was sticky and gooey and never really set well. We’re wondering if there wasn’t too much glucose/fructose in the reduced fruit juice. We’ll try leaving out the corn syrup next time and see if that helps.

For corn, we weren’t sure what would happen. We used less pectin (5g) because we thought the natural cornstarch would add some thickening power. We also doubled the lemon juice (10 ml) because the corn doesn’t have that much acid. It didn’t set up and was super sticky. After sitting a day, it developed a crystallized crust.


The flavor, however, was unreal and I suspect a quest is in our future. We’ll try going heavy on the pectin and acid next time.

Well, did we badge? We’ve sourced pectin and fruit/veggies well. We’ve researched the science and history to some extent, and we’ve made the recipe a number of times until we usually get it right. I’d say that qualifies as a badge. However, I think the key to pâte de fruit is being able to optimize to the particular ingredients that you have. I see an advanced badge in the future about optimizing the recipe to new ingredients. Not that we need to get the corn right, mind you, but figuring out a harder one like watermelon would be nice!

eGullet Pâte de fruit
Chocolates and Confections by Peter Greweling
Hungry in Hogtown’s description of El Bulli’s Vanilla pâte de fruit
Sweets: A History of Candy by Tim Richardson


Butter Badge: Making Cultured Butter

2 05 2010

As usual, we were getting an ingredient from a good supplier when all of a sudden they stop carrying it. So then what? We have to figure out how to do it ourselves.

This is the story of how we lost butter and found it again, picking up creme fraiche/crema, marscapone, and buttermilk along the way.

We had been buying Plugra from Trader Joe’s, a higher milkfat butter that I had thought was cultured to give it a more buttery flavor. It was reasonably priced at about $4/lb and better than a lot of other butters we had tried at the time. But one day, it was just gone. When we checked, the Trader Joe’s in San Diego wasn’t intending to carry it again.

In trying to find a replacement and searching for cultured butter, we found a number of sites with directions on how to make it yourself. Here are some good ones: Positron, Cook Like your Grandmother, What Geeks Eat, Traveler’s Lunchbox, and more recently, Michael Ruhlman.

Cultured butter is a pretty straightforward process. You take heavy cream, inoculate it with bacteria that make lactic acid, let it thicken overnight, and then beat/churn it until the fat congeals together and the whey/buttermilk is expelled. The first half is very similar to making yogurt, but you start with cream instead of milk and the specific cultures that you use can be different. The butter culture bacteria are mesophilic (medium temp) and thrive at cooler temperatures (64°- 77° F) whereas the yogurt cultures are often thermophilic (warm temp) and grow closer to 110°.

Butter flavor interlude
The flavor of butter is dominated by a couple related chemicals called diacetyl and acetoin. They are made during fermentation — usually by bacteria or yeast. In wines, like chardonnay, wine makers can set up the conditions just right for yeast to make a lot of diacetyl, giving the wine a rich mouthfeel and buttery flavor. In butter, the compounds are made by bacteria (including this guy:
Lactococcus lactis subsp. lactis biovar diacetylactis). Or, if you get the cheap stuff (or butter-flavor popcorn), they just add it as a natural flavoring.

We have tried using yogurt as a culture starter (Fage and Trader Joe’s Greek Yogurt) before upgrading to a mail order butter culture from Dairy Connection. The first attempts with yogurt worked, but the flavor really doesn’t get to buttery without the diacetyl/acetoin producing bacteria. We use the Flora Danica culture — for $10 + shipping, we can culture 50 gallons of cream.

This culture has 4 bacteria friends — 2 which seem to primarily drive the acidification (Lactococcus lactis subsp. lactis, Lactococcus lactis subsp. cremoris) and 2 which drive the flavor production (Lactococcus lactis subsp. lactis biovar diacetylactis, Leuconostoc mesenteroides subsp. cremoris).

The cream that you use is surely important. And as soon as we find a good creamery in San Diego, we’ll tell you just how important. For the time being, we’re relying on heavy cream from Costco (Swiss Dairy, which seems to be based in Riverside and is part of a conglomerate Dean Foods, which also makes Alta Dena and Berkeley Farms, among others).

Like most creams on the general market, this cream is ultra-high pasteurized, and has some additives like mono and diglycerides. The price is cheaper than anywhere else we can find at about $3.10/quart. We have had very good results with it, though. The main thing to remember is always use the freshest cream possible to start. Don’t let it sit in your fridge for weeks and don’t use it if it has been sitting open in your fridge for long (a week was too long for us). It may taste ok as cream, but the bacteria somehow find a way to amplify slightly off flavors into straight yuckiness.

To culture the cream, we start by placing Flora Danica culture (1/8 t. per gallon of cream) in a clean bowl and add about a tablespoon of cream. We make sure to clean the bowl, but we don’t sterilize or go to great lengths to purify our tools. As long as the cream is fresh, we haven’t had a problem.

We let the culture thaw and then work it with a spatula to resuspend the culture in the cream, resulting in a paste.

We heat the rest of the cream to 77 F (25 C) and pour in, mixing well. Then, it gets loosely covered with plastic wrap and set on the kitchen table for 18-24 hrs until thick like sour cream.

Then, in a very boring, but very important step, the cultured cream gets refrigerated for 24 hours. If you don’t do this, the final butter texture is kind of flaky, not smooth and creamy like good butter. It is the kind of butter that breaks when you slice off a piece instead of smoothly cutting through. The flavor also seems to develop some.

After a day in the fridge, the cultured cream can be used as creme fraiche or crema. If you strained it like Greek yogurt, you’d end up with marscapone. It will keep at least 1-2 weeks in the fridge. We usually make a gallon, keeping a quart for creme fraiche and using 3 quarts for butter.

To make butter, you begin by warming the butter to about 50-60 F, which I think is supposed to help it separate when you are beating it later. We do this by placing the bowl in hot water in the sink and stirring until the cream doesn’t feel cold to the touch anymore.

Then, it is off to the mixer. We use a 6 qt. Kitchen Aid stand mixer. Because the beating incorporates air, I would suggest that you make no more than 1/2 the volume of the bowl in cream. We use the paddle attachment because whisking, although effective, seemed to incorporate more milk solids (proteins, etc.) into the butter. When we spread it on bread, the butter melted with a punctate pattern of milk solids. With the paddle attachment, it just melts.

Beat the cream on medium speed (4-5). It will take about 15 minutes or so to turn into butter. First, the cream whips like whipping cream, incorporating air to about double its volume.

Then, like over-whipped cream, it takes on a granular structure. This is the milk fat globules starting to clump together.

The globules keep clumping together and it starts to look like butter, but it isn’t there yet. You may want to reduce the speed at this point so it doesn’t splash out of the bowl.

Finally, the buttermilk separates and the pieces of nascent butter form together.

At this point, you can take it off the mixer. You’ll work it with a spatula to get the butter to become one big clump and then pour off the buttermilk.

The milk is thick and rich. If you haven’t had buttermilk from fresh butter, this will likely be a treat. It is actually drinkable and great in other recipes, which is much more than I can say of the kind in the store.

Then, you wash the residual buttermilk from butter by adding cool water and working it with a spatula. After 3-4 additions of water, the water is not milky anymore and mostly clear.

Then, pour off the last of water, work the butter some to expel the residual water, and you are ready to salt or wrap. We don’t normally salt, but this time we tried 1 teaspoon/lb of salt. Salting seems to vary between .5% and 2% salt (3-9g/lb). It sounds like you need less salt for cultured butter and this time was a little salty. Next time, we’ll do 1/2 t. per lb. To salt, you just work in the salt with the spatula. Then, wrap up for storage. We wrap 8 oz. in plastic wrap.

Three quarts makes about 2 1/2 lbs. of butter. This will keep 3 weeks or so in the fridge and gets better with time. If you are going to keep it longer than that, just put it in the freezer, preferably vacuum packed. It easily takes on fridge/freezer flavors if left too long without good wrapping.

And was it worth it? Well, although we’ve been making the stuff, I think we’re even more likely to buy fancy butter now than before. In comparisons, we think this butter is better than any uncultured butter we’ve had — including Strauss European Unsalted. It is not as good as Echire or Le Gall Beurre de Baratte. If we had to price it, we’d put it at $8-10/lb — as tasty as anything we’ll usually find in the specialty butter section of Whole Foods, but not elite. And as for Plugra? Well, it turns out it isn’t cultured at all, but has “natural flavorings” added (i.e. diacetyl). It now has a harsh artificial taste like microwave popcorn. Ah well.

Crispy Skin Duck III: steam/roasting with a pressure cooker

24 04 2010

Today brings us a new tech for crispy duck skin. We’re going to pressure cook the duck partially and finish with roasting. This is a variant of the steam/roast method that gets a lot of airplay with the advantage that pressure cooking is faster, more convenient, and might be more effective at melting fat.

The idea behind steam roasting is that the wet steam effectively melts the fat better than dry heat in the oven. Roasting a fat-reduced bird should then produce a crisp skin. Deep frying is also an option here, but we went with roasting.

We began with the usual: separate the skin from the meat with a bicycle pump. We’re getting a lot better at this and it only takes a couple minutes now. Then, we dried the bird on a vertical roaster, uncovered, and with good air flow in the fridge for about 24 hours. Here it is afterward. The skin is often described as “like parchment” and you can see the light, dry texture.

The skin under the wings doesn’t dry well, so here you can see the contrast between dried and non-dried skin. The skin is originally thick, white, and moist. The dry skin is darker, thinner, and smooth.

We seasoned the inside of the duck before steaming with a half teaspoon of salt. Salting is pretty essential here and you need to do it before cooking or it won’t permeate the meat as well. We also slashed the skin to let the fat drain more effectively.

We pressure cooked the duck for 15 min at 15 PSI (2nd ring) in our pressure cooker. We reasoned that the fat seems to melt well at 250, which is about the temperature inside the pressure cooker at 15 PSI, and that the moist steam would help it render. We placed him on top of the steaming plate with a half cup of water. When he came out, he was glistening with fat droplets. We got about 3/4 c. of fat that had rendered into the water.

After we steamed him, we poured the light glaze (2T honey in 1c. water) over him and then let him dry in the fridge for 6 hours or so.

Roasting was at 350 for about 30 min. The skin was a bit uneven here, but much was a nice color.

Flavor was excellent — this duck really doesn’t need much but a little salt. The overall fat content was still pretty rich and only just lighter than drying and roasting alone. The meat was juicy, firm, and tender — just what we want. So, so far, not a major advance with the pressure cooker, but a very nice duck. We served him with a carrot & lemon vinaigrette salad and sauteed spinach with almonds.

Beans 2: Cassoulet

17 03 2010

After a tasty, but nowhere near traditional cassoulet attempt, we decided to get a bit more serious.

Cassoulet is a very old dish dating at least to the middle ages. It is in some ways is a forbearer of both “franks and beans” and those casseroles that were popular in the 1950’s-70’s in the US. You know, the ones made with leftover rice or noodles, tuna, and canned cream of mushroom soup. The resemblance in taste is even worse than pate to meatloaf.

It is a rustic, country dish consisting of beans, various meats, and some vegetables layered together in a heavy, open pot and baked. This is the kind of dish that you eat in winter when there isn’t much fresh meat around and where it can simmer all day on the stove. It is a particularly good dish for us to make right now because it’s a classic bean dish, we just made duck confit (post to come!), we still have some of our bacon, and there are a couple andouille-style sausages (not traditional, but tasty) left.

It usually has large white beans: tarbais are a really pricey version, but navy and cannellini work too. Before the white beans came from America, fava beans were used. We used cannellini from a local Italian market Mona Lisa. They had some in bins at $2.29/lb, but they weren’t covered and it didn’t look like they got much turnover. So, we got a pre-packaged bag of them at $3/lb. Here they are when we first put them in water to soak overnight.

We did some web searching, but mainly looked at two cookbooks: I Know How to Cook by Ginette Mathiot (the Joy of Cooking for French peeps, translated into English) and The Complete Robuchon by Joel Robuchon. Both are similar, but Robuchon has more detailed instructions and seems to cut fewer corners: he cooks the assembled cassoulet for 4 hours at 250 instead of Mathiot’s 2 hours at 350. We mostly went with Robuchon, but we didn’t do a breadcrumb crust at the end and used the meats that we have.

The beans are cooked with herbs (parsley, thyme, and bay) and aromatics (onion, carrot, garlic) for about an hour. We put the bacon in the water in the last 15 minutes to cook it a bit and extract some of the salt. Here are the beans after they have come out.

Different regions of France (mostly the South of France) each include different types of meats. A number are added: tough cuts like lamb, mutton, or pork shoulder; and preserved meats like sausages, duck or goose confit, and pork belly or bacon. We added pork shoulder, bacon, duck confit, and our andouille sausage. We browned the shoulder and sausage. Here’s the shoulder.

Onions are cooked in the pan that was used to brown the meats, transferring all that yummy browned protein flavor to the onions.

Often, tomatoes or tomato paste is added, helping to bring out the protein flavor with their glutamates. We used paste since tomatoes are not in season here. The onion-tomato mixture is mixed up with the beans and part is spread into a dish. We’re using a dutch oven — the traditional cassole dish is circular with sloping sides.

The meats are layered on top of the beans.

And more meats are layered…

Then, the rest of the beans are put on top and bean liquid is added to cover. The whole pot is placed in the oven at 250 for 4 hours in this case where the meats continue cooking until very tender and the flavors meld. When it comes out, the top is browned, carmalized, and lightly crusty. It may be that a perfect crust is one of those things that takes a bit of work, but this certainly looked tasty.

We garnished with parsley and ate it as a stew with Bread & Cie multigrain.

The flavor whomped the previous version out of the water. There is something about the duck confit that gives it a rich complexity that is hard to describe. It may require a few more meals to describe it, but that’s ok — we’ll have enough for the rest of the week! The texture of all the meats was soft and tender, with the confit in particular shredding to pieces. I think the 250 cooking is probably essential to this because if it boils, much of the meat will be become tough.

This dish overall is only a couple hours of actual work for a pot of food that is about 4-5 meals for 2. But it is a lot of cooking time, especially if you add in the duck confit. It is perfect when you are going to be home for the day cleaning, working, or reading. Prep for dinner is very quick. Even if you make a salad to go with it, you’re looking at 15 min max. It also seems really flexible — you can add a lot of different sorts of meats, most which we usually have in the freezer.

Price wise, this is an expensive dish if you buy confit, sausages, and good bacon, but quite reasonable if you make them yourself. We used 3/4 of a duck at $12/duck ($9), $3 in beans, $1 for sausage, $1.50 for bacon, $2 on onions & carrot, $0.50 on tomato paste, and $1 on herbs. So, $18 for a generous 8 servings. There was a one-time charge of $12 for duck fat to make the confit, but that will get used up and used again. Even if we add $6 to the total cost, we are looking at a reasonably priced dish of $3/serving.

All in all, a great recipe that we’ll make again. We’ll need a few more dishes before we hit the badge, though.

Beans — Part I

4 03 2010

We’ve been looking into new ways to incorporate beans into our meals. While we’ve made them in the past, they just haven’t gotten mixed into the regular meal rotation. This time, we’d like to spend some time getting to know them again and work out a few recipes that we can hold onto.

One of the most important things to remember in buying beans is to get them fresh, as in less than 1-2 years old, but fresher if you can find them. The older they get, the harder they are to cook, and the more likely you are to end up with hard, crunchy beans instead of smooth, creamy goodness. One way to find fresh beans is to search out the markets that sell a lot of them.

We have so far mainly purchased beans from our favorite Mexican market Northgate Gonzales. Northgate is a chain that began as a small grocery in Los Angeles in 1980 and has expanded to 30 large groceries throughout Southern California. They carry a number of beans in bins that are often on sale including pinto ($0.49-$0.89/lb), black ($0.99/lb), peruano ($0.79-$1.29/lb), and flor de mayo ($1.49/lb). The flor de mayo seem like a firmer version of the pinto and the peruano are yellow beans that make really yummy refried beans.

Indian markets also sell a variety of beans with high turnover, if you group lentils in with the mix. Ker Distributors is a large market off Black Mountain Rd. with a good selection. Closer to us is the smaller India Sweets and Spices.

They carry at least 10 different kinds of lentils, white and desi chickpeas, kidney, red, black beans, and more. Most beans and lentils are $3.79 for a 2 lb. bag and $6.99 for a 4 lb. bag. We picked up a bag of white garbanzos/chickpeas and a bag of kidney beans.

The last time we made beans, we got bogged down in the time needed to cook them. It wasn’t that we couldn’t plan for it, but needing to soak something overnight and then cook for 1 – 1 1/2 hours before using it in a recipe, which might take an additional 20 minutes, was a bit rough on a weeknight. We found 2 possible solutions. One is a way to cook beans without soaking in the oven that only takes 90 minutes. The other includes soaking, but follows it with cooking in a pressure cooker for 10-12 minutes for most varieties. Along with heating and cooling down, that should take 30 minutes, which is more reasonable.

We have tried the 90 minute beans with pintos and were really pleased, although they took an extra 15 min. For today’s adventure, we’re going to test out something that is kind of close, but not really, to a cassoulet. We’re doing a real simple version adding in onions, garlic, chicken stock, diced and cooked bacon,

and our house “andoullie-style” sausage (just pork shoulder ground with spices, it isn’t in casings or smoked).

One of the posters on eGullet claimed that they make cassoulet using the 90 minute method, so we figured it *might* work. Usually, the convention is that you don’t want to add anything when cooking beans, especially salt, or they won’t absorb the water. But the 90-minute recipe threw out that rule, so why not go whole hog? We mixed everything up in a dutch oven and brought it to a boil on the stove.

We then put a tight-fitting cover on the pot, placed it in the oven at 250F, crossed our fingers and waited for 75 minutes.

When we opened the pot after 75 min, the beans were nowhere close to done. Still chalky!

Luckily, we recently purchased a pressure cooker. Here she is. The valve moves up as the pressure goes up and the double red line indicates that she is at 15 PSI.

We dumped the beans in it and after 3 tries of cooking them 5-10 minutes in each attempt, we were finally rewarded with cooked beans. Lessons learned — “quick cassoulet” is just a dream and pressure cookers are great at saving beans that just won’t cook, even if they have stuff like sausage, bacon, and stock.

We had the beans over red rice, a kind of partially polished rice from Thailand that is nutty, chewy, and slightly sweet. That’s creme fraiche on top with a little green onion.

Especially considering this dish came back from the dead, we were quite happy with this first attempt. The flavor was just awesome — the stock in particular was quite rich and brought all the flavors together. The kidney beans were mostly creamy, but a little dry in parts. No worries, though – we’ll solve that by the end of the badge. It was particularly surprising how complex the flavor was given the few ingredients. Bacon and andouille spices definitely play well together!

Nougat Badge

15 02 2010

I think nougat has gotten a bad rap, at least in the States. Most nougat that gets eaten these days is like the puffy, empty sweet nougat in Snickers bars. I didn’t think it was all that great either until we found this book: Chocolates and Confections by Peter Greweling. The author is a professor at the Culinary Institute of America and this book could function as a class text book, coffee table book, or a basis for starting a business in chocolate or candy making. I am sure this book has been at the core of all the “how to open my own chocolate shop” Google searches, too.

We got this book last year and had a blast learning how to make molded chocolates, caramels, and nougats, which we handed out for Christmas last year. This week brought a couple of excuses to brush off the book and see if we couldn’t officially get our badges.

On our visit to Schaner Farms in the Little Italy Farmer’s Market this week (who we religiously visit at opening time every week to get our eggs), we came across a pretty basket of Kaffir limes.

These limes are usually not eaten much, but the leaves are used extensively in Southeast Asian cooking. The flavor is pretty unique and is dark green, fresh, and slightly bitter lime. The basis of nougat can often be a candied fruit or rind and once I saw these, I knew we had to try out candied Kaffir lime peel.

The Greweling book lays out how to make candied or “confit” citrus peel. You first blanch peel from quartered citrus to remove the bitterness.

Kaffir limes are quite bitter — their peel will make your lips tingly if you try to eat it straight. So, instead of blanching the three times recommended, we added a fourth. After the fourth, we could not taste much residual bitterness in the peel. Here they are after the last blanching.

After blanching, you simmer the peels in a sugar/glucose solution for anywhere from 60 min to 2 1/2 hours (he says 90 min, but we’ve always needed longer) at a very low heat. In order to keep them submerged, we used a drop lid. We first learned about drop lids when we tried Japanese cooking. The Japanese do a lot of simmering and use a drop lid to keep the food submerged under water for even cooking. We got ours at Daiso, the Japanese equivalent of a dollar store (but a lot better). You could also use a plate.

We checked on them every 10 min or so to make sure they were not simmering too hard (the skins get tough if they boil). They go from opaque white in color to purely translucent over time. We cooked them for 10 min after they had first all gone translucent. This time, it took about 2 hrs 15 min. Here they are when they are done.

Which brings us back to nougat. Nougat is pretty close in many ways to meringue: egg whites that have been stiffened with boiled honey and/or sugar. The less water, the harder the meringue and the harder the nougat. Meringues can be baked to completely dry them out. In nougat, water is removed by boiling the sugar and honey to higher temperatures before adding it to the egg whites. You can, as Greweling does, also use powered egg whites instead of regular whites and this removes more water.

Today, we’re making a French-style “Montelimar” nougat. The region of Montelimar in south-eastern France is renowned for their nougat. According to our friends at Maison en Provence, a very cute housewares store specializing in products from Provence, Montelimar nougat should be white, chewy, and only made of almonds, pistachios, sugar, and lavender honey.

Greweling deviates from this in his Montelimar nougat and adds hazelnuts, dried pear, dried apricot, and dried cherries, and regular (!!) honey. We’ve tried a bunch of versions — almonds, pistachios, and dried cherry; with added candied yuzu; a chocolate version with candied Seville orange peel; with French lavender honey; with Spanish lavender honey; and with Costco clover honey. Today, we are making a Thai-inspired nougat: candied Kaffir lime peel, candied ginger, toasted macadamias, and French lavender honey.

Lavender Honey Interlude
Most lavender honey that is available in the States is lavender infused honey. So, it pretty much tastes like soap. True lavender honey, on the other hand, is from bees that have lived on nothing but lavender flowers. It fills your nose with a heady floral sweetness that makes other honeys seem coy — nothing like soap. We’ve tried Spanish lavender honey ($10 for 12 oz.) and French lavender honey (Ours Brun brand, $20 for 13 oz.). Turns our the Spanish bees have nothing on the French — as for the price, we just have to suck it down. Even if it triples the cost of making nougat, the quality of the honey is directly related to the heavenliness of the nougat, no matter what else you put into it.

This recipe is all about timing. It takes about 45 min to get everything set up and then it all executes in about 15. You have the egg whites sitting in the mixer; all the inclusions (nuts & fruit) toasted if needed and waiting in a warm oven; sugar, corn syrup, water, and vanilla sitting in one pot; and honey in another. You turn on the mixer with the whites when the honey reaches 226 F and then the fun starts.

You begin by making an Italian meringue. This is whipped egg whites, into which you pour boiled honey while whipping. If you follow Greweling to the letter, you start with some powdered egg whites and ultimately end up with a hard-ish nougat. We use 70g egg whites (about 2) to start instead. Using the same temperatures for the rest of the recipe results in a great soft, chewy texture.

As soon as the honey reaches 248, you have turned on the sugar solution to boil, and take the honey off the stove and pour it into the whipping whites (pour down the side so the hot honey doesn’t get in the whisk!).

You then wait for the sugar solution (sugar, corn syrup, water, and in our case a Tahitian vanilla bean) to boil to a temperature of 300-311. Any hotter and the glucose in the corn syrup will start to caramelize and you’ll get nougat with a brown hue. For this, and the honey step, a good candy thermometer is important. We have ruined a couple digital probe-style thermometers because they have gotten too hot in the sugar or on the bottom of the pot. Greweling uses 311 here, but you could go a little lower for chewier texture.

Glucose/Corn Syrup/Maltose huh?

Greweling uses “glucose” in all his recipes, which is corn syrup, but he uses the general term because it could be made industrially from any starch. Corn, when it is in the cob, is mostly made up of starch, which is a big molecule made up of a bunch of glucose (a type of sugar) molecules stuck together. It can be broken down with enzymes — in your mouth, starches get broken down into sugars by an enzyme in your saliva called amylase (you could make your own corn syrup by chewing on corn starch, but that might be taking “homemade” a little far). Industrially, people use enzymes, too. The result is a solution made up of glucose, maltose (2 glucose molecules stuck together), and some larger molecules made of glucose, the whole thing of which is called corn syrup. Karo syrup is corn syrup with vanilla flavoring added. We get our syrup at the Korean market Zion, where they call it malt (maltose!) syrup. It has the advantages that it has no vanilla and is a third the price of Karo. None of these syrups taste very sweet. High fructose corn syrup (which we are not using here), has another step to convert the glucose to fructose. The stuff in soda is about 55% fructose to 45% glucose, making it about as sweet as table sugar or honey.

Vanilla Sourcing
Go into a random grocery store and buy a vanilla bean and you will seriously wonder what all the fuss is about. They will charge you $4-10 and it will be dry, old, and pretty tasteless. Grocery stores just don’t get the traffic to warrant having good vanilla and you are better off using extract. The internet, however, can come to your rescue. We found this site from a guy that seriously knows his vanilla. He seemed to think that Beanilla was a pretty good place to get beans and we followed his advice, getting soft, pliant, vibrantly fragrant beans for $1 – 1.50 each. We tried 5 different kinds and settled on our 2 favorites: Mexican, a smooth, creamy vanilla with deep notes (think “The Most Interesting Man in the World”); and Tahitian, a bright, fruity, floral vanilla (think a stylish, flamboyant gay man about to throw a party on a gorgeous tropical island).

After you pour the sugar solution into the honey meringue and whip for a few minutes, you are ready to mix in the inclusions. If you’re not a purist, these can be anything. This time around we have diced Kaffir lime peel, candied ginger, and toasted macadamia nuts. Since we were going with a Thai theme, we also used coconut oil (also a hard fat) instead of cocoa butter. Here is the nougat going into the bowl with the inclusions and coconut oil.

When to add cocoa butter?
In the recipe, you also add melted cocoa butter to the nougat to help with mouth feel and to ease in cutting it later. The recipe says to add it in the mixer. This introduces all sorts of drama. First, the nougat, which was all puffy, collapses. Then, little pieces of nougat (which is very hot!) come flying off the mixer unless you have it covered. It is supposed to come together again, but we’ve always ended up using a hair dryer to heat up the nougat to get it to come together again. Luckily, someone on eGullet (Drewman, see here) had the bright idea of adding the cocoa butter to the inclusions instead. This works beautifully.

After mixing it up, you pour it out onto sheets of rice paper. It helps the nougat to keep from sticking to things, like the plastic that you wrap it up in. The paper dissolves quickly in your mouth. We got our rice paper from a cake decorating store called Do it with Icing! — they sell by the sheet. It can also be found online, but you’ll likely have to buy a bunch. It is often used to print pictures in edible ink, which get placed on top of cakes. The paper melts into the frosting, leaving the picture.

After you spread it around with your hands, you place another piece of paper on top and smooth it out (you can use a rolling pin) so that the nougat is even.

After it cools overnight, you can cut it into pieces with a chef’s knife. If it is too sticky, chilling in the fridge can help.

Nougats absorb water from the air, so you need to protect them with a covering. You can enrobe (cover) it in chocolate or wrap in plastic or wax paper. We use these cellophane “caramel wrap” sheets that we ordered from Sugarcraft. Other places sell as well, but you need to make sure that you get the kind of cellophane that will stay put after you twist it. The type that is used for bags won’t work. Half the work for these guys is cutting and wrapping, but it’s fun to hang around the table and chat.

You’ll end up from this recipe with about 1 1/2 lbs of nougat. It keeps well for 4-6 weeks, but can then start to develop a grainy texture. It is still good and will keep for months, but is not quite as good as during the first month.

The Thai nougat was surprisingly good — we think it is the best one we’ve made so far. It is a lot like a Thai curry in more than just the taste profile — the flavors merged really well together. We thought the Kaffir would dominate, but because it wasn’t bitter, it was a bright initial flavor that faded into the hot ginger with the macadamia anchor. The Tahitian vanilla and the lavender honey come in with strong fruity, floral notes and the coconut smoothed everything out and helped to merge the flavors together. All in all, really awesome.

Badge Check!
We’ve sourced most of the ingredients, finding good quality at prices we think are fair. We’ve also learned how to make one (candied peel) ourselves.

We’ve learned about different types of nougat, making one style pretty extensively.

We’ve made the recipe enough times to 1) feel comfortable making it, 2) optimized a number of steps, and 3) are damn happy with the result.

I’d say that passes! Nougat for all!!

Salt Roasting — Part I

7 02 2010

We didn’t expect to be cooking spot prawns (aka amaebi) this weekend, but on the suggestion of our excellent fish purveyor Tommy Gomes from Catalina Offshore Products, we decided to try these gorgeous things. I wish we had a picture of him fishing them out of their tank!

We were “lucky” (thanks Tommy!) enough to get prawns with roe, which we made into a really yummy snack that we’ll tell you about later. The row itself was pretty easy to remove. There is a light membrane that holds the eggs together and this is attached to the sides of the tail, but not to the middle. So, we just put our finger under the roe in the middle and pulled it off the sides. Here’s the roe on the prawn:

Now, we have never cooked amaebi before, and weren’t too sure of our sushi skills, so we weren’t totally sure what we would do. A little while ago, though, I had been reading about Michael Cimarusti from Providence in LA and had learned that he roasts his spot prawns in salt. In trying to find the recipe today, we realized he actually makes them in this episode of After Hours with Daniel. The idea is very straight — heat salt to 500 or 550, add some herbs, and embed the prawns in the salt. Wait 5 min or so and they are done. Pull the meat out of their shells and eat with olive oil.

Salt roasting is a technique that we have heard of, but haven’t put to any use. Before this, I had only heard of making a paste with salt, water, maybe egg white and herbs, and coating a fish with it before roasting in the oven. It turns out that you can do all sorts of things in a salt crust. The idea is that the inside steams because of the water inside the food, but once the water reaches the outside of the food, it quickly turns to steam in the hot salt. So, you get a crisp outside and a juicy, tender inside. Yum!

We started by heating two trays of salt to 500 in the oven. After the oven was heated, we waited 15 min for the salt to heat up.

We cleaned out the roe from our prawns and got them ready for the salt. One of the prawns was especially active and we cut through her head to kill her before we put her in the salt. The last time we got live crustaceans from Catalina (spiny lobster), they were so spunky that they tried to jump out of the boiling water we were trying to put them in! We weren’t taking any chances with these ones and the hot salt.

When salt was ready, we took out one of the trays and put some bay leaves in it.

Then, we placed the prawns in the salt.

We took out the other tray of salt and poured it over them. We used about 3 cups of Diamond Crystal salt for the top and bottom layers.

There were some prawns sticking out a little. We were worried they wouldn’t cook, so we put the whole thing in the oven at 500 for 5 min. When we took them out, the shells were lightly pink and still a little transparent, not the full pink that shrimp get when you boil them.

We broke one open and the tail was tender, juicy, and pearlescent white. We dipped them at first in some olive oil with salt and a bit of the roe. I think we need better olive oil for this, though! It was good with the oil, but the shrimp was best by itself with only the salt from your fingers to season it. It was light, almost creamy in flavor, and incredibly succulent, reminiscent of lobster, but not as heavy.

Some changes that we’ll make next time are that we will use more salt to cover them so we won’t need to put them in the oven. The prawns that were not completely covered in salt were not quite as well cooked as we would have liked, but the ones that were fully immersed were perfect. We’ll also cut them in half lengthwise before serving them — taking them apart with your hands can be fun, but is a bit of a mess!

We used the roe to make canapes with creme fraiche and a little red scallion on multi-grain toast. We though that the toast would be too strong, and it probably was a little, but the whole bite was exceptionally tasty. The roe is firm, with a rich flavor reminiscent of shrimp stock/bisque. It is very delicate, though, so a less flavorful base like french bread or a potato blini might be better.

The salt roasting really seems like a very powerful approach when you have a really good ingredient that you want to taste strongly of itself. We’re looking forward to learning more about it in the coming months.