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Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Spice Baron - Proof of Concept: Candied Meyer Lemons and Mango Custard

The Spice Baron: Proof of Concept
Candied Meyer Lemons and Mango Custard

There's always a lot to learn from the first few test batches of a new dish. It's usually "fingers crossed" that the sweet successes will outnumber the burnt crust disasters.

This round was pretty balanced. 

"Candied Meyer Lemons" were perhaps a bit too candied. The flavor was great, but the texture was all too reminiscent of those pull-out-your-fillings Jujubes candies that my grandmother loved but which always left me wholly unsatisfied. I still ate them (it is sugar, after all). But I like something softer. I'm a Starburst guy (the pink ones are the best).

In the success column, the addition of ground Golden Grahams to the tart crust was an unequivocal success. I credit an audience earlier this week with pastry royalty and lover-of-all-things-cereal, Christina Tosi, for that synaptic misfire of inspiration. 

So with one day until the final reveal, 
I give you this week's test kitchen hits and misses.

Overhead view of test tarts

Candied Meyer Lemons

Status: A miss - but one that can be easily remedied.

The success: The flavor! The candied slices are exactly that sweet and sour bite you would expect from the simple combination of lemon and sugar.

The failure: The slices were "over-candied". They were too chewy and even appeared to have burned slightly.

The fix: While candying the lemons, the temperature of the sugar needs to stay in what is known as the "syrup stage", which is below 235 degrees Fahrenheit. At higher temperatures the sugar transforms from a syrup into chewy caramel.

The texture could also be improved by cutting the slices paper thin in the next round.

The discovery: When the sugar gods give you lemon caramel, stretch it for several minutes and make lemon taffy!

Candied meyer lemon slices

Mango Custard in Golden Grahams Crust

Status: A hit - but there's always room for improvement.

The success: Another positive outcome on the flavor front. Making a puree of fresh mango for the custard is worth the effort. And there's the added benefit of several minutes of forearm strength training as you work that pulp through a fine mesh sieve (you will feel the burn).

As for the tart crust, the last minute decision to modify the chocolate pate sucree recipe used in the Raspberry Midnight recipe, swapping the cocoa powder with crushed Golden Grahams cereal, may qualify as a stroke of genius. It's the perfect hybrid of a traditional pie crust and a graham cracker crust.

But seeing as the idea came to me earlier this week after meeting Christina Tosi, the creator of Cereal Milk and countless other treats that have been perfectly crafted to ensnare a sugar-craving, food nostalgic thirty-something audience with disposable income and no parental oversight, I'll only take partial credit.

Chef Mark with Christina Tosi

The failure: It's not a failure, but ideally the custard should be thicker. This was likely the result of having used coconut milk rather than heavy cream.

The fix: To make a thicker custard, there are a few options -

  • add more egg yolk but run the risk of having a custard that tastes like an omelet...
  • go back to using heavy cream but lose the flavor benefits from the coconut milk...
  • use a little (very little) gelatin to help solidify the mix - "very little" being key. No one wants their custard to have that Jello wiggle.

I'm currently leaning toward the gelatin solution. I'm uncompromisingly stubborn when it comes to flavor (and in many other ways).

Golden Grahams tart shells

More, more, more!
"If you build it, they will come"  

That leaves a number of inspiration ingredients still to come. Don't worry, they are all accounted for. I've even got the sketches to prove it. In the end, the "Spice Baron" will be an all out, architectural achievement.

To come:

  • Ginger Mousse - As if the primary base of mango custard were not enough, this element is going vertical with ginger mousse piped in peaks on top of the custard.
  • Cardamom Crumb - Texture is key, and this crunchy (and thanks to that cardamom, spicy) mix will keep the dish from becoming a monotonous series of creamy textures.
  • Ginger Tuile - Because those wafer thin crisps are as fun to make as they are to eat... 

 Until tomorrow...

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