June 26th, 2007
For nearly 12 hours today, I was in pastry heaven.
I have no pictures to share with you, and I don’t want to muck up the entire experience by putting it into long paragraphs full of words that can’t possibly describe what I saw, tasted, and learned.
But here is a little bit about what I found particularly remarkable.
5 minutes into my first day, I tasted something that elicited a reaction I have had very few times. My thoughts stopped, every bit of me took pause to enjoy the flavor entirely. This reaction came from a tiny unassuming brown puck, the mignardise. It contained the combination of the flavors raspberry, hazelnut, cocoa, and caraway. Yup, Caraway.
A flavor most often associated with light rye bread, I was stunned to find it fit so well in this one bite dessert. It was caraway alright, and it was clearly unusual. But it was absolutely right in every way. A streusel of hazelnuts, cocoa, and caraway were bound with an isomalt caramel (a sugar with a lower “sweet” factor) encasing a raspberry pate de fruites (a small jellied confection, like a very tender gum drop). I wonder if the inspiration was raspberry jam on rye toast, and I wonder if the pastry chef is just so smart that he can come up with things like this without stumbling upon them. Either way, the result was remarkable.
That evening I tasted popcorn sorbet. It was another shock. I looked at Justin, the pastry cook I was working with and said with much enthusiasm, “This is good.”
He laughed and said, “Yeah, we don’t make crappy food here.”
Now stop, and immediately shake that thought of the buttered popcorn jelly belly from your head. This sorbet is as far from that atrocious confection as I am from ever eating one again. Imagine the flavor of kettle corn, but the texture of a smooth icy sorbet. You’re conflicted, I can tell. But if only I could send little tastes through the computer screen, you’d believe. A sorbet that tastes exactly like freshly popped kettle corn.
Finally, I got a peek at something I was desperate to get a taste of. deep fried butterscotch pudding. I know the original recipe for this old fashioned flavor has nothing to do with Scotland’s namesake spirit, although I still insist that the flavor can be deepened in a very satisfactory manner by a shot of the stuff (or Rum, or Whisky) This presentation of the flavor butterscotch takes on an entirely different tie to the country of Scotland by embracing their love for deep frying all manner of desserts, case in point the deep fried mars bar. The pudding is set to the point of stiffness when cold, but when the panko breaded cubes hit the 350 degree oil, they are softened to the texture of a pudding, and oh so melty and delicious. I finally got my hands on a nugget, and upon consumption managed but two words, “Mmmmmm, butterscotchy.”
I’ll have to leave you with that.
I had a day off wednesday, which would have been a welcome chance to see some of the city. However, the scorching hot day was matched by over 90 percent humidity that made walking nearly intolerable, but what finally broke me was a power outage in Manhattan that stopped many of the subway trains, and the shift from 90 percent humidity to 100 percent. The skies opened, the rain hit fast and hard, and I ran to the nearest cab and ordered a ride home. I have been watching TV like it’s any old night in Seattle, two cats curled up on the couch with me, and the promise of a new episode of Top Chef making me very happy.