Confession: I haven't had a sundae since I was about 8 years old. It was at a Friendly's, right down from the Orange Julius and the Earring Tree, in a gross mall in the town where I grew up. It was vanilla, chocolate, and peanut butter ice cream loaded with pounds of sticky, messy sauce and topped with about a pound of Reese's Pieces. I maybe got 1/3 of the way through it all, and promptly got sick.
So when I found out that this month's International Incident Party - hosted as always by the lovely and talented Penny aka Jeroxie of Addictive and Consuming - had a sundaes theme, I wasn't exactly beset with great ideas. Not, that is, until I got to thinking about how I've been wanting to try my hand at modernist cuisine. (Or, if you prefer, "molecular gastronomy," though I am learning that this is a somewhat contested/contentious term.)
Whatever you call it, you know the stuff I'm talking about: making spheres and foams and generally transforming foods into something brand new and sort of ... astonishing. I know that many traditionalists seem to have a problem with it - they call it fake, or say it's not cooking - but when you think about it, all cooking is chemistry. How do you think bread happens, anyway? It's definitely intimidating, what with all the chemicals and measuring - but then, everything is intimidating before you know what you're doing.
And so I ordered an Artistre spherification starter kit, calcium lactate gluconate (for reverse spherification, which I didn't end up using) and tapioca maltodextrin from For the Gourmet, a pretty cool site with great customer service (and no, they aren't paying me to say that).
After this little experiment I certainly cannot claim to know what I'm doing (I am no Salty Seattle!) and it was fraught with frustrating failures, but I persevered (and cursed a lot) and finally had a few small successes as well. I am really looking forward to learning more and becoming proficient at the techniques.
My goal with this dish was to create something that looked like a sundae, but tasted like a Caprese salad, and I think I was (mostly) successful. The mozzarella is "real" - at first I thought I would make mozzarella spheres, but for one thing, I don't think I'm good enough to pull that technique off yet, and for another, I thought the dish needed something familiar and solid to ground it.
I knew I wanted to make tomato spheres, and I ended up with shapes that ... sort of look roundish:
The next step is to drop little balls of the slightly-gelatinous tomato mixture into the calcium chloride mixture - the water bath will "cook" the alginate-containing liquid, forming gel-like skin and leaving the inside liquid. At this point I had some trouble. I couldn't get my dropper or my syringe to create uniform shapes ... and rather than the perfectly round shimmering orbs I dreamed of creating, many looked like deformed teardrops ... or worse. So I started plopping little spoonfuls into the water ... this worked much better, and I now know that I need a special spoon for just this technique.
You shouldn't let the spheres "cook" for more than about a minute, for fear that the whole thing will turn to jelly, which is no fun. Remove the spheres with a slotted spoon and rinse. They keep cooking, so you should serve them as soon as possible.
Next up: powdered olive oil. Easy peasy! Just whiz 10 grams of olive oil with 4 grams of tapioca maltodextrin in a food processor and voila:
As for the basil dust - just blanch some basil and dry it out at 200 degrees F. (I didn't really pulverize this enough to really call it dust.)
There was one component to this dish that I never got right and had to leave out: I attempted to make balsamic caviar, but this was an abject failure. As it turns out, the chemicals used to makes spheres and caviar don't work so well with very acidic liquids, and so the acidity must be balanced with another chemical (calcium citrate) and ... well, I never got the formula quite right, and ended up with everything from balsamic blobs to really unappetizing squiggles that looked like dark brown intestines.
But don't let that affect your appetite for my scientific sundae! It was a really fun blend of flavors and textures - the soft heft of the mozzarella, the bursting squish of the tomato spheres, the melting, airy olive oil ... if the point of a sundae is to make you feel like a kid again, then my dish definitely qualifies.
Thanks for stopping by, and make sure to check out all of the other fabulous sundae creations!