Saturday, February 19, 2011

Savory Caprese Sundae with Ciliegine di Mozzarella, Tomato Spheres, Powderized Olive Oil and Basil Dust for the International Incident Sundae Party


International Incident Sundae Party

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:
Those air bubbles shouldn't be there, nor should those little points, but I think it's not so bad for a first try. Here's what you do: Dissolve 2 grams of calcium chloride into 200 grams of cold water, and put it in the fridge. Next, core, blanch, peel, and chop 2 tomatoes. Puree this with an immersion blender and pass through a strainer. Weigh out 200 grams of it and to this add 2 grams of sodium alginate, and blend with an immersion blender until completely dissolved. (I should have let this sit until the air bubbles dissipated, but I was too eager to get going!)

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:
When this hits your tongue, it melts and "turns back" into olive oil.

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.

But hey,  I'm not kidding myself: Wily Dufresne is not up at night losing any sleep worrying about me.  ... Not yet, anyway.

Thanks for stopping by, and make sure to check out all of the other fabulous sundae creations!





36 comments:

  1. I am absolutely in love with your entry :-) I have wanted to try my hand at some of that stuff but it all looks too intimidating. Will just have to live vicariously through you and Linda in the meantime until I feel brave enough. I would eat this Sundae in a heartbeat!

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  2. I'm totally digging how you've bravely gone space-age with your savory sundae! This salad in a sundae is a novel idea and is so YOU, my dear. I've never tried my hand at molecular gastronomy before but after seeing your entry, maybe we should put our spandex silver spacesuits on and cook something cosmic together! ;-)

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  3. The bar has risen! I am super impressed. I think I may have to get one those starter kits as well. I actually have a bottle of tapioca maltodextrin in my pantry.... I hope to see more experimentals in the near future. OMG... I can't wait!

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  4. This is so creative and clever not to mention I'd like to have one right now.

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  5. you are no doubt a stylish blogger this is fantabulous!

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  6. Very very clever - a scientific savoury sundae! Looks like you executed it beautifully and the photos are great. The combination of flavours and tastes has stimulated my salivary glands. I so want to try this now!

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  7. awesomeness! congrats on your first MG dish! i was wondering what you'd make since you do not like sweets, and this is uber impressive, not to mention it looks delicious! great job!

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  8. This is brilliant; totally playful and original. Wow!

    Nisrine

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  9. That looks amazing! I'd love to incorporate molecular gastronomy in my kitchen adventures one day.

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  10. Wow, really impressive! The tapioca powdering agent got me intrigued, I had seen it before... do you know that the spherification patent comes from Spanish chef Ferrán Adriá?

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  11. Kudos to you for such an experimental entry ! It looks very pretty, bet it tasted wonderful.

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  12. This a very original idea...Trix..... have a GREAT Sunday, hugs, Flavia

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  13. Very clever! Loved how you went outside the box for this!!!

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  14. Whoa Trix... I am so impressed that you tried this. I've never played with chemistry in my cooking, but cooks have been playing with their audience for a long time. It has long been a delight to make one thing resemble another... they have been doing it since the Middle Ages. This is just a new take on an old idea. Eating should be fun as well as delicious. You did a great job with your 'sunday' and love the shots of it.

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  15. Oh Trix I wanna come play with you in your kitchen! I am sure the missing component to make all those little learning curve things work out perfectly is me and a few cocktails?

    Seriously though, you've pulled this off incredibly. So impressive, I love your idea and it looks super cool :D

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  16. Lovely and sophisticated sundae Trix. Did you have one of those little chemistry sets when you were a kid? This post was fun to read, thanks for sharing the tips on your sundae making methods.;-)

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  17. That looks amazing! I'd love to try something like this. Beautiful as always.

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  18. This is right up my alley! Thank you for telling us where we can get a starter kit :-) Molecular gastronomy is where my heart is, well, some of the time, lol. This Caprese sundae looks absolutely SCRUMPTIOUS! Richard Blais made mozzarella balls by blending up the mozzarella and then squirting it into a solution of some sort and presto, they were mozzarella balls.

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  19. Whoa - this is so super cool. I am totally impressed by your creativity and your crazy kitchen inventions. One sundae I'd love.

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  20. This is so cool! I love your experiment and think it looks great. This type of cuisine is new to me but it really sounds like fun. It is cooking, cooking is also an art form no matter how it is achieved.

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  21. well done, MG compadre- so glad you've entered the realm with such veracity. love it.

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  22. Everything is indeed intimidating before you know what you're doing. Bravo for executing all of these different components! I'm imagining how all of this tasted, likely out of this world!

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  23. not for sure if this was the funnest post I have read, the weirdest or the most creative... maybe all three, good job overcoming your sundae phobia

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  24. Wow! What a fabulous idea for a sundae! Would never have thought about going the savory route with sundae. This is so interesting and creative including the spherification of the tomato and powdered olive oil. I've got to get my hands on one of these kits so I can try it out myself.

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  25. I love it! The sundae is impressive - and I think you did a great job on those tomato spheres!

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  26. Oh wow, this is so impressive! What a great looking glamourous sundae. You think I need to put on a Prada to have this. Btw, papa Trix is a lucky guy! :o) Thanks so much for sharing it. Have a great day.
    Cheers, Kristy

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  27. Very nice work and everything looks great for your first try at the molecular side of things!

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  28. Really realy cool. I have done spheres and I understand your frustration but you did a pretty good job shape wise in the end. Love the whole molecular sundae. And yes all cooking in chemistry, we just found a new way to jazz it up. Fabulous Trix

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  29. well done. you're very brave to try molecular gastronomy. It turned out really pretty.

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  30. You're a genius, T! What a beautiful concept and I'm very impressed at your molecular gastro-adventure. I look forward to seeing more! (hint hint).

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  31. The olive oil addition is great!

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  32. This is an amazing first effort! I think the powdered olive oil is my fave...theresa

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  33. Hi Trix-
    super creative sundae! i'd take a savory over sweet any day. appreciate how you described your trials and errors, just might give it a try...merci!
    LL

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  34. You are fearless! Love this creation and wish I could have the attention-span to learn these fun techniques!

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  35. Wow, Trix, this is a terrific molecular gastronomy adventure! I just love the idea of powdered olive oil, must try that, so cool!

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  36. You said Friendly's!!!!!!!! Are you from New England!!?!?!? We don't have Friendly's where I live now, but I often dream of maple walnut ice cream with chocolate sprinkles from Friendly's! And this recipe is such a creative spin on a 'classic'! :D

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