Sweet potato, brown sugar, bourbon, smoking cinnamon
If this were baseball, I'd have to shut down the blog, because three strikes and I'm out, kids.
Strike one: my pineapple glass was so not glass. Strike two: my rosewater envelope was so not an envelope. And now? What is so lovingly and beautifully featured on page 366 of the Alinea cookbook was rendered by yours truly to not even come close to resembling the final product, let alone County Fair-worthy food-on-a-stick.
And the worst part? Wasted bourbon. Almost a whole bottle down the drain, literally.
Actually, that's not the worst part. The worst part is the fact that even though I think I'm a pretty smart person with decent intuition and deduction skills, I still can't figure out where this all went wrong. I mean, I have a few ideas about one or two of the steps, but overall? This isn't a difficult dish, in my estimation and I hate that I couldn't successfully pull it off. In fact, I kind of don't even want to write this post. I would rather just put up the photo of the final result and have you all ridicule it, heckle it, give it a wedgie, dip its braid in an inkwell, boo and hiss and tell me to pack it in and call it a day.
But I know that Bea Arthur would want me to put on a floor-length vest, hold my head up high and get on with it already, so I will. Except for the floor-length vest part.
This dish, ultimately, is supposed to be a cube of bourbon gel, a cube of sweet potato gel, and a cube of brown sugar candy, all tempura batter-dipped and deep-fried on a stick of cinnamon that you then light on fire and blow out so that you can eat this dish while inhaling the aroma of cinnamon. I think it sounds like the most perfect thing, don't you? Let's kick things off with the bourbon gel.
I poured 600g of bourbon (nearly the ENTIRE BOTTLE, the rest of which I just drank straight after the final plating *snort*... and you, too, will snort when you see how loosely the term "final plating" truly applies, but NO PEEKING... stay with me) into a saucepan and added the 7 grams of Kelcogel JJ gellan gum.
Not to go off on yet another tangent, but doesn't JJ gellan gum sound like the name of a detective from the 70s, or perhaps some old-timey investigative reporter with a "scoop" card in the brim of his hat? "Yeah, I'm J.J. Gellangum, see? Gonna bust this joint wide open, see?"
Oh, let me also note that I started this dish at 7:30 in the morning... not the ideal time to be smelling bourbon, but let's return you to your regularly scheduled program.
So, bourbon, gellan gum, saucepan. I mixed it with my immersion blender until it was fully incorporated, and brought it to a simmer over medium-high heat.
I poured it into a shallow pan and waited for it to cool to room temperature, at which point, it was also supposed to set.
After five hours at room temperature, it still hadn't set:
So, I put it in the fridge, thinking THAT might help.
After two hours in the refrigerator, it was still the consistency of loose, runny, hospital Jell-O. With all apologies to the Jell-O corporation for the comparison.
So, I put it back in the refrigerator and figured I'd check it again when I was ready to do the final step. Oh, I love my optimism...
During the first bit of bourbon-gel-non-setting time, I made the sweet potato gel. Or, as I like to call it, Hey, Velveeta!!
First, I peeled and cut 500g of sweet potato into slices and let them simmer over low heat for about 30 minutes in some cream with some salt.
How sad that the only high point in this whole process was that I was able to eyeball and select a sweet potato that was just two grams shy of the 500g requirement. Boo-ya!
I strained the potatoes (reserving the cream) and put them in the blender with 300g of the reserved cream, and blended on high speed until it was smooth:
I'd been soaking 10 gelatin sheets in cold water, so I squeezed out the water, and added them to the sweet potato purée, which I'd poured into a mixing bowl, stirring to incorporate everything:
I then poured this mixture through a chinois and onto a plastic wrap-lined sheet tray, which I put in the refrigerator to set, per the book's instructions:
While the sweet potato gel was setting, I made the brown sugar candy -- again, something that was supposed to sort of solidify into something I could cut into squares.
Into the saucepan went water and yellow pectin, which I blended like mad with my immersion blender until it had dissolved and was fully incorporated. Then, I blended in the sugar and citric acid and brought it to a boil. Once it had begun to boil, I carefully added the Trimoline, glucose, and brown sugar, and brought it all to 230 degrees.
I poured the mixture into a plastic wrap-lined baking pan (my sheet trays were otherwise engaged)
At this point, the bourbon gel had been trying to "set" for nearly nine hours, and still, it was runny and not even close to being anything that could be cut into 3/4" squares. So, I abandoned that part of the dish and figured the sweet potato and brown sugar on their own would be pretty good on their own, so I soldiered forth with hope, optimism, and a sense of pri.... CRAP.
I put it in the fridge for an hour or two, and nothing. Not quite runny, but looser than marmalade or chutney.
Even after being in the refrigerator, it stayed the same consistency, and the solid globs that you see above only got more pronounced (and they weren't there when it was poured in as a liquid)
At this point, I had to decide what to do next. Cry? Cut the sweet potato stuff, which had gelled nicely, into squares and slather the brown sugar gel on it before tempura battering it? I tried that with one, and it just wouldn't stay on and got even gloppier, so I just decided I'd batter the sweet potato squares and deep fry those, adding a little extra dusting of brown sugar as I pulled the hot, fried, tempura-battered sweet potato out of the oil. That's how I'd make sure it tasted like brown sugar. Yeah, that's the ticket.
So, I speared my gelled potato cubes with a cinnamon stick (of course, the sweet potato gel set exactly as it should have), lightly dredged them in flour, then the tempura batter, and cooked them for three minutes in canola oil that had been heated to 375 degrees, per the book's instructions.
Yeah.... sounds easy and straightforward doesn't it?
Dude, that ain't County Fair-worthy, let alone Alinea-worthy.
Toothless carnies can make this, but I can't?
And, see what I mean by "Hey, Velveeta!!"?
Let's have a side-by-side comparison to further illustrate how badly this turned out:
I didn't even bother to light the end of the cinnamon stick on fire before tasting this, because I was certain I would've caught my hair on fire, so I decided not to tempt fate and just took a bite of the crispy tempura batter and gloppy, melted sweet potato. What did it taste like? Well, I don't know, because I burned the roof of my mouth.
I CAN HEAR YOU LAUGHING OUT THERE.
IT'S NOT FUNNY.
Except, I guess it kind of is. Sort of.
But it's really, honestly, frustrating. I feel like my kitchen is cursed. Maybe it's the tonka bean from Capricorns (sic) Lair that put some sort of creepy hoodoo mojo on my house. I think I'll spend the next few days waving veal bones around while singing like Karen Carpenter, or burning sage and chives and wafting it into the corners of the kitchen... some sort of culinary exorcism is in order, methinks, because this scourge must stop. I have to get my groove back. Lieutenant-Detective-Investigative-Reporter J.J. Gellan Gum, you let me down.
Up Next: Could be Oyster, ginger, steelhead roe, beer; or, might be Licorice Cake, orange confit, anise hyssop, spun sugar.
Resources: Sweet potato from Whole Foods; David's kosher salt; gelatin sheets, trimoline, and glucose from L'Epicerie; Organic Valley heavy cream; Maker's Mark bourbon; gellan gum, yellow pectin, citric acid from Terra Spice; Domino light brown sugar; cinnamon sticks from H Mart; tempura batter ingredients from my pantry.
Music to Cook By: David Bowie; Let's Dance. Sort of prescient, because I need to go put on my red shoes and dance the blues right about now.
Read My Previous Post: Granola, in a rosewater envelope