Licorice Cake, orange confit, anise hyssop, spun sugar, Take Two
When I started this blog, I posted my rules of the road, one of which was that because I am not made of money, I would attempt each dish in the Alinea cookbook once. Just once. One and done. If it failed, it failed. Sayonara. Peace out. Check it off the list, and move on.
But last week's licorice cake blowout really got me down. Instead of figuring out on my own how to adapt this recipe to eliminate the all-purpose flour, I used a gluten-free baking flour mix substitute. I'm not gonna name names here, because it's made by a company I actually really love, but I guess the lesson I re-learned is that this specific "all-purpose baking mix" is not technically all-purpose. And, you know what? I knew that from the get-go and yet I still used it. I think I just wanted to, for once in my celiac-baking life, be able to swap something out really easily and not have to think about it. Silly me.
But if I really get to the heart of the matter, that the cake failed bothered me less than the notion that I failed. That I failed to trust my instincts. That I failed to use my resources wisely. That I went from zenith to nadir by way of a few eggs and some flour... and, if I'm being honest with myself, a lack of confidence and focus.
So, I decided to pull myself up by my bootstraps and give it another go.
I decided to go back to the original sponge cake recipe for this second attempt. It may not have been what Chef Achatz intended when he developed this recipe for the restaurant, but I wanted to make it again and see if it would work for this particular dish.
So, into the bowl of my trusty Kitchen Aid stand mixer went 8 eggs, 210g sugar, 5 g kosher salt, 140g grapeseed oil, and 20g Trimoline. I combined it on high speed for about 3 minutes. Then, I sifted and gently folded in the following dry ingredients: 20g dry licorice extract; 80g potato starch; 80g white rice flour; 40g tapioca flour; 15g xanthan gum; and 10g baking powder.
Last, but not least, I added 140g whole milk, and stirred it gently to combine everything before pouring it onto a parchment-lined baking sheet:
I baked it for 25 minutes in a 300F-degree oven, and had a hard time leaving the kitchen while it was baking, it smelled so good.
So, instead of the cake the book's recipe called for, I now had a licorice-flavored sponge cake. I was running low on dry licorice extract, so instead of pure licorice syrup (100g extract + 100g water), I did the remaining 25g of extract + 75g sugar +100g water to make a licorice simple syrup.
I added that to 600g of the cake, along with 250g half-and-half, 50g glucose powder, and then 6 gelatin sheets, and it came together and turned into a purée rather easily.
I pressed the purée through my tamis and spread it into an 8x8" cake pan:
I put it into the freezer overnight and finished the rest of the dish the next day.
First thing on the day's agenda? Orange confit. I was still floating on a cloud from smelling (and tasting!) the licorice sponge cake the day before, when the orange confit got underway. And I gotta say: making orange confit might be my culinary Zoloft. I don't know how I (or anyone) could be unhappy or stressed or anxious when this is simmering away in the kitchen.
And, it's incredibly easy.
Start with an orange:
Cut it into quarters and remove any seeds:
Place the orange quarters in a small saucepan with some water, bring it to a boil, let it boil for 20 minutes, then drain and rinse them with cold water. Do this three times. Do not complain or roll your eyes. Just close your eyes and inhale.
After the third and final boil, return the oranges to the pan, cover them with water, add some D'Aristi Xtabentun (we'll get to that in a minute), some sugar, and bring it to a boil over medium heat. Then, turn down the flame and let it simmer over low heat for three hours. Try not to be mesmerized. Try not to stay glued to the stovetop. Try not to smile and relax. I dare you.
D'Aristi Xtabentun is a Mayan liqueur made in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, and is named for the small Xtabentun flowers from which the local bees get their nectar. It's a fermeted honey and anise liqueur, and it is, for me, a kind of cure-all. Taken straight, it's quite good, though sometimes a little sweet, but has come in handy when I've felt like a cold was coming on, or had a scratchy throat. Just an ounce or less of this in a giant mug of coffee or tea, for me, wards off "the icks" -- though y'all know I'm not a doctor or anything so don't do anything stupid like drink this instead of, oh I dunno, going to chemo/dialysis/getting a flu shot/whatever.
When added to the water and sugar the oranges were simmering in, it broadened what already was sweet and citrusy, adding a sense of warmth and comfort (if that makes any sense).
After three hours simmering, the oranges looked like this:
And when you stick your face into the pan to smell them, you might just have a Snuffles-like reaction, like I wanted to. The orange, combined with the D'Artisti Xtabentun... my, oh my.
I let the oranges cool to room temperature, and then cut them into 1/4" dice, which you'll see in the final plating photo.
The next thing I needed to do was make the muscovado candy. This is pretty straightforward: water, sugar, yellow pectin, and citric acid...
Bring it to a boil, then add Trimoline, glucose, and muscovado sugar, and continue boiling until it reaches 225F degrees:
I poured it into a clear glass baking dish I'd sprayed with Pam to let it set at room temperature, before cutting a few small dices of it then refrigerating it until I needed the candy for plating:
The very last step is to make the spun sugar. I was really looking forward to this because the photo of this dessert in the book is so strikingly pretty -- and I knew mine wouldn't look the same, but I was hoping I could, at the very least, not screw up heating isomalt to 325F degrees, and then whisking it across two saucepan handles.
I took the cake purée out of the freezer and let it get a little closer to room temperature before cutting out small pieces of it with a 7/8" round cutter. I put a piece of the cake on a spoon, topped it with an anise hyssop leaf, then placed a piece of orange confit and a piece of muscovado candy next to it, and topped the whole thing with a bedraggled nest of spun sugar:
Spoon in the mouth, and bite. And chew. And feel all the flavors come together. Now, let me get this out of the way first: I wasn't thrilled with the texture of the cake purée and wished I'd upped the licorice extract amount because it wasn't anise-y enough for me. That said, the cake with the sugar candy, crunchy spun sugar, and the orange confit? Very, very nice. I liked the flavor profile of this bite, but it needed to be more concentrated and amplified. And that's all my doing that it wasn't.
But, I mastered the cake (wahoo!), and made spun sugar (which was a hell of a lot of fun to do). And? I've got a lovely little pot of leftover orange confit in the fridge which I think will go quite nicely with the pork tenderloin I just bought to make for dinner.
Up Next: I bought 15 pounds of salsify this week, so chances are you'll see a salsify dish (or three) coming your way very soon.
Resources: Eggs from Smith Meadows Farm; flours from Bob's Red Mill; Domino sugar; Trimoline, isomalt, yellow pectin, and glucose from L'Epicerie; Monini grapeseed oil; Natural by Nature half-and-half and milk; King Arthur Flour gelatin sheets; licorice extract from HerbalRemedies.com; orange from Whole Foods; D'Aristi Xtabentun from DrinkUpNY.com; muscovade sugar from Yes! Organic Market; anise hyssop leaves from the plant on my front stoop.
Music to Cook By: Robbie Williams; The Ego Has Landed. This album takes me back to a very specific beach house with some very specific people and some very specific circumstances involving no sleep, drunken Yahtzee, and a bright full moon rising over the ocean. And I very much needed to be reminded of that time this week. :)
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