I was so excited to make this dish. I wanted to tell you all about how, when I worked for Discovery Channel in the late 1990s, no matter where I traveled the world I relished the familiar sweet, salty, and punch-you-in-the-sinuses taste of the black licorice at this one little kiosk in the Frankfurt Airport. How the anise hyssop plant on my front stoop is still blossoming and sprouting new leaves. How stoked I was about making orange confit. How nervous I was to make the beautiful, delicate, and intricate spun sugar nests to sit atop this sweet, little bite.
I wanted to keep riding the wave of my sponge cake success, and be able to share with you how marvelously I deglutenized yet another fine-dining, avant-garde dessert.
I hoped to be able to show you how you cream an egg, egg yolks, butter, and sugar...
... then add flour, cornstarch, and dry licorice extract to make the most amazing batter:
... which you bake for a little over an hour until it's spongy and light golden brown..... and how when it's baking you walk out the front door every 10 minutes so you can relish how wonderful the house smells when you walk back in...
... but what I hadn't counted on is that as it cooled, it hardened. So much so that I nearly broke a molar as I sampled a little taste of it.
That was the first sign that, perhaps, this dessert was not going to go the way I'd planned.
Regardless, I forged ahead and continued to follow the book's instructions, which was to break that cake into pieces (using a very sharp knife) and put them into a saucepan with some half-and-half, licorice syrup, and glucose powder:
The goal was to reliquify the cake enough so that it became a purée, which you then freeze and cut into small pieces. Only, no matter how much I stirred it and broke apart those cake pieces into the liquid, it woudn't get close to a purée.
I added more half-and-half, and then some more licorice syrup... thinking that maybe all it needed was a little more liquid (because apparently I think I know more than Chef Achatz does about his own dishes ::::eye roll::::), that maybe my scale was off (it's not), or that I misread the instructions (I didn't), or that the licorice extract was expired (nope), or that the moon was rising in Mercury (I have no idea what that even means).
And even after all that, all I ended up with was this:
... which is not even close to being purée-like. Despite that fact, I added the six soaked gelatin sheets, and then even tried pushing some of it through a chinois just like the book suggested. And, it was awful. Nothing happened. It just wouldn't work. It was the texture and consistency of wet drywall (which, I know, doesn't really make sense and is sort of an oxymoron, but whatever). It was just bad. And wrong.
I threw it all away.
Without the cake base, there was no need to do the orange confit, the muscovado candy, or the spun sugar (which I was soooo looking forward to). So, I put all those ingredients back into the pantry and the fridge.
I cleaned the kitchen, felt completely dejected, and was in a rotten mood. Like, not even the Real Housewives or the Kardashians could snap me out of it. I KNOW. I was not smiles times.
I fell back onto the couch, lifted the lid of my laptop, and sent an email to my friends, Holly and Linda -- the friends who are also neighbors, who have eaten everything I've cooked for this blog (and the other one) -- to tell them the evening's tasting was canceled "because this dessert is broken."
Their response ran the gamut of "Noooooooooo!!!!" and "That's never happened to you before!!!" to "Stupid recipe" to "Sponge cake karma." Which is exactly why I love them.
So, I'm ordering more licorice extract and trying this again, because I should be able to do this and do it well, damn it. I'm pretty sure that what I used as my gluten-free substitution for all-purpose flour is what caused the problem, so I'm gonna tinker with my own formulas and see if I can make this work.
You guys, I have learned so much from this cookbook, and have come so far in my gluten-free baking in the past two years, that I should be able to make this. It might not be perfect, but it could be pretty freakin' fantastic.
So, stay tuned.... it's time for a do-over.