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February 23, 2009

Tripod, hibiscus

This post is going to be a little different than most.  Why?  Because this is, perhaps, the easiest thing I've ever made in my life.  A face-eating chimp could make this.  The corpse of Abraham Lincoln's Secret Service agent could make this.  The dumbasses on any of the interations of Bravo's Real Housewives could make this.  The leaf that just fell off the tree in my front yard could make this.  Even Sandra Lee could make this (although she'd probably gank it up with taco seasoning, Mrs. Dash, or whack-a-dough biscuits, but still -- it's feasible even she could pull this off).

So, instead of a long, involved photo play-by-play, I'm gonna keep it short and sweet and let this be about YOU -- meaning, I want YOU to make these (or a variation of them) and report back with what you did, how you used it, and how it tasted.

Seriously, read this post, look at the very few photos I'm going to post, think about what you might like in terms of taste and execution, then go freakin' make it.  I even added a brand-spankin' new post tag for this item: "So f-ing easy, dude" because it is, and really, there are no excuses for not taking a few minutes to daydream (I know you're looking for another procrastination tool at work, so with this assignment, I'm giving you one right here, right now. Aaaaaaaaand I just song-poisoned myself with this gem, AWESOME.) and think about how you'd do this dish (or a variation thereof), and then go home and play around and experiment one afternoon or evening and see what you can come up with.

The ingredients are simple, and I'm going to give them to you here in "regular" measurements instead of the weight measurements the Alinea cookbook uses:
-- water (2.5 cups);
-- sugar (1/4 cup);
-- salt (1/4 tsp.); and
-- dried hibiscus leaves (1 cup). 

Nothing fancy, nothing scary.  My local food co-op and health food store sell hibiscus flowers; I bet you can find them with a few phone calls.  If not, my online resource is in the end notes of this post, as always.

The directions are even simpler:
-- Bring water, salt, and sugar to a boil.
-- Turn off heat, add flowers, stir, let cool to room temperature (takes about 20-25 minutes).
-- Strain.  Keep liquid; throw away flowers. 
-- Pour liquid into molds to make spheres. 
-- Done and done.






The step you'll see I avoided was using the tripod.  You know, the very title of this dish.  Why?

While I think the presentation of these beauties on the actual wire tripod they use in the restaurant is stunning, I just don't think it's practical for the home cook to a) buy tripods they may never use again, or b) spend their hard-earned time and money trying to figure out how to make them on their own.  Life is too freakin' short, methinks.  And, the pieces they use at Alinea are just so elegant, there's no way I could do it justice -- not even for comedic effect.  I will confess that I thought about doing a spoof on Time for Timer's "Sunshine on a Stick" for this post, but how can you outdo Time for TimerImpossible.

So, I decided to find other ways to serve these amazing (yes, they are just that) frozen hibiscus spheres because my simultaneously channeling both Grant Achatz and a Saturday morning PSA from my childhood is practically blasphemous; and, with the kind of month I'd been having, I thought it might be more appropriate to involve my little friend, alcohol, in this experiment.

So, I decided to put the frozen hibiscus spheres to use in various alcoholic incarnations, because, while I'm not a mixology expert in any way, shape, or form, I am always looking for ways to expand my horizons past the classics (which currently are wine, scotch, scotch, wine and, um, more scotch.  Followed by more wine.  And then a scotch.).

First up, a shot of Ketel One with a frozen hibiscus sphere:


I made these for my weekly Friday afternoon neighbor-girl drinks gathering, and while I liked it, the other two girls were a bit apathetic.  Turns out, they're not really fans of vodka.  Whoops. 

It was at that point that I realized, hey! I didn't even try one of these suckers WITHOUT alcohol.  Doy.  So, we gathered the kids around, and we each ate one just plain.  The kids were not huge fans.  They declared it "too salty" because they expected it to be sweet because of its color... which for a kid, I would totally expect.  Red = sweet when you're 10, right?

So, if you haven't had anything hibiscus-infused before, how I can I explain what it tastes like?  Well, it's not too floral or overly fragrant (like lavender or roses might be)... it's not overly sweet... it's a little earthy, but not stinky or dirty or peaty.  It made me think of a late summer evening around 7:30, 8 o'clock... maybe the grass was cut that morning, so there's a lingering fresh smell in the air.... and maybe it's a little cool because late summer is easing into fall... and maybe it rained the day before, so everything feels alive and green... and maybe you picked or chopped fresh tomatoes earlier that evening so the smell is still on your hands ever so slightly... and maybe you have a planted pot or garden spot of thyme and tarragon and mint and parsley nearby... and maybe, just maybe, there's a slight, warm wisp of a breeze, and you're sitting on the front porch or on your balcony listening to the sounds of your neighborhood, and you hear laughter in the distance and it makes you smile.  That's what hibiscus tastes like.

This sphere isn't chewy like the Cranberry bite (the Ultra-Tex 3 makes that chewy), nor is it hard like a popsicle.  It doesn't take long to collapse and crush onto your tongue when you press it against the roof of your mouth.  It melts beautifully in a drink, and while letting it infuse a shot of vodka wasn't a home run for everyone, I bet using it as crushed ice in a margarita would be awesome.  Or, you could do what I did just the other night and pour some Lillet into a glass, add a splash of club soda and a wedge of orange (or lime), and use the frozen hibiscus spheres as ice cubes:


James Bond had The Vesper.  This, is The Carol.  And I love it.

So, go forth lovely people of Alinea at Home... shake off the end-of-winter blues and make hibiscus spheres, cubes, hearts or stars or golf balls or butt cheeks or rocket ships... just make some sort of flavored, frozen, flower-infused something... or, if you're pressed for time and can't get to it right away, tell me what kind of flavored, frozen, flower- or herbal-infused something you would make.  Hell, maybe you'd even use the hibiscus-infused liquid in a tray on the grill to steam to some brats? Sky's the limit, queridos.  Hit me in the comments, and you know what?  I'm gonna make it slightly more interesting.

Just before my next post, I'll randomize the comments, assign numbers, throw it out to the Twitter universe to let them pick a few numbers, and I'll ship those winners a few ounces of dried hibiscus flowers of their very own.

How's that sound?

Good, I thought so.

Up Next:  Pear, eucalyptus, olive oil, black pepper

Resources: Dried hibiscus flowers from Organic Creations (but your local co-op or health food store should have them, so open the Yellow Pages and make a few phone calls), Domino sugar, David's kosher salt.

Music to Cook By: D'Angelo; various.  Because every now and then, a girl wants some D'Angelo in her week.

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Considering that hibiscus has a tropical feel to it, I bet these would be good with rum. (Not spiced, thank you very much.) Bacardi has a raspberry rum which would be great with lemonade and a few hibiscus spheres. Malibu, perhaps?

I don't know if I'll have the time to try this but how about throwing it in some iced tea?

Nice -- love the intensity of the red. Yeah, I was thinking, hibiscus + tequila?

I swear I thought that was going to be a link to the SNL Crystal Gravy parody. Glad I was wrong, but I wouldn't put it past you.....

Timer! I long to be ten again.

I love dill and basil so, call me nuts but I'd maybe do something dill and/or basil and bloody-mary-ish?

Yeah, I know it's not floral, but you mentioned herbs, so there you go.

The frozen butt cheek idea brought me right back to the Paula Deen video tinyurl.com/b6vg4o, which I did myself the disservice of watching. Holy cow, that woman has no shame. And a big white ass. Like mayonnaise.

I think I just grossed myself out.

That Carol looks like a fabulous drink. What a great idea!

I have numerous hibiscus plants in my garden which are dormant now but have glorious blooms throughout the summer. I can use my hibisci (sp)?

What about a mojito like drink. Crush mint leaves with a bit of sugar and one lime, pour in rum, a bit of club soda and a couple of these. I think the herbal notes would work well the lime and rum. We'll call it hibiscus mojito. Not very original but great when down on a Mexico beach!

Tequila, straight up, hibiscus ball chaser. Because who doesn't love balls in their mouth? (Maaaan I'm inappropriate. I don't even know if this is kosher to try and post...)

Although they wouldn't look as pretty as the hibiscus ones, I think this would be good if you infused them with mint and a little ginger and maybe even some orange rind (too much?) and then used them as ice cubes in a glass of bourbon and seltzer. I would drink that any day of the week. Actually as soon as I have the spare change to get my hands on those mold thingies, I will be trying that. I am not sure about the salt tho with that combination? Maybe I would just tone down the sugar instead. Any thoughts?

I'm feeling like the iciness/fresh flavor needs something creamy...maybe a dessert pudding or soup made with mexican crema with the spheres floating inside?

I wanna layer vodka and limoncello with a couple of these. Now.

and props to meleyna -that sounds excellent and totally aproriately inappropriate.

Dark chocolate covered hibiscus balls.


Well if it wasn't going to be a Carol, I might have to try a couple of those as ice cubes in a nice (gin) martini. Come to think of it, I have gin on hand... looks like I'll be hunting down dried hibiscus this weekend and doing it in the far less graceful ice cube tray....

Props back to you, Rebecca. I totally forgot I need to take care of the second step of my Meyer limoncello.

It's hard to believe you and I own the same cookbook. I keep flipping through it looking for a straightforward recipe and can't seem to find them... and so far you've prepared quite a few. Or maybe you just make them look easy? hmm. I think I on to you. ;-)

I like those cocktail spheres... fun!

I think I might try this! It would be my first recipe from alinea...Oooo!

I think these would be lovely as ice cubes in a gin and tonic for summer, with a nice squeeze of lemon!

Although, that vodka shot doesn't look too bad either!

OOh those are fun. I think I have an eiffel tower candy mold hiding somewhere... which would be perfect as a punch bowl ice float for a frenchie party!

I'm thinking cucumber spheres to go in a nice Hendricks' Gin and Tonic.

Or Kiwi spheres to float in the beverage fountain with my Sandra Lee "Lush Lagoon" cocktail.

Does BACON count?


How about Rose petals?

Oooo!!!! I wonder how Pomegranate Flowers would be. They are bright red. They'd pro'ly make a beautifully colored... ball(!?!?!?).

I've never had anything infused with hibiscus, but, your description of what hibiscus tastes like... sounds surreal...

you are an amazing writer, and that paragraph transported me to a place and time that just stands still in my mind; that can't be physically reproduced, but can only occur through nature, and when the moment does occur, you just want to hold onto it forever...

OMG - I don't make or use ice cubes (which makes ice baths interesting, because I wind up putting a large metal mixing bowl of water in the freezer and using that), but I would totally make this! The food co-op in my neighborhood carries hibiscus flowers for sure, too!

Ok, ok... bear with me for a second...

Keeping with the herb theme, and I'll confess that I've never cooked with them, but... Curry Leaves...

Curry Leaf Ball "studs" (hehe) on a sweetened coconut ice cream or sorbet.

Might taste horrible, but WTH. Just a thought.

Why does this idea fascinate me so? I have work to do! GET OUT OF MY HEAD, CAROL!

Where do you get the little sphere molds?

Very well written description of hibiscus taste.

I have a hibiscus granita going in the freezer right now. Hope to post a picture tomorrow evening.

Hi Carol. I am going to forgo the invention challenge and adopt the "Carol". Lillet sounds perfect. As I know a lot of Carols, I will call it the Blymire.

Thanks for the Time for Timer's memories. I loved these as a kid. However, I have just double-song poisoned myself with the Jesus Jones video and "Conjunction Junction". Now I need a Blymire!

Wow, that is so much more elegant and appealing sounding than the groaty-to-the-max "butter" "martini" Dandy Sandy made on the episode of her "show" that I watched while I stayed home sick yesterday. Yeah, you read that right "butter" "martini". Why all the quotes? Because the "martini" started with vanilla vodka (ick) and then was mixed with butterscotch schnapps (barf) and, wait for it... pineapple juice (GAG). Seriously. Its still seared to my brain like the image of the gigundo spider I killed on Saturday night. I think the "martini" is actually the more troubling of the two memories too.

I'm wondering how these would be melting over a salad...the salad would need a vinaigrette, too, with these gorgeous spheres (fairly small ones) tossed on top.

I'm also wondering what they'd bring to a dish of vanilla ice cream.

hahahaha... frozen, salty, earthy butt cheeks. hilarious... i love being easily amused. seriously though, maybe substitute these for cherries in an Old Fashioned? sounds like a winner to me...

Wow, Carol, short recipe but so much to comment on.

First - Sandra Lee. I'm not sure what percentage of the population views the world through a lens like hers but I fear it's something like 80%. She could really just be doing anything and she would have a popular show. I don't know why she settled on cooking, because what she does is not cooking. Apparently prior to this she was a huge success on Home Shopping Network with a line of products completely unrelated to cooking. Doesn't surprise me at all.

Second - Timer. Don't know how many times I've sung the "slab or slice or chunk-a" line in my life but it's probably in the high ten thousands. Never understood the breakfast one - he's basically saying always eat something for breakfast, no matter what it is, which I get. But I always found it odd that steak was one of the foods he just found randomly lying around. I mean, when I was little if I'd have found leftover steak in the fridge I surely would have eaten it without needing Timer to tell me to do so.

Third - your description of a summer's evening was beautiful. It's sound hokey, but I was transported away. I could even smell the cut grass. Not everyone senses the world so viscerally and even fewer are able to convey it well in writing, and I want to thank you for sharing that.

greglor, the spherical molds are from JB Prince.

Wait, is HTML markup enabled in the comments? If not, here's the link for the spherical molds: http://www.jbprince.com/silicone-mold-making/silicone-sphere-mold.asp

I had a hibiscus-infused tea (karkaday) in Egypt that I loved, and wish I could find up here in frozen Canada. They serve it both hot and cold there (but I loved the sweetened, cold version better). If only I could find that and the fig jam, I'd be floating down the Nile every day!

If you google "wild Hibiscus Flowers in Syrup", you too, can buy wild hibiscus flowers in syrup made by (interestingly enough)The Wild Hibiscus Flower Company. The idea is that you put a flower (I refuse to type "wild hibiscus flower" again)into the bottom of a champagne flute, pour in the champagne which makes the flower "bloom". There's even a guy who bothered to put a video of this on you-tube. That said I'd suggest champagne: you could even save the flowers instead of discarding them and float a hibiscus ball on top.

65 bucks for a JB ice mold? damn.

Carol, Im wondering if there is anything in Hibiscus that makes it the right thing for these balls - some chemical that makes them have the right consistency. Im guessing no, so I plan to make this with rose petals from my neighbor's yard (Im pretty sure shes not home right now.)

Thanks for all the inspiration in the last 4 months I have been reading your blogs.

At this moment I am sitting in a computer lab with Mike Pardus at the Culinary Institute of America puting the finishing touches on a presentation to the student body about food blogging.
I thought you might be amused to know that I'm including your blog as an example of the species of "Blog the Book" blogs.

I chose it, of course, because this blog rocks.

Later! Curtain call in 20 mins!

I live in Mexico, and buy big bags of dried hibiscus every week for a quarter to make agua de jamaica, which is basically sweet hibiscus tea, very popular here as a chilled drink. Really delicious and unbelievably cheap. You can probably find hibiscus/jamaica in most Latino grocery stores.

And don't throw out the flowers when you're done making your beautiful frozen cocktail decorations. Chop them finely and fry with onion and cumin seeds, makes a really great taco filling w/some fresh avocado and hot salsa. I sometimes make little stuffed trompettes with flour tortillas, deep-fried they come out almost like phyllo.

Oh gods. *sings* "dont drown your food, in mayonaise, ketchup, or goo" Im 35 and i still hear that in my head sometimes. Ive had hibiscus tea and loved it. Would love to try to make something like this.

Hey! I can do this!!

Today I whipped up a batch of this hibiscus infused sugar-salt water and WOW! It is crazy tangy and the color was so gorgeous I considered tie-dyeing a tee-shirt in it or using it to color a magenta streak in my hair. Very intense.

Instead, I chose to pour it into an 8" x 8" glass baking dish and pop it in the freezer. After a few hours, i used a little cookie cutter to make frozen Hibiscus "cookies". I then made them into Ice cream sandwiches. I used a variety of ice creams: lemon custard, green tea, vanilla.

Sweet, creamy, tangy, juicy fun!

Oh and I felt obligated to throw one of the Hibiscus "cookies" into a shot of Maker's Mark whiskey as well...

Your description of the flavor of hibiscus took me straight out of the snow-packed setting I live in and took me to a place that feels like home. Thank you.

I think these would be amazing thrown into a pitcher of white sangria (we use Cava as a starting point). Out on the deck, sun setting, air finally cooling, just as you described it.

Those were so pretty! I would love to try that with a chilled white wine. How refreshing would that be?

I've done something similar with hibiscus infused sugar water by making it into a granita. Awesome dessert during the summer time with some vodka poured over the granita. Nothing like a hibiscus vodka infused snow cone.

Come to think of it Sandra Lee did make these, but used instant Jell-O Pudding mix to make hibiscus pudding pops. She finished them with a smear of Cool Whip.

Dood: time-pressed doesn't even begin to cover it. But were I not so challenged, I'd totally make a spicy version with lavender, fresh ginger and honey. Mmmmm.

As promised, here is my write-up:


And it seems Jennifer had the same idea.:)

I use hibiscus a lot to colour corn husks for tamales. I enjoyed this post, even without the tripod. hah.

that sounds yummy. I wonder how a hibiscus sphere/cube would go with apple juice...

or vodka. vodka would totally work for me.

Oh man. That super-redness is gorgeous.

Eh, my childhood "red" was more of a florescent jolly rancher-esque cough medicine red. Nowhere near as pretty as this ;) I'm sure it'd work well in non-alcoholic drinks as ice cubes as well.

This one looks like too much fun.

I do this all the time - freezing flavored liquids to use them as ice cubes. My best is mint with sugar (very similar to what you did with hibiscus) that I drop into lemony drinks for a very unusual mojito.

And I've done rose petals. And yes, pomegranate juice - it's hard to describe how lovely that one looks.

Hibiscus would go great with apple juice. This used to be our ultimate summer camp drink, back in Germany: Hibiscus tea mixed with Apple Juice. We called it Gummibear tea, because we loved it so much. Back then the tea was warm and the juice cold. Perhaps we could turn it around and have the cold hibiscus spheres with cider... might be overpowering, but worth playing with it!

Well, I made my hibiscus ice cubes (actually hearts) Wednesday, but didn't get around to the rest until this evening. Since Ruhlman posted about grapefruit on the same day, I decided to go with a grapefruit syrup, gin, and sparkling water. I am enjoying my adult beverage right now. Thanks for persuading me to use my Alinea cookbook as more than just food porn! (as well as my French Laundry cookbook)

I live in Milwaukee, and will try to make hibiscus brats.

Hibiscus is a common element in several herbal teas, of which my favorite is from the Tazo company (now owned by Starbucks). They call the flavor "Passion," because of the deep purple color of the tea. You can try it at just about any Starbucks now, either hot or iced.

Also, on the old Food Network show "Too Hot Tamales," Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Miliken once gave a recipe for a drink that's basically the same recipe here for the hibiscus & sugar infused water (maybe without the salt?). So you can really just drink it as is on ice too.

I hosted a 'mostly Alinea' dinner Saturday. From the book I made and served, Salad, Transparency, Mango and Cranberry. All turned out really well and were enthusiastically received by the guests.

Much of the prep work was done in the days before the dinner, which left plenty of time that evening for the guests. Some assembly and freezing on dry ice was done table side to great effect.

It was the most fun I've had cooking and serving in years.

LOVE IT. Sounds great with the booze too. I have crushed hibiscus flowers together with sea salt before to make.. drum roll.. hibiscus salt, which I really enjoy with raw fish - but this is something else. This is something that can go into alcohol. YUM.

My husband really likes Lillet, so I can't wait to make those hibiscus ice spheres and try The Carol. It may become the new IT drink of our house. Right now it's the St. Germain Elderflower Liquer w/ Champagne....

"Well, it's not too floral or overly fragrant (like lavender or roses might be)... it's not overly sweet... it's a little earthy, but not stinky or dirty or peaty."

Great description of hibiscus taste. Alone and unsweetened, it does have that earthy taste. At the same time, it's acidic. It's both broad and sharp, simultaneously.

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