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November 01, 2010

Licorice Cake, orange confit, anise hyssop, spun sugar

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.


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You go girl. Don't give up! I know you have it in you!!!

What a shame. I know that you were upset, even caused you to post a typo, which never happens! (kiosk) Count on your school teacher cousin. Look forward to the redo.

Keep at it, it'll either work or you'll figure out how to work it. You always do! :-) Here's wishing you the best for the do-over.

I loved your October 25th post where everything sounded perfect. Like sitting next to Yo Yo Ma at dinner! His Appalachian collaborations with Edgar Meyer and Mark O'Connor accompany the perfect end to a summer's day, sitting on the porch in the country, drinking G & T's and watching the sun go down. Sometimes I dream about them coming through the field carrying the violin, bass, and cello they will set up on the porch to play for us in person. Now that the langourous days of summer have given way to the bracing days of fall, I won't be sitting on the porch at the end of the day again until 2011. But crunching through the leaves during a late afternoon walk and coming inside to make a cozy dinner is okay with me.

Since I absolutely love black licorice (the red stuff isn't really licorice) this sounds amazing. I'm sure you'll break the code next time. I make a delightful, elusive licorice ice cream using Licorice Yogi Tea. I keep thinking creme brulee with cream infused with star anise would be delightful, but I have never tried messing around with that combination.

I missed all the Dr. Doug hullabaloo on MR's celiac post until now because I made my comment ahead of him. My friend who has celiac is a doctor, and I sent him MR's post. He totally agreed with the cross contamination of a hamburger on a bun! You are really amazing in the way you deal with having this disease - indomitable and inspirational.

That sucks! I am really bummed for you. Of course, hang in there, and know that fail or not, it's really impressive that you're taking complicated recipes, and then adding an extra complication of lack of gluten and succeeding the majority of the time.

Can't wait to read the MWUAHAHAHA post where you conquer the licorice shards of death cake.

What a shame. But you will certainly figure it out and the second time will be the charm. My anise hyssop did great this year too and bloomed on and on. The bees love it - and the deer do not!

Maybe it was over cooked? It looks like it got a deep golden brown. Seems like it would dry it out and also account for the hardening.

I was going to tell you that you needed more cowbell, then I realized you what you REALLY needed: more cilantro!

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