Pardon the pause since my last post. I am re-designing my site (a work in progress), re-arranging my home (a work in progress), all the while still undergoing something of a blog identity crisis. Some words of advice: do not develop an interest in the writings of Michael Pollan (who suggests you stick to eating foods your great grandmother would recognize) and molecular gastronomy simultaneously, lest you end up in an existential pastry quandary like me.
I also have an occasionally conflicting relationship between pastry and its effect on my personal health and others’, even attempting vegan alternatives on occasion. I admit that such anxieties would seem to epitomize what Pollan refers to as America’s “national eating disorder”. We are an unhealthy nation ironically obsessed with health and the latest nutritional breakthroughs. Our ever-changing scientific knowledge of food, diet and nutrition is imperfect at best. This epistemological crisis has the potentially harmful effect of wrongfully praising the merits of one food while vilifying another (for example, pastry). In defense of pastry, I find the following revelation interesting, taken from a NY Times Magazine article by Michael Pollan (and also mentioned in his book In Defense of Food):
Asked what comes to mind upon hearing the phrase ”chocolate cake,” Americans were more apt to say ”guilt,” while the French said ”celebration”…
The French, for example, take pleasure in food, eat smaller portions, eat socially, and don’t overly obsess about food’s nutritional value (which can lead to guilt when we do not eat foods deemed nutritious). The paradox of the thin pastry-popping Parisian exists as a paradox to us because of our flawed perspectives and systems of thought about food.
But maybe I digress.
Ultimately, this particular post isn’t about American or French pastry, per se, though the techniques are undeniably Western. The subject is Asian flavors.
So let us eat green tea biscuit (pronounced bis-cue-EE).
Left: Coconut-Lemongrass Ice Cream, Green Tea Biscuit, Caramelized Rice; Right: Yuzu Cream and “Meringue”, Green Tea Biscuit and Ice Cream, Ginger Caramel
I took a second class at the ICE with Michael Laiskonis, the cerebral award-winning Executive Pastry Chef from Le Bernardin, and blogger too. A few weeks ago, we learned about incorporating herbs such as thyme, tarragon, and rosemary into desserts; this time, we learned about incorporating Asian flavors, most notably flavors from Japan, India and Thailand, in contemporary desserts.
Black Sesame Panna Cotta, Apricot Sorbet, Soy Caramel, with Cherry Gelée, and Black Sesame Powder, Shiso Leaf. The photo on the bottom right is black sesame powder made through a combination of black sesame paste, sesame oil and tapioca maltodextrin, a curiously feather-light powder that enabled the pulverization of the paste/oil into the black sesame powder, using a food processor.
Chef Laiskonis clarified that the often contested and misunderstood buzzword “molecular gastronomy” is about developing a basic understanding of how food works. This knowledge can, in turn, liberate us and open up new possibilities.
Frozen Ginger Parfait, Rhubarb-Citrus Compote, Mandarin Coulis, garnished wih Rhubarb Chips, and Tuile Croquant. The rhubarb was sliced into paper thin strips with a mandoline slicer and baked in the oven. The tuile craquant was melted in the oven until pliable, and stretched into delicate decorations.
Rose Sorbet, Chickpea Sablée, Mango Coulis, Pistachios. Inspired by Indian flavors.
This was another stimulating class taught by a gifted and generous instructor. There was much to learn from each of the numerous, detailed components of the desserts above, from the rhubarb slivers, to pulled tuiles, to the use of unconventional foods such as chickpeas in desserts, all accomplished in the span of one class. I registered for these classes hoping to be inspired by new techniques and flavors, and I have been. But I also ended up with a bit more than I bargained for–not quite intending to struggle with my thoughts as much as I have–but sometimes it is necessary to question, to take the path of greater resistance.