Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Birthday Cake Reinvented?

For the past two days we've been preparing for our annual family birthday party where we celebrate the birthdays of my sister and me. Instead of having a standard, commonplace chocolate cake that is practically universal at birthday's everywhere, I been thinking of adding some creativity to the often boring birthday cake...

The actual cake itself was a molten chocolate cake, a simple combination of 18 ounces of chocolate and what seems to be a mountain of butter (it's a special occasion right?), eggs, sugar, and a pinch of salt. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler and combine with eggs before baking at 400 degrees Fahrenheit.


Mango, being one of my favorite fruits and being a natural pair with the dark complexity of chocolate was one of the garnishes I had to include in my dish. I pureed about 280g of mango with sugar and lime juice, strained it and thickened it with UltraTex 3, a modified tapioca starch available online. It is very useful and simple; add a small amount to the desired medium before blending, no cooking required. Especially awesome for fresh sauces where you'd would to preserve the fresh flavour a fruit or vegetable.

Ice Cream is a favourite of mine to make at home. It is simple and the results speak for themselves. To complement the chocolate and tropical flavours of the mango, I decided to whip up some coconut ice cream. 680g of coconut milk were reduced over medium heat for about 45 minutes, until it was thick and reduced by a third. After the reduction, I added 80g of sugar and some homemade vanilla extract, made by infusing Tahitian vanilla beans in vodka. Finally it was frozen in my ice cream maker. Too bad I didn't have any liquid nitrogen hanging around...

Thanks to my recently arrived shipment of modern cooking ingredients from Willpowder I wanted to add some cool techiniques into this dish. Peanut butter being a staple in my diet, had to make it on to this plate. By combining peanut butter with tapioca maltodextrin, a modified tapioca starch, and icing sugar, I created a fluffy, dry powder that tasted of peanut butter and reconstituted in your mouth back into peanut butter. YUM.
With all these decadent components going on, the chocolate cake, peanut butter and viscous ice cream, this dish needed something to cut through the richness after all that celebratory food. Cilantro was the answer to the problem. I decided a foam would be the form that cilantro would take on the plate. After blanching a  bunch of cilantro, I pureed it with some of it's cooking liquid, then strained it through a sieve, then press through a tamis (my ghetto tamis is a frying-guard normally used to prevent oil from splashing. It works very well and saves me 50 bucks.). The liquid (115g) I blended with 1.15g of soy lecithin and sugar with an immersion blender to produce a puffed stable froth that was beautifully tinted with chlorophyll  from the cilantro.

Having some pineapple hanging around, I made some caramelized pineapple. About 100g of sugar and some rum, went over medium-high, until amber and browned. The pineapple was "seared" in the caramel, before I added some more rum and let the pineapple soften in the beautiful caramel. The results? A tender golden slab of sweet pineapple.

The final component of my dish was a lime fluid gel. Gathering some inspiration from my Colborne Lane experience, I combined 60g of lime juice with 70g water, 90g of sugar, 10g of ginger and 2g of agar-agar, a seaweed extract used as the gelling agent, available almost universally in health food stores as vegan "gello".

The final dish above. Plating took forever, as I did it solo with 12 individual plates and too many components. In the end, it was worth the effort, even though some of the molten cake were slightly over-baked (I didn't have enough ramekins, so I baked them in tin, so they cooked faster). The acidity in the mango puree mixed with the goey chocolate cake was balanced and perfect. The ice cream was one of the best components, slightly-sweet and silky with a nuttiness from the reduced coconut milk. The peanut butter powder was awesome, a small touch with the cake reconstituted creating chocolate and peanut heaven. The cilantro was a misstep. Most of my guests didn't want it or like it. I though it was good, but I should have gone with a pudding with UltraTex 3 instead of a foam with soy lecithin, as the froth did not deliver the full potential of the herbaceous green sauce. My other mistake: over thinking this dish. Too many components or too small a plate. In the end, a great birthday dessert. All the guests really enjoyed it. Now, I'm off to make some more! (I have leftover batter)


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