Ah, the cronut. Dominique Ansel probably didn’t realize the monster success he’d created with his croissant-donut hybrid. Since launching in 2013 it has become, apparently, the ‘most virally talked about dessert in history’ and quickly saw long lines outside his New York City bakery as well as a waiting list, not to mention countless imitations around the world. (Cruffin, anyone?)
In a process that takes three days in all, the specially laminated dough is left to proof, then fried in grapeseed oil at a secret temperature, rolled in sugar, filled with cream and topped with a glaze. Ansel produces one cronut flavor a month, among them peach and bourbon, matcha golden pineapple and peanut butter rum caramel.
It’s not the only Frankenfood, as ramen burgers, cheeseburger crust pizzas, taco waffles and stuffed bagel holes have bemused and terrified diners in equal measure.
Menus the world over are increasingly offering unique flavor matches, mashing up unlikely and unexpected ingredients such as wasabi ice cream, basil panna cotta or the now common chili and chocolate. If you’re looking for the weirdest, Mountain Dew-flavored popcorn may just win, especially given that it ends up looking like a bowl of Brussels sprouts.
In the world of high-end dining, top chefs have an instinctive understanding of which ingredients work well together, knowledge they’ve acquired over many years of cooking and tasting—after all, clever, interesting and tasty flavor pairings are what make a dish memorable.
If you’re thinking of giving it a go, there’s some serious science behind pairing flavors. This starts with the principle that if two foods share certain key aromas, they might taste good when eaten together. So, it turns out that white chocolate and caviar make a good match, as do strawberries and Parmesan, and ketchup and dark chocolate.
Belgian company Foodpairing has created an ‘inspiration tool’ that matches more than 1,500 ingredients—including plants and insects—for chefs and bartenders to draw on. Clearly, making a new dish is not as simple as just picking ingredients from a list—the craft and experience of a chef are still needed to translate this inspiration into a good recipe.
Vikas Shrivastava, executive pastry chef at the Le Méridien New Delhi, is well versed in developing elegant, innovative desserts, and helped American pastry chef Johnny Iuzzini create a phenomenal curry éclair filled with a Darjeeling-jaggery cream and inspired by the flavors of the Indian capital for an episode of his Eclair Diaries.
Iuzzini is on a grand tour of world flavors, and rode into town on his Ducati to consult Shrivastava on an éclair that would sum up New Delhi at its sweet and spicy best. ‘I’ve always loved the complex flavor combinations of Indian cuisine,’ Iuzzini says. ‘Vikas shared some of his experience with me. He opened my eyes to new possibilities.’
One of Shrivastava’s favourite inventions is his thandai panna cotta with chia lemon curd. Traditionally, thandai is a cold drink made from almonds, rose petals, cardamom, saffron, milk and sugar, with fennel, magaztari (watermelon seeds) and vetiver seeds mixed in. ‘My recipe uses thandai, essentially an Indian summer cooler, to give flavor to the panna cotta,’ he says. ‘There are organic chia seeds mixed with lemon curd which makes it a fun fusion dessert and very refreshing.’
‘With today’s inquisitive travelers, one has to constantly evolve by experimenting with new ingredients,’ Shrivastava explains. ‘While I’m working, I keep in mind the need to bring something interesting and unique to the table. An unusual combination I worked on recently was cherry and coriander truffle. I made a ganache using maraschino cherry purée and coriander seeds, and used it to make chocolate truffles, which looked like any other normal truffle, but had this unique flavor.
‘There’s a huge selection of raw materials and ingredients readily available, so there’s enormous scope for trying out new things,’ he adds.
‘Before combining ingredients, you should taste each one individually or at least imagine the combination of flavors in your mind,’ Shrivastava says, adding that understanding their properties and what will happen once you’ve combined them is crucial. It’s a process of trial and error, he says, and you’ve got to love experimenting until you get it right.
As for that curry éclair that Iuzzini created after cruising the spice markets, street stalls and restaurants of the city? It was glazed with a ginger fondant and finished with anise, fennel and shredded coconut. The recipe’s here.
When did you last try a combo of unexpected and mind-blowing flavors? Share you experience with #momentumtravel.
Photos: Alamy, Flickr Nick Sherman