Béa-tified: El Bulli's white chocolate and fennel leaf with pink peppercorns
I have many wonderful friends in Toronto, and I love sharing my table with them, but very of few them are as passionate about eating and cooking as I. Some of them think I'm nuts, I know, and even Rachel grows weary of my obsession from time to time, especially when it creates three loads of dishes. No problem, really, because Hungry In Hogtown has plugged me into a world of people who are crazy about food too.
- She may be more obsessed with food than yours truly;
- She must not sleep, because I know of no other way to produce a post each day for twelve consecutive days (which she somehow did from March 12 to March 23, inclusive).
Two of those posts were devoted to pink peppercorns, and one of them really got my attention. Béa hinted at the possibility of using the pink peppercorns in a dessert, which led her to make the following comment:
I however truly look forward to trying the seeds in sweet preparations. As a matter of fact, I have an idea. What about asking Rob? He surely would have great ideas for this kind of chemistry since he is so magnificently experimental with alternative flavors in his kitchen laboratory! Let’s ask him what he thinks!
"Magnificently experimental," moi? You're obviously not familiar with my vanilla mucus, or you might think otherwise. As for my "kitchen laboratory," well, it's actually an apartment kitchen with only a few feet of available counter space.
Flattery will get you everywhere with me, however, so off I went looking for ways to justify Béa's praise.
Pink peppercorns are not a very common ingredient (in Toronto, you can buy them at Lively Life International Fine Foods in the St. Lawrence Market), and I've only ever tasted them once in a sweet preparation, a 52% dark chocolate and pink peppercorn bar by Dolfin. The combination was good, which should come as no surprise given that the earliest preparations of chocolate, by the Maya and Aztec peoples, included spice in the form of chillis. For a modern twist on the oldest of chocolate preparations, I highly recommend Soma's Mayan hot chocolate (read my post here).
I toyed with the idea of making a dark chocolate ice cream with pink peppercorns. I know the two flavours work well together, and I think the spicy heat and freezing cold contrast would be interesting, but I just didn't feel like ice cream. So I turned to Plan B: El Bulli 1998-2002, and sure enough I found a recipe that looked both easy to assemble and delicious, white chocolate and fennel leaf with pink pepper.
The recipe is so simple a child could make it in five minutes: arrange small fennel leaves on a transparent sheet and add lightly crushed pepper. In a small Ziploc bag, heat approximately 100 grams of white chocolate in the microwave until is just melted. When just melted, snip off a corner of the Ziploc to make it a pastry bag. Squeeze white chocolate over each leaf, then cover with another transparent sheet and press until "it is like a fossil." Chill.
Like white chocolate and caviar, this unconventional flavour combination is surprisingly good. I find pink peppercorns to have not only a mild heat, but a subtle citrus flavour too, which complements the anise flavour of the fennel. The only part of this preparation I didn't enjoy is the texture of the fennel fronds, which seem somewhat tough and chewy.
My only problem now is what to do with the remaining pink peppercorns. Come summer, I'm going to experiment with the chocolate and pink peppercorn ice cream, and there is another El Bulli recipe I could try. Of course, Béa did promise another dish, so I think I'm going to have to wait and see what inspiration her next preparation provides.