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March 30, 2006

Béa-tified: El Bulli's white chocolate and fennel leaf with pink peppercorns

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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.

Béa, from La Tartine Gourmande, is one of those people.  Having viewed the creativity of her dishes, not to mention her prodigious output, I've come to two conclusions:

  1. She may be more obsessed with food than yours truly;
  2. 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.

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Comments

Bea at La Tartine Gourmande

Ahahah, Rob! How can you "guess" me so well? ;-) Food obsessed YES. Sleep deprived YES, just because I want to cook and cook and cook! Do you think I am sick?

And here you were, magnificently experimental and with what results! I will definitely continue to flatter you to get that! It looks like little trees to me. So pretty! So, now, can I have some? Because all this work was just so that you send me something!

And yes as promised, the other dish with pink peppercorn is made, digested and I just have to post it. It is even worth than you mentioned, I have a backlog of posts. My hubbie even suggested I start another blog under another name, so that people don't think I am really nuts. But I guess it is too late, I am already discovered!!

And my list of things to make keeps growing. See I cannot even stop writing now......
Ask me to stop!

Thank you!! It looks great! You made my day.

PS: I keep using my pink peppercorns!

Bron

These are just too gorgeous!
A simply fantastic idea!!
I love it!!
I love you people!!
I'm totally nuts about food too!! (and exclamation marks obviously!!) Every surface of my home is covered in food magazines, recipe books...
I feel almost overloaded with inspiration since finding so many excellent blogs dedicated to food, my diary is chocker full of "must-makes" everyday it gets added to... how I wish I had more time, more money and more mouths to feed...hehehe
I have zillions of photos of my own ideas to post about too, I constantly struggle to find the time to write about them and post them up though... perhaps I too shouldn't sleep so much? perhaps I shouldn't read so many blogs, magazines, books...?
Oh dear I think I need a lie down... this enthusiasm for food is making my head spin!!


Ivonne

Rob,

Both Bea and Bron summarized what I wanted to say so well!

This is creativity and execution and food love at its finest.

I think the only choice here is for you to become the brilliant food blogging general manager of the Leafs whose finger is hopefully getting better!

:o)

rob

Béa, I certainly don't think your sick, because if I did, that would mean I'm sick too. Does your husband realize how lucky he is? Does he ever actually get to cook?

Bron, misery loves company. I completely understand the "overloaded" feeling. Rachel brought home a Gourmet from the library the other day, and, after looking at just two pages, I had found two "must try" recipes.

Ivonne, my finger is doing very well, thanks. As much as I love the Leafs, I think I should stick to one insane passion at a time.

linda

Looks great! I'm curious about the taste combination...
Did I miss it or didn't you temper your chocolate ;) just kidding!

McAuliflower

I'm looking forward to the ice cream experiments. Are you familiar with the music group Cibo Matto? They hav e song that purrs about 'white pepper ice cream'... has been on my to-do list for years! :)

Peppercorn infused vodka is calling out to me. It could prove usefull in so many ways: kick-butt cocktails, and serve as a easy way to add peppercorn flavor in a liquid application (Mmmm ganache? Cotton candy?).

Fun!

Michelle

These really are gorgeous, Rob. You never cease to amaze! And Bea's comments were, of course, very merited. It certainly is quite nice to have found an entire community of people as crazily obsessed with food as we are - especially because it seems those in my immediate surroundings don't understand why I'll go on forever about a new ingredient I've heard of or (annoyingly, I imagine) ask them every day what they had for dinner, lunch, breakfast...

They have magazines at the libary too?!! I must go back!!! Have a wonderful weekend, you two!

MM

Holy cow, mate! That is just the prettiest little things ever! I'm not a white chocolate fan but I would give that a try just because it's so darn pretty!

And yes, I am food obsessed too. Not having the time to cook is killing me!

verniciousknids

They look gorgeous and delicious too. An inspired combination of flavours!

Pille

Most interesting! I'm not a great fan of fennel (whereas I absolutely love its lookalike, dill), but combining it with white chocolate and pink peppercorns might just do the trick for me:)

sam

If you are fan of pink pepper, besure to visit foodie NYC too who has an obseesion with PPC even to match the lovely Bea's.
http://blog.foodienyc.com/2006/02/vele_pink_peppe.html

These white chocolates look amazing and sound so simple. Now explain to me why anyone would want to go to the bother of booking El Bulli for dinner when they could dine at Bea's or Bron's or in Hogtown?! huh?

thebizofknowledge

I stumbled across your blog while I was doing some online research. I have to admit that I've never even heard of pink peppercorns, and I can't imagine them in a sweet concoction, but if I see them sometime in the market, I may just give them a try. I'm adventurous!

tbtam

Gorgeous!!!

roux

Just got pointed at this ancient post from Metafilter. Anyway, if you're still into peppercorns? Try making a creme anglaise sweetened with maple syrup infused with Szechuan peppercorns. It's a recipe from school that we do for special events.

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