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March 23, 2006

El Bulli's vanilla transparent fruit pâté is neither transparent nor fruit... discuss!


If you were going to make "vanilla transparent fruit pâté" and were handed the following list of ingredients, what would you think?

1000 g water
5 vanilla pods
100 g sugar
30 g NH pectin
150 g glucose
150 g inverted sugar
15 g citric acid

Perhaps you'd see the mixture of sugars, pectin, and acid and think jam, or maybe you'd wonder what inverted sugar is in the first place.  Would you question the need for five whole vanilla pods?

Me?  Well, I, for one, was trying to figure out where the hell the fruit was.  I re-read the recipe repeatedly.  Nope, still not there.  I checked the US and Spanish versions on the CD.  Not there either.

Then I did what I inevitably do when attempting a Ferran Adria preparation: I just take the plunge, and trust that the end product will, in fact, be a reasonable facsimile of the finished dish in the little photo attached to the recipe.

Guess what?  It worked again.  Somehow the three star Michelin chef was right, and the three ring circus amateur was chastened yet again.

What surprised me most was that, despite its total absence, the pâté has a remarkably fruity quality.  The first flavour is a bright, citrus tang, followed quickly by intense sweetness and a mild vanilla final note.  That citrus punch is indispensable, because it screams fruit so loudly that the palate assumes its presence.  Texturally, the pâté brought me back to the two cent, sugar-coated fruit jellies of my childhood, though the mouthfeel is silkier and less chewy.   It's a very clever, inventive way to mimic flavours and invoke taste memories, and the outcome is delicious.

As you may have noticed, this pâté is far from "transparent."  If anything, it's picked up the colour of the lightly caramelized sugar, and is somewhat opaque.  I don't think I did anything wrong, however, because the picture of this dish in El Bulli: 1998-2002 is far from transparent and because, when viewed in the proper light, the thousands of vanilla seeds emerge like constellations in a vast galaxy.

I've done a little research since making the pâté, and I've come to the realization that what I made was just a fancy sugar preserve, really.  According to On Food and Cooking, by Harold McGee, a sugar preserve contains three essential elements: sugar, pectin, and acid.  When heated to between 103-105C, enough water is evaporated from the mixture to create a gel.  The fruit pâté mixture is heated to 106C, so I suppose it contains a little less moisture, but that's really the only difference between the two.

Ferran Adria is not the only molecular gastronomist making this dish, though his team invented it.  A Google search led me to's review of Tapas Molecular Bar in Tokyo, which serves a vanilla pate de fruit that seems identical in taste and presentation to this one, even down to the sprinkling of sugar on the finished product.

Jelly.  Pâté.  Who am I to question the chefs at El Bulli?  This dish is candy, anyway, and candy is supposed to be fun.


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Bea at La Tartine Gourmande

Oh, again, you are being the food chemist with great creativity. When I read your post, I always feel I am going to witness some kind of magic happening. The truth is that it works!! Nice pyramid!


Well, it certainly does look fun! And amazing. I love hearing about your adventures. I still want to know where that fruit flavor comes from! I really need to get a copy of Harold McGee's book. As a scientist, I feel like it's sort of my civic food duty!


Being a ex-scientist myself, I love that you go to the effort of making these unusual creations. Thanks! And I've just added you to my list of blogs to read!


Oooo... I am actively looking for a pate de fruit recipe that doesn't use fruit pulp, and you were right under my nose this whole time? (I want to make Blood Orange pate de fruit using blood orange juice).

Can I ask for a touch of translation for whipping this up in the kitchen...
NH pectin: NH? I have universal pectin (calcium activated, with calcium provided)
glucose: ...umm, can honey substitute?
inverted sugar: how much acid to granulated sugar?



Thanks for the vote of confidence, Bea. I'm glad you anticipate magic, because I always anticipate disaster before preparing these recipes.

Michelle, On Food and Cooking is indispensable if you want to start experimenting with recipes. As for the fruit flavour, I think that comes largely from the citric acid and pectin -- many fruits contain large amounts of both, so I'm sure they're readily recognizable to the palate.

Thank you very much for adding us to your blogroll, Cin, we're flattered. By the way, is it just me, or are a lot of food bloggers (ex-) scientists?

McAuliflower, you've got me thinking and researching. Here's a link that should help you make inverted sugar:

Glucose substitution is very, very tricky. According to McGee, honey is 31% glucose, 38% fructose, 17% water, and other components, including minerals and acids. That means it will likely caramelize at a far lower temperature (fructose caramelizes at only 110C, glucose at 160C). That will affect "transparency."

There's also the question of acid in your mixture. Acid is essential to gelling, that I know; I'm unsure, however, of the correct proportion. Honey contains acid, so that will affect things, and blood orange juice is, obviously, very acid too.

Lastly, there's pectin. First off, oranges are a relatively high pectin fruit. How much of that is extracted with the juice, I don't know. I gather universal pectin is designed to be used in low or no-sugar mixtures, which this most certainly is not. How that will affect you, I just don't know. As for pectin NH, I think it's main benefit is that it can be reheated without losing any of its gelling power, but I'm not sure.

Does that help? If you'd like, I can point you to online resources where you can buy these ingredients. Just email me.


Don't know about others but I used to be involved in haemostasis & thrombosis research, developing anti-compounds. What about you? Chemist?


Would that I were a chemist, Cin, all this experimentation might be a lot easier. Believe it or not, my undergrad and grad studies are in history, though I'm currently a computer programmer. Let's just say I'm a bit of a polymath who likes to constantly learn new things.


thanks Rob- I'm looking to dive into this Friday/sat!


That looks killer and I want to try it ASAP, but contrary to what you say above, I'm pretty sure that vanilla beans, being the ripened ovary of the Vanilla orchid, are in fact fruits!


McAuliflower, how did it go?

Patrick, I have a feeling you're right. Damn!


Whislt on the topic of a paste, albeit a slight varation - would it be possible to make a paste with olive oil?

Where do i start?


I have all these ingredients at home. How do I make it? Do you just boil the ingredients, pour, and let set?


I too would like the instrutions for this recipe. I think the only thing I am missing is inverted sugar.


Hi there,

this is not a "fruit pâté" recipe, this is a "pâte de fruit" recipe. It is traditionally made with quince, a high-pectin fruit with a mild apple-pear flavor, you cook it slowly to a purée, then add the same weight of sugar (saccharose) and lemon juice to taste, slow cooking for a few more minutes, then you pour the mixture on a rectangular pane (about 2cm high) and let it dry for two days before cutting into small cubes.


This recipe looks fantastic. I've been searching for a clear pate de fruit recipe for years. Do you have a method to follow? I'm so excited to try this.

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