Tag Archive for cherry

Things to consider before becoming a full-time professional dairy product reviewer

Go get a nice little spoonful of the bitter compound 6-n-propylthiouracil. Taste it. Can’t taste it? Ok, listen to me — never become a writer. Nip that in the bud right now.

Or at least never write about dairy products. Just… do us all a favour and… don’t. The world doesn’t need your rigid, prosaic descriptions of dairy products.

Maybe you’re one of those rare people who doesn’t have 6-n-propylthiouracil in their household or workplace chemical cupboard. If so, go to the fridge. Get out the cream cheese. (Don’t you dare tell me you don’t have 6-n-propylthiouracil or cream cheese. That is unfathomable and disturbing.) Eat a little piece of it and think carefully. Now, write a description of it. What’s important to you about it? What does it look like? What tastes and flavours can you pick up? What’s the texture like? Write it down on a piece of paper, hand it to me, and I’ll read it and shake my head disapprovingly if you’ve said anything as naff as “sweet”, “sour” or “milky”. Such an unimaginative and uninspired attempt at imagery… it could only have been done by a person whose pretty poor at tasting 6-n-propylthiouracil. Shame on you.

As I mentioned in the previous post, the different levels of sensitivity people have to bitter tastes can be associated with different behaviours. People who have greater sensitivity to bitter chemicals such as phenylthiocarbamine and 6-n-propylthiouracil (PROP) may perceive food differently, perhaps finding bitter foods less palatable (depending on the bitter compounds in the food, the intensity of the bitterness, and so on), which is a bit of a worry if the bitter foods are also healthy ones. However, it looks like the gene variant combination that bitter tasters have compared to non-tasters might also be associated with other differences in food perception. Fat content seems to be one of those, with research finding that people who are good at tasting bitterness also seem to be pretty good at discerning fat content and creaminess in foods. And they’re better at describing these things too. (And our fingers continue to hover over the button to purchase bitter taste phenotype kits so we can finally figure out how all of this stuff applies to us…)

Participants in a study by Kirkmeyer and Tepper evaluated various dairy products (such as cream cheese, condensed milk, sour cream, milk, ice-cream and yoghurt) and described each of the products in terms of appearance, taste/flavour and texture. A rather interesting pattern became evident once the participants were sorted according to their gene variant combination (genotype) for tasting the bitterness of PROP.

Non-tasters used very simple terms and a limited vocabulary — products were described in terms of being sour or sweet or milky; all the more basic and obvious descriptors for something like a dairy product. PROP tasters, however, used a much more varied lexicon, favouring descriptors such as “rich, buttery, creamy, light, grainy, gritty and sandy” in their evaluations. When comparing the descriptors in terms of whether they describe the sweet-sour dimension of the products taste or its flavour-texture dimension, it became apparent that tasters tended to place more emphasis on the flavour-texture dimension rather than the sweet-sour dimension, whereas non-tasters gave flavour-texture and sweet-sour equal importance.

This tells us that maybe bitter tasters judge creaminess and fat content using different cues to non-tasters, more related to the texture and the sensation of the food in the mouth. A few studies have found that tasters (or at least supertasters) are better at judging the fat content or creaminess of a liquid dairy product than non-tasters, so if they are using different cues, then they’re possibly the more accurate ones to use. But why are people who are good at tasting a particular bitter chemical better at judging texture?

Maybe the papillae, the tiny little lumpy structures on the tongue, some of which harbour taste-buds. PROP supertasters tend to have a greater density of tongue papillae, allowing perhaps for a more sensitive and nuanced perception of whatever’s on the tongue. So somehow, maybe the PROP gene is associated with the gene/s for papillae formation and expression.

The upshot of all of this is that it could be interpreted from a health perspective. Some research results suggest that not only are PROP tasters better at judging the fat content and creaminess of food, but that they also have a preference for the higher-fat, creamier food because, well, they can tell the difference. Give them low-fat ice-cream and they can tell it’s not as enjoyable to their energy-craving brain as full-fat ice-cream, but give the low-fat ice-cream to non-tasters and maybe they don’t care so much. Is this genuinely the case? And if so, does it affect long-term food intake and healthiness? Unfortunately, not much research has looked at whether these potential health concerns are, well, actual health concerns that we should be concerned about. All in good time, though.

In the meantime, PROP non-tasters: not the best dairy product reviewers.

In the mood for dairy, then? There’s plenty of cream on these chinotto black forest cupcakes. Yep, chinotto. This is, like, the flavour combination of the year for me. I don’t even like chinotto that much by itself, but paired with chocolate, it could not be more flawless. A cursory Google search reveals no other mentions of the chinotto-chocolate — CHINOCOLATE, if you will — combination, but maybe I can start a trend. You will try it, yes?

And you don’t have to go with my elaborate Russian Constructivism-inspired cake decoration if you really don’t want to. I don’t have the time to hunt you down if you don’t do it.

Read on for the recipe for chinotto black forest cupcakes with whipped cream and chocolate cherry truffles.

White chocolate kirsch mousse with pomegranate and cherry caviar

Chris and I finally got our hands on some calcium chloride (intended for food purposes rather than, you know, medical or aquarium purposes) so we can now do proper normal spherification instead of just reverse spherification!

With reverse spherification, the sodium alginate goes into solution in the bath and you put xanthan gum and calcium gluconolactate in the liquid you’re making into spheres and drop it into the bath. With non-reverse spherification, the sodium alginate goes into the liquid instead, and the bath is a solution of calcium chloride. Either way, calcium has to react with the sodium alginate to cause the gelling. Which method you use depends on factors such as the pH of the liquid (e.g. reverse spherification is better for acidic liquids).

Unfortunately, I didn’t realise how acidic pomegranate juice is when I decided to go with non-reverse spherification. It has a pH of about 3.2, so dropping it into the calcium chloride bath after it had been blended with sodium alginate resulted in the drops dissipating almost completely. Realising this must be the acid component, I added some sodium bicarbonate to neutralise the liquid a bit, and it then worked perfectly. Alas, of course this increase in pH also unfortunately took away most of the tartness of the pomegranate juice, which I had chosen for its tartness so it would offset the sweetness of the white chocolate. Never mind, I’ll just try reverse spherification for pomegranate in the future.

If you don’t have the equipment and ingredients for spherificating the pomegranate juice, the easiest substitute in this recipe would just be to add pomegranate seeds instead of the pomegranate juice spheres. Recipes after the cut.

Grenadine & cherry velvet cupcakes

This is a variation of my beloved red velvet cupcakes suggested by Christina who tried a cherry red velvet cupcake (a Halloween vampire-themed one, no less) and reported that “it blew my fricking mind”, even in spite of it being vampire-themed which of course would have earned a wry eyebrow-raise from me.

These cupcakes are supposed to contain actual grenadine, but being lazy in very specific ways, I was willing to spend hours devising this recipe and baking and decorating these cupcakes but was not willing to spend any time looking for a shop that actually sold grenadine. Edit: I unintentionally found a shop that sold grenadine less than 24 hours after actually needing the grenadine. So I made my own approximation just using pomegranate juice, but if you have actual grenadine, go ahead and use it. With my homemade grenadine, the cupcakes are a bit tarter than they otherwise would be, but that’s probably a virtue in a recipe that has so much sugar. Recipe after the cut.

Black Forest post-birthday cupcakes

Had these on the day after my birthday; I had intended them to be for my birthday but didn’t have the time on my birthday or on the day before to finish assembling them. They are another take on the Black Forest gâteau, but this time I just made dark chocolate and buttermilk cupcakes according to my own specifications (including some kirsch), filled them with cherry jam, and topped them with white chocolate kirsch mousse.

The mousse is a Heston Blumenthal recipe, part of his rather elaborate Black Forest gâteau, with its (I kid you not) 62 individual ingredients. If you’re motivated you can use just two of the 62 ingredients (cocoa butter and 33% cocoa solids Valrhona Tanariva milk chocolate) to make aerated chocolate in a vacuum bag – just watch the whole thing in this video, it’s worth it. Anyway, the white chocolate kirsch mousse is fantastic, and I got the recipe out of the enjoyably hefty The Big Fat Duck Cookbook. Mousse recipe below the cut.