Some like it hot
Recently an inter-nationally-acclaimed restaurant known for its delicate duck preparations and aromatic broths opened shop in Mumbai. While the entire menu at Hakkasan boasted of authentic and modern Cantonese preparations, I was intrigued by the words masala chai in there.
In one of the desserts served at this Michelin star restaurant brand, a diminutive amount of Indian chai masala is used to flavour a granite preparation. This brown-green ice is served with a dense, dark chocolate mousse and together they make a match like fig and feta. While one has a deep, gooey texture, the other is mild, aromatic and gently flavoured. Both working to elevate a conventional dessert experience.
And this is just one such example. A few years ago, it started with Bachelor’s at Chowpatty, the hole in the wall place that created a sensation with its green chilli ice-cream. The spicy, milky ice-cream had a pleasing taste of its own and worked well with those who were willing to go beyond classic favourites.
While earlier, bakers went for a pinch of cinnamon to flavour hot chocolate or nutmeg for cakes, today’s chefs are daring with experimental flavours such as star anise, jalapenos, cumin, chillies, cloves and ginger. “Spiced desserts work well because zingy ingredients help add a new dimension to classic dessert preparations,” says Chef Vikas Bagul from the Gourmet Shoppe at The Oberoi, Mumbai. He admits that spices gently flavour the dessert, without taking away the essence of sweetness.
The black pepper cheesecake available at his bakery is an ideal example of one such dessert. The baked cake has generous amounts of cream cheese and the flavouring of pepper is mild and often goes unnoticed. Except for the visual, black specs of freshly pounded peppercorns, the dessert has a clear and creamy taste. “While the spice provides a flash of flavour, it lets the cheese be the ultimate hero of the dish,” explains Chef Bagul.
Since more and more people are open to experimenting, desserts with spices are fast replacing the predictable flavours such as vanilla, butterscotch, chocolate and mint. The chilli and chocolate macaroon from the Worli-based bakery Le 15 Patisserie is one such example. The almond powder cookies flavoured with hot chillies were so well received that the orders kept pouring in. “Chillies work fantastically with chocolate,” says the 24-year-old owner Pooja Dhingra.
Dhingra recently launched a collection of spiced macaroons as part of her festive desserts. To season these daringly flavoured macaroons with familiarity, she paired them with conventional dessert clichés –cinnamon and white chocolate, star anise and orange, clove and coffee, cardamom and milk chocolate, chocolate and sea salt were some of the popular combinations.
While some stick to the predictable cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg, there are few such as Chef Bagul, who innovate with more complex flavours such as mace-hinted banana crème brulee, jasmine tea and candied ginger panna cotta and cumin flavoured brownie. “For these intricate flavours to turn out right, the trick is to get your ratios right,” informs Chef Bagul.
For some bakers like Chef Nicholas Fernandes, from Hyatt Regency Mumbai there is no such thing as a standard ratio. “For some preparations like cherry compote, one pinch of cinnamon is enough. But for a rosemary ice-cream, at least 150 gm of rosemary is needed to flavour the dessert well,” says the chef who loves experimenting with star anise, clove, peppercorn and chai patti. “It is important to understand that each spice has its own distinct taste, flavour and aroma. Too much or too little can have a disastrous effect or none at all,” says Chef Fernandes.
While hot, abundantly spiced desserts are pleasing the taste buds of many, I personally adore gently flavoured treats. Take for example the balsamic ice-cream at 212 Bar and Grill or the jalapeno brownie at Indigo. These desserts provide a beautiful touch-and-go experience, hard to extract out of strong flavours that linger.
For beginners not too keen on experimenting, Chef Renji Raju from Ziya at the Oberoi Mumbai, has created a dish called the chocolate palette with five desserts ranging from mildly-spiced and gently-textured, to strong with lingering flavours. “The palette has a cold kulfi, kheer and pannacotta for a start-up. It also has hot, crunchy chocolate samosa, scented paan chutney and cumin brownie, that completes the sweet and spiced experience,” says Chef Raju.
Ginger chocolate truffle
Ingredients: 200 gm dark chocolate for filling (finely chopped); 10 ml liquid glucose; 90 ml fresh cream; 60 gm butter; 5 gm fresh ginger (crushed); 50 gm candied ginger (finely chopped); 200 gm dark chocolate for coating; 30 gm cocoa powder for dusting.
Method for the filling: In a pan boil cream and add glucose and ginger to it. Mix well and remove from fire. Strain this mixture to get rid of the fresh ginger bits and add in the chopped chocolate. Gently add butter to this and mix all the elements together. Once you get a smooth-textured batter, transfer it in a tray and let it cool until it comes down to normal room temperature. With the help of a spoon scrape some amount of chocolate (approximately 15 gm) and place a tiny piece of candied ginger in it. Make small rounds of this semi-molten chocolate and keep aside.
Method for the coating: Melt the leftover dark chocolate in a double boiler and remove from fire. Once it gets cool, dip the prepared chocolate and ginger balls in it and dust it with cocoa powder. Let it rest on some butter paper until completely cool and store in a cool-dry place.
(Recipe by Chef Nicholas Fernandes, from Hyatt Regency Mumbai.)
Roasted cumin and chocolate fudge
Ingredients: 1 gm roasted cumin; 40 gm bitter chocolate (finely chopped); 100 gm cream; 30 gm egg white; 17 gm castor sugar.
Method: Line a soufflé mould and pre-heat the oven to 220 degrees. Mix the cumin with cream and bitter chocolate. In another bowl beat the egg whites and castor sugar together until stiff peaks appear on the surface. Fold the egg white into the chocolate mixture and keep aside. Pour this mixture into the moulds, until the mould is half-full. Bake the batter for 17 minutes and serve hot with vanilla ice cream.
(Recipe by Chef Vikas Bagul, from the Oberoi Hotels, Mumbai.)