9/29/2009

TGRWT #19: Tomato and Black Tea


I promised you some real science this time, and well, you will get it but not really in the way I originally intended. I had something else in mind, but deadlines are deadlines. And October 1st is the deadline for monthly cooking challenge TGRWT #19: Tomato and Black Tea hosted by Pablo at Medellitin. TGRWT (They Go Really Well Together) was initiated by Dr. Martin Lersch, a chemist with an interest in finding new and fascinating flavor combinations based on "the hypothesis that if two foods have one or more key odorants in common it might very well be that they go well together and perhaps even compliment each other." Essentially this stems from the fact that an estimated 80% of a given tasting experience comes from odor. Read more about pairing by odor on Martin's blog here.

I decided to try my hand at this month's TGRWT, tomato and black tea. Not an easy combination of flavors, I would say, since I've never heard of any dish combining the two. Actually I have to admit that I never had a sweet or savory dish that used black tea at all, except tapioca milk tea which doesn't count as a dish really. So to start with, I decided I wanted to do a sweet dish, and in particular a souffle for a couple reasons. For one, a souffle is a bit of a "blank slate" similar to ice cream where one can infuse almost any flavor, and souffles are even more versatile since savory flavors are readily accepted. And second, I've only made one souffle in my life--at a cooking class with my sister, where all 20 or so of the students' chocolate souffles fell--so why not take on a new challenge? Lastly, on the first episode of the show After Hours with Daniel, Daniel Boulud serves this unbelievable-looking, super-tall green tea souffle for dessert. Green tea... black tea souffle?


Upon searching online, I found two recipes from which to base the souffle off of: this jasmine tea one by Ming Tsai and, of course, one by Daniel himself. I decided to leave the black tea flavor largely untouched in the souffle (just a tiny bit of vanilla), and used tomato and plum in the caramelized sauce.

Black Tea Souffle with Caramelized Tomato-Plum Sauce

For the sauce
2 plums, peeled
4 tomatoes on the vine
4 Tbsp sugar
1/2 Tbsp butter

For the souffle
2 Tbsp black tea
1/4 c + 1 Tbsp heavy cream
3 Tbsp whole milk
Splash of vanilla extract
2 eggs, separated
2 Tbsp sugar, plus extra for dusting the ramekins
Butter to grease the ramekins
  1. Peel plums and blanch tomatoes to peel them, by plunging in boiling water for a several seconds (until you start to see splits in the skin). Cut both plums and tomatoes into medium-sized pieces, then puree with blender.

  2. For the sauce, melt butter over medium heat. Add sugar spoonful by spoonful and stir, waiting for each to melt before adding the next. Then add half of puree, wait for sugar to melt once more, and add remainder. Let reduce by about half, then take off of heat and set aside.
  3. In a small saucepan, heat cream, milk, vanilla and tea to a simmer. Then take off of heat and let infuse for about 20 minutes. Then strain mixture, add 1 Tbsp sugar, and put back on medium-low heat.
  4. Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, whisk yolks until pale yellow. Add a ladle of hot cream mixture very slowly into yolks while continuing to whisk. Then add yolks and cream to saucepan and keep stirring over low heat. Mixture should thicken in a few minutes, then refrigerate for about an hour.
  5. Preheat oven to 375 degrees, making sure the rack is at the bottom. Place a baking sheet in the oven. Then take egg whites and whisk until glossy. It should form stiff peaks when you remove your whisk from the bowl. Use a spatula to combine the egg whites scoop by scoop into the cold cream mixture, making sure they form a fully homogeneous mixture, but do not overmix.
  6. Butter your ramekins and dust the insides and rims with sugar. Carefully scoop your mixture into the ramekins up to the rims. Bake on lower rack for 15 minutes. They should rise, but with firm tops and jiggly centers.
  7. Warm up the sauce, and serve with the souffles.

First, the good news: The souffles tasted really good (pretty much like tapioca milk tea in a warm and fluffy form), and so did the sauce (tartness of the plum, sweetness of the tomato). And did TGRWT? Overall, I thought this was an eccentric but successful pairing. When I first smelled the tomato and black tea together, I thought it made sense--it reminded me almost of a tomato and herb combination. Implementing it was more difficult, but nonetheless, I thought the bold and earthy black tea was offset well against the sweet and tart tomato-plum combo. The tomato here showed off its true "fruitiness", being treated as such in the puree, but it also kept its distinctive "heartiness" in the aftertaste.

The bad news: The souffles fell! Sadness all around:


I tried to mask it with the sauce here, but you can still see the sad wrinkles on top. Clearly, I failed to whisk the egg whites long enough on one hand (I did it by hand... arm cramps), and on the other, I didn't bake for long enough (I did 12 minutes instead of 15) for the outside to set. This isn't the end of the souffles for me, I'm determined to make them as good as Daniel!

Next up: A different way to cook a household staple!
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