Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Oriol Balaguer's Punta de Teno

I've been having a bit of a Spanish pastry moment lately. Aside from this big, beautiful book, I'm knee-deep in Oriol Balaguer's Dessert Cuisine. If Pierre Hermé is the Picasso of pastry, then Oriol Balaguer is surely the Dalí of desserts. Leafing through the pages handsomely bound by rotogravure covers and a silk-screened fabric spine is like entering an otherworldly realm, replete with surreal dreamscapes, dramatic vistas hewn not from stone and moss but butter, flour, sugar and eggs. In their forewords, both Francisco Torreblanca and Ferran Adrià (Chef Balaguer has had longstanding professional relationships with both) hail the book as an indispensable resource. After even a cursory glance, it's not hard to see why; his reformist methodology and extraordinary creativity have brilliantly bridged the traditional disconnect between shop patisserie and the restaurant dessert.

I was contributing dessert to a family lunch on Sunday. Originally, I had wanted to try one of his signature plated "dessert cuisine" spectaculars, to be finished à la minute and served immediately for optimum enjoyment of the various tastes, textures and temperatures at play. Well, the days prior flew by and I didn't quite get my act together enough for the fairly time-consuming mise en place. So I decided to choose a recipe from the cake chapter instead - in other words, something that could be virtually completed ahead of time, no eleventh hour faffing about required.

Named after Punta de Teno in Tenerife (many of the magnificent photographs in the book use volcanic rocks, sand and lava from Buena Vista del Norte as props), I found the presentation of this cake simply irresistible, as if sculpted by wind and wave into an organic form. More importantly, it boasted one of my favourite flavour combinations - chocolate and lemon.

First, make the chocolate bonbon cream flavoured with milk chocolate and hazelnut praline - this is layered with discs of light cocoa sponge cake soaked in an Earl Grey tea and lemon syrup and frozen in molds to form the centers of the individual cakes (or you can make one large cake instead). Next, make the lemon mousse with lemon juice, sugar, lemon zest, Italian meringue, gelatin and half-whipped cream. To assemble, spoon the lemon mousse into hemispherical molds (of a slightly greater diameter and depth than those used for the chocolate bonbon centers), insert the frozen and unmolded centers, fill to the top with more lemon mousse and level off the excess with an offset spatula. Once these are frozen, they're unmolded and ready for decoration - a stark white swathe of meringue applied in as abstractly chic an arc as you can muster, a dusting over the meringue with milk chocolate flakes, candied rose petals or caramelized beet flakes (I used cocoa nibs instead), and a sea glass-like shard of candy and milk chocolate shaving atop each cake. The whole shebang can be held in the fridge for up to 24 hours before serving.

I must say as I was making the various components and tasting them along the way, I became convinced I must have been sloppy with my measurements and grew increasingly dubious of the potential outcome. The bonbon cream was very rich and sweet, while the lemon mousse tasted like it could do with a touch more sugar. Right up to the point of actually tasting the completed cake, I psyched myself for the prospect of pulling an overnighter and starting from scratch on some other dessert. I took one tentative taste, and another, and then some, hesitating a little between each bite to surmise if it was really tasty or just rather novel. Before I knew it, I'd scarfed it down, making it safe to presume others may take pleasure in it too. I need not have fretted; the recipe had of course been precisely engineered for balance in the final reckoning. Ever eaten a dessert that made a terrific first impression but that you grew weary of half-way through? There's the law of diminishing marginal utility in action for you. Here, the two main elements not just combine harmoniously so no one flavour predominates, but the assembled dessert is one that's deliciously different enough for eating right down to the last crumb without breaching the sated threshold.


Blogger Chubbypanda said...

The inclusion of Earl Grey tea is what really sells that flavor combination to me. Lemon, bergamot, and chocolate sound heavenly.

- Chubbypanda

2:52 pm, November 01, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi J -

I was wondering if you make cakes for other people? If not, do you have any bakery suggestions. I'm looking for a birthday cake for 1-year old shaped like a cartoon character. Thank you in advance! Z

3:28 pm, November 01, 2006  
Blogger Ilva said...

Magnificent! Both taste and looks!

4:15 pm, November 01, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It was superb. And best of all, it wasn't too heavy. I loved it.

4:44 pm, November 01, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

J, this is so pretty. You are such a pastry masteress! Beautiful!

9:34 pm, November 01, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Looks absolutely amazing. I must admit, I've never had a dish that combined chocolate and lemon (I've had chocolate and orange but it never sits well with me), what I wouldn't give to be able to give this a try!

9:35 pm, November 01, 2006  
Blogger shaz said...

excellent pictures J!!

9:39 pm, November 01, 2006  
Blogger sooishi said...

it's really a piece of art
thank you for sharing :)

10:00 pm, November 01, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mmm....that looks delicious.

10:01 pm, November 01, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You take the best food photographs. I always feel like a total amateur at it when I look at your shots. Maybe it's because 99% of my pictures are taken under the flourescent lighting of the kitchen, but I don't always have time to walk out to the beach for a photo shoot.

10:31 pm, November 01, 2006  
Blogger Veron said...

beautiful photography as usual!

10:42 pm, November 01, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

By coincidence, I live just a couple of miles from Buenavista del Norte in Tenerife and can tell you that this desert is sold as a desert (and called Punta de Teno), at the Pastelería El Aderno in the town. Yours looks absolutely perfect.

12:58 am, November 02, 2006  
Blogger Julie said...

I don't know if I have ever had lemon and chocolate together like that. The funny thing is, I am going to make a cake this weekend, and I am trying to decide between a chocolate cake and a lemon cake. I have a feeling that if I combined the two, i would not have your spectacular results.

3:28 am, November 02, 2006  
Blogger Rachael Narins said...

That looks like an egg! Perfection!

6:07 am, November 02, 2006  
Blogger Robyn said...

That is absolutely stunning. Gorgeous photography.

8:39 am, November 02, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like this one! Surrealistic pastry indeed! And I am again awestruck that you would consider this a "less time-consuming" effort!

P.S. your other comments were too kind - I would consider you and Bea as far above my level:)

9:18 am, November 02, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh my god that is beautiful! at first glance it looks like a scoop of icecream. Oriol Balaguer's book sounds georgeous, surreal deserts yum!!!

9:27 am, November 02, 2006  
Blogger Parisbreakfasts said...

I'll take anything with lemon in it but this combo as you present it, is really outstanding J.
I love the abstract/ sculptural way you shot this dessert. Very delicate lighting too.

11:14 am, November 03, 2006  
Blogger Ashwini said...

I am sure the dessert must have been heavenly but we wouldnt have known it if your photos hadnt been so beautiful as well.
Great work J

5:20 am, November 04, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice work! I love the half crown of chocolate bits! Your desserts always have a quality of looking structurally impossible, but totally mesmerizing.

9:35 am, November 04, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

extraordinary, as always.

4:51 pm, November 04, 2006  
Blogger Brilynn said...

Beautiful presentation.

9:25 pm, November 04, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How cute. I thought it was ice-cream at first too!

10:17 pm, November 04, 2006  
Blogger *fanny* said...

Hi J,
I never thought myself as a fan of the chocolate-lemon combination but i think i'll be reconsidering that -now obsolete- position anytime soon.

Your entremet looks perfect. I love the use of earl grey and the beautiful meringue arc.

- fanny

6:12 pm, November 05, 2006  
Blogger Gustad said...

man, that sugar shard on the top looks like i can kill

10:54 pm, November 06, 2006  
Blogger Katherine said...

unrelated to this - but I had to write you as I'm sure you'd empathise. We are down to the last bit of a portion of jamon iberico bought last summer. After savouring a few slices today, the indescribably sweet yet fermented taste of cured meat made me want to re-read your jamon jamon post again. (I think this is one of your best posts btw) Your writing is evocative and captures the complexity and beauty of jamon's taste. thank you for such a great piece of writing.

10:01 am, November 07, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pardon me while I drool over your pictures... they are so beautiful!

4:17 pm, November 07, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi J, your creations just keep getting better and better! This one in particular looks like it belongs in a museum rather than on a plate. I love the windswept, impressionistic look, and my salivary glands go into overdrive just thinking about all that chocolate, hazelnut, lemon and earl grey cozying up in there...

4:06 am, November 14, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dearest Joycelyn - not just the gorgeous 'Dali' look, your description makes my mouth water - what an intriguing combination and I'm totally convinced that all the elements work wonderfully together. Thank you for being such an inspiration (and yet another book in my wish list... ;))

9:42 pm, December 03, 2006  
Blogger Blooming Iris said...

WOW! Your blog is so inspiring! It makes me want to get back in the kitchen again like I did in my college days. Beautiful photos, great writing, and obviously masterful baking skills. You are my new idol.

2:45 am, December 05, 2006  

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