Saturday, 23 June 2012

ADVENTURES IN FLAVOUR

This week I went to an event at Waterstones in Richmond (the manager is a good friend of mine and a regular at my dinner table) with Niki Segnit, the author of The Flavour Thesaurus, a wonderful book for true foodies and real cooks, offering a treasure-trove of flavour pairings, many well known, others less so and more unusual. (I have blogged about the book before, soon after I received it as a gift.) It follows the format of the traditional Roget's Thesaurus, and, like the thesaurus, flavours are grouped in categories, or 'flavour themes', such as "grassy", "earthy", "citrus", "marine",  and so forth.

The event at Waterstones was an opportunity to meet the author and discover how she came to research and write the book, together with the chance to explore some flavour pairings. In her preamble, Niki Segnit explained that her motivation for writing the book was the distinct lack of any cook book or cook's reference book about flavour. In creating it, the author has produced a book which wittily combines solid food science with the aesthetics of taste and flavour. Each flavour is accompanied by a mini essay and there are some 200 recipes or suggestions embedded in the text. The writing is lively, entertaining, intelligent: it steers clear of much of the traditional vocabulary and clichés found in food writing, which succeeds in bringing the flavours to life, and through her text, Niki Segnit displays a real excitement and love for food.

Our "tasting plate" for the evening consisted of
  • 2 strawberries
  • 2 baby plum tomatoes
  • Some fresh basil leaves
  • A square of Lindt dark chocolate with seasalt
  • An apricot stuffed with goat's cheese
  • A cube of goat's cheese with a sprig of mint
  • A small cake
  • Another cube of cake with a very orange crumb
  • A Marks & Spencer 'Colin Caterpillar' jelly sweet (my son's face lit up when he saw this: even at 14 he still likes these cola-flavoured confections!)
Over the course of talk, Niki invited us to try the items on the plate and to describe the flavours as we encountered them. The two cakes turned out to be Brazilian specialities, a coconut and parmesan queijadinha, and a Bolo de Cenouro Com Cobertura de Chocolate, a carrot cake made with carrot puree (instead of grated carrot). Its rather bland flavour is offset by the chocolate icing which is poured over it, in the manner of a lemon drizzle cake. 

I enjoyed all the little morsels we sampled, especially the chocolate with seasalt (and I'm not normally a fan of very dark chocolate), but the real highlight for me was the queijadinha. When told the ingredients one might recoil a little - cheese in a sweet cake? But in fact the cheese flavour is very subtle, and you tend to notice it when you first bite into the cake. After that, the coconut sweetness takes over. And if you think about it, we use cheese in the classic baked cheesecake. Parmesan has a sweetness which works well in this recipe. The cakes have a chewy texture redolent of macaroons. I decided I had to make these cakes. And so I did.....

Meanwhile, after the tasting, the author signed copies of her book. When I spoke to her, I told her that her analogy of the cook combining flavours with the musician combining sounds was a perfect description, and that the thing I liked most about the book, apart from the beautiful writing, was that it has no pictures! As Niki said, "a proper cook doesn't need pictures!".

Luckily for me, lots of other people at the Waterstones event clearly enjoyed the queijadinha, and Niki kindly posted the recipe on her website. Please note the ingredients are given in American cup measurements.


Coconut and parmesan queijadinha

Oven 180°C

You will need a greased mini-muffin tray (having said that, I used a standard-sized muffin tray and the cakes turned out beautifully!)

1 can of condensed milk
1 cup of unsweetened desiccated coconut
1/2 cup grated Parmesan (or Manchego) cheese
2 egg yolks
1 tbsp caster sugar
2 tbsp plain flour

Mix everything together, pour the batter into greased mini-muffin trays, and bake at 180°C for 15-18 mins until golden brown and the tops start to crack. Makes 28.
 
Note that the cup is the standard American measuring cup. If you don’t have one, use a measuring jug. 1 cup = 240ml.

I'm going to serve my queijadinha with strawberries steeped in rosewater and a big dollop of creme fraiche.

A quick Google search turned up a recipe for the Brazlian carrot cake as well

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