I mentioned gelatin sheets in the last post, without explaining too much. This is what they look like:
Gelatin sheets are used in the Alinea cookbook as opposed to gelatin powder because it’s easier to accurately measure the amount of gelatin that goes into a recipe component. All you have to do is place the sheet in ice cold water for about 5 minutes, the squeeze out the water from each sheet and add it to whatever component you’re making.
That is how they look once they’re ready to be added to something.
Anyway, on to this recipe. Simply, this is a blackberry sitting in tobacco cream with mint, long peppercorns, and smoked salt as a garnish.
The tobacco cream involves steeping a crushed cigar in cream and then mixing it with gelatin. I’ve seen a few Alinea dishes that included tobacco as an ingredient and as the chef would say, “We’re using the tobacco as an herb here.”
My shopping experience was rather amusing. I went to a cigar shop where the staff definitely care about making sure you get the exact cigar you want. As soon as I entered, I was escorted into the humidified room by a man who asked me, “What kind of cigars do you like?” I awkwardly responded, “I’m not actually looking to smoke a cigar, I need one for a rather unusual purpose. I need to cook something with one.” He says, “Really?! That’s awesome! Gimme a sec to switch my mind to flavor profiles. I don’t do that often. What are you cooking it with?”….Within a few minutes, he had shown me a variety of cigars and I ended up buying 3 of them. The one I actually used for the recipe was a Maxx Curve, which the cigar man described as having a chocolatey flavor.
I started with making the tobacco cream. Half and half, heavy cream, sugar, salt, and a broken cigar brought to a simmer. Easiest thing ever.
Once this mixture came to a simmer and the cigar steeped in the cream for about 20 minutes, I added the gelatin and poured a portion of it into a 9 x 13 inch pan. I was paranoid about my previous gelatin experience in the Green Almond recipe, so this time I decided to fit the pan with a bottom layer sturdier than plastic wrap. I cut a piece of cardboard down to fit inside my pan, placed a sheet of plastic wrap in the pan, topped it with the cardboard, and then added another sheet of plastic wrap. I figured that this way it would be easier to lift the gelatin out of the pan without risking it falling apart.
Check out my blackberries, out of the pan and in the tobacco cream gel.
Fixing up my pan with the cardboard worked perfectly, but it might not have been necessary because this gel was a lot firmer than the cucumber gel from before. All that was left was plating. Adding a mint leaf and a pinch of smoked salt and thai long pepper produced this final product:
I feel like this is my first great success out of the cookbook. The tobacco cream was phenomenal, despite the mouth tingling that occurs about 10 seconds after eating one of these. I could taste the subtle chocolate profile from the cigar in the cream itself. It paired excellently with the blackberry.
A final note about the garnishes: The recipe technically calls for bee balm flowers and leaves as opposed to mint, but does explicitly state that mint can replace the bee balm. I don’t think there’s any other recipe in the book that actually suggests a substitute ingredient, so I decided to remove the hassle of finding bee balm and capitalize on this singular opportunity. The smoked salt and long peppercorns were also pleasant surprises. Long peppercorns have a very pleasing spicy/sweet aroma that reminds me almost of some Indian curries. I’ll definitely be using them in non-Alinea recipes. The smoked salt was also very flavorful in its own right. I’m not a big salt fan, but I could see myself adding smoked salt to non-Alinea dishes that I make in the future.