A couple of the more frustrating parts about cooking from the Alinea cookbook is that sometimes I put a lot of work and money into a dish and either 1) the individual component recipes produce way more than I need for the final product, resulting in a lot of stuff being thrown in the trash, or 2) I just can’t quite master one part of the dish and end up with only one or two presentable servings. I suffered both of these unfortunate events with Sweet Potato.
What we have here is a cinnamon skewer with a fried, non-descript, ball at the end. Inside that fried ball is gooey sweet potato, bourbon, and brown sugar candy. The cinnamon stick is lit at the end briefly before serving so you get the scent of cinnamon as you eat.
Brown Sugar Candy
I started with the brown sugar candy a few days ago. I began by blending some yellow pectin into water. Then I added some sugar and citric acid and brought it to a boil. Once it was boiling, I added some Trimoline, corn syrup (the book calls for glucose, but corn syrup hasn’t made a difference yet), and the brown sugar and I brought it 230 degrees. Finally I set it into a pan to cool down and set.
One thing I’ve learned in the process of working with these recipes is to be extremely patient and attentive when making any sort of candy. When sugar reaches certain temperatures, it goes through some sort of chemical change that I do have the education to adequately explain. But when it’s going through those changes, the temperature will not rise again until it’s “ready.” At the beginning, I thought I had done something wrong or that my thermometer was broke as I sat there just waiting for the temperature to rise again to the degree I needed. I fretted about the possibility that I was overcooking the sugar. Now I know that I just need to wait a little longer and appreciate how cool sugar looks when it’s boiling.
Two Technical Notes: 1) The book is extremely vague when it says “yellow pectin.” Research indicates this term is not even widely used. I read somewhere that yellow pectin is the stuff you can find at the store, but I didn’t find that advice helpful because I know that most pectins sold at the grocery store have varying additives in them. I did some more research and concluded that I should be using slow set high methoxyl pectin. Seemed to work well here. 2) Trimoline is an invert sugar syrup readily available in mass quantities to professional bakers and chefs, but not to lay people such as myself. I found a recipe that seemed to do the trick well. I would advise against buying the $20+ “home chef” tubs that you can find in some online stores and follow that recipe instead.
Sweet Potato Gel
Next, I worked on the sweet potato. I peeled two sweet potatoes and sliced them to 1/2″ pieces. I then cooked them in heavy cream until they were tender. I strained the potatoes, reserving the cream, and pureed the potatoes in the blender with a little bit of the reserved cream. Finally, I mixed in a lot of gelatin, strained the puree again to make sure it was really smooth, and poured it into a pan to set and cool.
Lastly, I made the bourbon gel. This was the easiest part. I only had to mix the bourbon with gellan gum, bring it to a simmer for a bit, and then let it set at room temperature. I didn’t realize it until I was done, but I essentially made bourbon jello shots (and had a lot left over.)
Technical Note: The book calls for Kelcogel JJ gellan gum. As far as I can tell, this particular variety of gellan gum is no longer made, but was a mix of low acyl gellan gum and high acyl gellan gum. I ended up buying each and mixing them together in equal quantities. This worked.
Finally, it was time to put this all together. The book calls for Ceylon cinnamon sticks. I bought some of these but they were far to delicate, once trimmed down, to support the component parts. Instead, I used some generic cassia cinnamon sticks.
I thread my gels onto the cinnamon sticks, starting with the sweet potato, followed by the bourbon and brown sugar.
To cook them, I heated some canola oil. I dredged each skewer in flour and dipped them into a batter made with sparkling water, flour, cornstrach, and baking powder. This is where stuff started to fall apart a little. As you can see, I started out with 6 skewers, but ended up with only three presentable ones. I learned that it is very important to make sure that flour covers the entire edible part before dipping into the batter, or else the sweet potato will melt and ooze out of any uncovered part. I also learned that if your skewers aren’t long enough, you’ll risk burning yourself over the hot oil. And unfortunately, the brown sugar candy was prone the falling off as I dredged the skewers in flour and dipped them in the batter. So in the end, I only had 3 good servings (one of which was missing the brown sugar candy and another which had sweet potato oozing out of the underside, to be completely honest.)
All in all, I enjoyed making this. I know if I tried it again, I would do better since I know now what not to do. And the skewers that did survive the cooking process were very good (even though I forgot to season them with brown sugar and salt before eating).