Noma's 'Dessert of Flowers' has been haunting me, I haven't been able to stop thinking about it; perhaps it's something to do with craving for the spring. Though it feels as though spring is prematurely with us anyway - all kinds of things are putting out diffident flowers, there is alkanet blooming and I even saw a bramble blossom today.
I lifted the photo above from Julochka at The Domestic Sensualist, who presumably lifted it out of the book. (It's well worth visiting Ditte Isager's website though, for more of his photography - yes, OK, some of it is somewhat horrible lifestyle-porn, but much is also gorgeous and sumptuous and painterly; especially his photos based around food, like that for the Noma book, or the stuff for Copenhagen Food, or the page called French feast, or any of the things in the Meals section...)
The flower dessert is quite simple as Noma recipes go, no liquid nitrogen, refractometers or musk oxen involved, only two types of sorbet made from skyr and involving acetate film and pacojets but we can get round that. Oh, and teeny-tiny pink meringues hand piped and made with pickled rosehips. and something called 'thyme fluid gel' which involves agar-agar. But I think I've twigged (qv) that the idea is not that you try any of this at home, it's rather about an idea. The idea being translated for me into a longing to eat fairy food. So I made my own much simplified version, using what I could find in the garden and hedgerows in a mild dank January in Brittany. Oh, and in the fridge, freezer and cupboard as well, for the dairy and sugar-based bits.
I'm afraid I didn't stop to photograph it, on account of how the ice cream was melting. Instead I drew it from memory afterwards. It's an awful, infantile drawing, and the crinkly bits are because I had no fixative so wrapped it in plastic to avoid getting bits of pastel crayon on the scanner, but it will serve as a diagram, to which end I have numbered its parts.
- a small scoop of vanilla ice cream
- a scoop of very ordinary cheap plain yoghurt. I did follow a tip of theirs and strained it - no need to use muslin, just a nylon sieve and stand it over a bowl for ten minutes. It makes it much softer, thicker and less acid, and the whey you collect is oddly pleasant to drink, or could probably be used for something else.
- some little meringues bought from a shop in a packet with Christmas in mind and forgotten about in the cupboard.
- rose hip syrup (or gel, if you will). There are some hard rose hips on a shrub rose in the garden. I pared off some of the outside flesh and cooked it in a syrup - I used some quince syrup I made earlier but apple juice, concentrated or otherwise, would be good too - then I threw the whole hips in, but was careful not to let the itchy powder stuff loose. The shreds of rose hip flesh never softened (if they'd been rugosa hips at another time of year they would have, and the pulp could have been used, but these are evidently winter hardy ones and tougher characters), so I squeezed the nearly caramelised syrup through a bit of kitchen muslin. It really looked, and tasted, quite a bit like Delrosa syrup (remember that?), and was quite strongly flavoured from just a handful of hips. Rose hips are an interesting balance of rosy fragrance and apply fruitiness, I always think.
- Sweet sorrel sauce. Years go by and wild sorrel is such a ubiquitous commonplace on the roadsides here that I ignore and despise it as food (and it doesn't do to eat too much of it because of the high oxalic acid content), then occasionally I enjoy rediscovering it. Usually I add it to soup or make it into sauce for fish, but this time I wondered about using it as a sweet flavour, after all, it is not unlike tart apples and plum skins in taste. Here it's blended in with sugar syrup and swirled with some single cream, and very zingy it was. The problem I've never been able to get round is stopping it turning a muddy olive colour (and it's such a lovely emerald when it's fresh too) but it didn't look too bad with the other things. Both flavour and look were lifted with the addition of
- fennel, which keeps splitting fractally into smaller and smaller dainty feathery sprigs. A little aniseed taste goes a long way, for me, but was just a little, and it did look pretty.
- Now the flower bit. In the garden I was able to find a very fragrant white double petalled Winchester Cathedral rose, a carmine red floribunda with no perfume at all, but in bud and very crisp textured, and a few small single pale pink ones, name unknown. Mixed up and sprinkled over the plate. In addition I managed to find a very few
- scented geranium buds (the geraniums are still flourishing in the outside beds) and
- some rosemary buds and flowers. These gave a surprisingly woody, aromatic flavour, which nicely offset the general delicate sweetness of the dish.
I sprinkled the last two flowers on the yoghurt, and also some scented geranium leaf sugar. I've made this for a long time: you keep a few leaves in a jar of sugar, as with a vanilla pod, and the oils seep into it. I'm experimenting with other more unusual flavourings, like rosemary, lemon thyme, and maybe bay leaves, and seeing what they go with.
So there we are, and it really was a delicious symphony of flavour and perfume, despite the sparseness of the floral bits. I know what you must be thinking, this woman clearly has too much time on her hands, not only to fiddle-fart around making something like this but also to draw it and blog about it in exhaustive detail afterwards. It makes pressing flowers look quite serious and worthy (though you can't eat pressed flowers, so to my mind that's a step down). But what is this world if full of care we have no time to fanny about doing something totally playful and pointless? I actually collected and put the elements together over a few days, while doing more virtuous and necessary things like walking the dog, clearing out the kitchen cupboards and making proper food.
Now I've got my eye on the primroses, dog violets and mimosa that are coming along...