We’ve been playing with a lot of starchy components in the blackbird pastry kitchen these days. Specifically, potatoes, rice, and beans. It’s been an interesting venture. A savory cook makes a quick study of the pitfalls and successes of these starches, working with them in their natural state early on in their career. I won’t pretend to say we didn’t have a learning curve. But batch after batch of gluey muck after another, we persevered, determined to utilize the familiar-yet-unexpected texture these savory starches bring to our dessert.
I’d like to say it started with a desire to push my team, to expand ourselves creatively and walk down a road less traveled, however the truth of the matter is it started with a rice cake.
This rice cake is exactly what you think of as a rice cake. Similar in appearance to styrafoam, and made with brown rice. The only differentiating factor between this puck of puffed rice and all the other pucks of puffed rice sitting in cellophane sleeves in your local grocery store was a coating of dark chocolate. It was purchased in a small natural foods grocery store in Freiburg, a town in the German black forest. The fact that the rice cake was purchased in a little village in a far away land may sound romantic, but in actuality this purchase holds all the charm of going to whole foods, and buying a rice cake.
My sister has taken up residence in Freiburg, and subsequently started a family. I splurged this year, and spend the entirety of my vacation time with them, getting to know my new nephew Flynn and my 3 year old niece/hurricane named Vivienne. Upon return, I was welcomed back into my kitchen with the inevitable question, “what did you eat?!”
It would seem natural that a chef traveling in Europe would make their way home with a belly filled to the brim with decadence. However, the priority of this trip was simply family. We cooked all of our meals (my sister makes an excellent quiche) between diapering, chasing, napping, and generally attending to the needs of young children.
So, when I was pressed to name the best thing I’d had while traveling, the honest answer was a rice cake coated in chocolate. It was lovely.
I decided then and there, that a dish could come of it, and we began testing rice textures, to pair with a chocolate. A memory of an ice cream sundae over sticky rice at Ping in portland inspired the textural base of the dish. It was one most memorable dishes I’ve ever eaten. The sweet, bland chew of the rice was the perfect counterpoint to all the familiar textures of an ice cream sundae.
With this textural construct in mind, we steamed, boiled, and folded a variety of rices before coming across a chew that suited our desires, and technique that was successful daily in our kitchen.
Simmered with the turkish chili urfa biber in a pot, glutinous rice is immediatley folded with a sweet and sour date condiment until the starches begin to tighten and pull the sticky rice kernals together.
Our second rice texture is a puffed rice chip, similar in appearance to a chicharon. It is made by overcooking jasmine rice in water, spreading the slurry on a silpat, and dehydrating it. Once dry, a quick dip in 400 degree oil brings the crackly rice chip to life.
The dish itself features the flavors of chocolate, rice, dates, urfa biber, and sesame. A whipped date is spread on the plate and bruleed before a nest of sticky rice is added. 3 pieces of chocolate cremeux, stable enough to be warmed through in the oven are placed over the sticky rice. Crushed sesame brittle tumbles off the cremeux and acts as a seat for Medjool date ice cream. To crown our dish, shards of the crackly puffed rice chips.
It just goes to show inspiration comes from the least likely places. Had my trip been filled with classic european pastries, or the work of other pastry chefs, I might have been distracted from the simple brilliance of a rice cake coated in chocolate, and this lovely dessert may never have found it’s way to us.