Adventures In Setting Cream

Friday, Dec 27th, 2013

Crème Brulee. Pot du crème. Panna Cotta. Custard. Pudding. Pastry Cream. Yogurt. Crème Fraiche.

A pastry professional spends a lifetime setting dairy.

Every time we do this we are attempting one thing; to disrupt the fluidity of dairy with enough matter change it from a liquid to a solid state. Sound complicated? It’s not, I’ll bet you have watched this simple act of magic happen yourself.

At it’s best, it can be done so delicately, the solid state reverts into liquid moments after it hits our tongue.

In our employ are proteins, enzymes, starches, bacteria, and alginates, all introduced to the liquid phase of dairy with the sole purpose of holding our delicious milks and creams in place long enough for us to transport them from a service piece into our mouths.

Here in our pastry department our recent foray into setting cream elegantly utilizes the protiens that exist in dairy naturally. A dessert pulled from the ages, Posset is a velvety custard made of cream, sugar, and acid. With a simple addition of an acid, commonly lemon juice, we lower the PH of the cream.

As the PH of the dairy drops and becomes more acidic, those tight little coiled proteins start to loosen up, and unravel. As they unravel they start to crisscross, creating a network of proteins so entangled, the water molecules in the milk are slowed, and at times immobilized. You’ll be familiar with this transformation if you’ve eaten yogurt, spooned sour cream onto a piece of pie, or let a thick keifer mosey down your throat.

Yogurt, creme fraiche, and keifer all obtain their acidity through bacterial fermentation, which requires a mindful chef and controlled environments. Once introduced, the bacteria begin to feast on the sugars in milk called lactose. They eat and eat, leaving behind lactic acid. Temperature and time must be watched to keep these bacteria lively and healthy.

Possets on the other hand require little attention and obtain all the acid they need from a direct and controlled introduction by the chef. Once combined, the acidulated dairy is left to it’s own devices in the refrigerator overnight. What emerges is custard with a texture somewhere between a creme brulee and sour cream.

Posset found it’s way into our kitchen by way of broad scope testing “cream” textures to work into a peaches-and-cream anchored dessert for blackbird. What resulted is a nectarine (turned pear for winter) poached in bourbon, set aside a posset made with a remarkable cream from Kilgus Farmstead. Lightly scented with rose, this posset employs lemon juice and a small dose of lactic acid. Burnt hazelnuts and bourbon buttercrunch sit in foundation while billowy sheets of caramelized phyllo and torn pickled roses cover the dish.

As research suggested this custard was the origin of panna cotta, it was only natural to find it a home at Avec as well. Cast into traditional Mediterranean terra cotta dishes called casuelas, we flavored this acid set cream with lemon, almond, and vanilla. In search of a name we simply titled it Crème Avec. This luscious custard needs nothing more than a sheer dressing of a sauce made from ripe fruit, in our case a plum caramel.

Creme Avec

Plum Caramel


Pear-rose Pudding

Burnt Hazelnut – Buttercrunch

Bourbon-rose Poached Pears

Pickled Rose Petals