My adventures recreating Alinea Restaurant’s food at home

SPONGE CAKE, Tonka Bean, Dried Cherry, Vanilla Fragrance

SPONGE CAKE, Tonka Bean, Dried Cherry, Vanilla Fragrance – Alinea Restaurant cookbook recipe, pages 128-129.

I’m baaaack! I swear I’m finishing up this project in 2018…

Here’s my attempt at the recipe for SPONGE CAKE, Tonka Bean, Dried Cherry, Vanilla Fragrance from Alinea Restaurant in Chicago. It’s Alinea’s humorous take on traditional Victoria sponge cake — on a stick (actually a long vanilla bean), coated with a thin, clear layer of hard candy, sprinkled with dried cherry and grated tonka bean, and served with a delicious tonka bean cream and foam. It’s a cherry-vanilla cake pop — with a crunchy candy shell, and a side of danger!

SPONGE CAKE, Tonka Bean, Vanilla Fragrance

Mrs Beetons Sponge Cake recipe

Sponge Cake
Victoria sponge (aka ‘Victoria sandwich’ or ‘Victorian cake’) is a light, moist cake made with eggs, sugar, flour and fat. In the U.S. we think of it as ‘pound cake.’ England’s Queen Victoria loved the stuff at tea time. It is traditionally served with raspberry jam and whipped double or vanilla cream. This recipe deconstructs the basic elements of the Victoria sponge, and recombines them in a delicious, playful way…

Sponge cake mise en place
Mise en place for sponge cake.

I heated up the oven to 300ºF and prepared a halfsheet tray for baking with butter and flour. Then combined the eggs, sugar, Trimoline (We’re using Trimoline to keep the cake moist…), grapeseed oil and salt in the bowl of my KitchenAid mixer. Whipped ’em into shape for about three minutes with the wire attachment.

What is Trimoline?

Trimoline brand invert sugarTrimoline® is a registered brandname for an invert sugar syrup paste manufactured by Erstein. Made from beet and sugar syrups, it is very concentrated and thick, used to prevent crystallization, resists humidity, acts as an anti-oxidant, increases caramelization, improves texture, preserves aroma, flavor, and color. It is generally much sweeter than regular granulated sugar.

Inverted or invert sugar is a mixture of glucose and fructose. It’s made by splitting sucrose into its two components. “Compared with its precursor sucrose, inverted sugar is sweeter and its products tend to stay moist and are less prone to crystallization.” Invert sugar has a high affinity for water, and for this reason, it is used to keep products moist.

It works very well in sorbets and ice creams because it lowers the freezing point, virtually eliminating crystallization. Invert sugar acts as an emulsifier and helps stabilize the sorbet.

If you can’t find Trimoline, some on eGullet have suggested substituting honey, glucose paste or corn syrup. You can also try making your own. Other available brands of invert sugar syrup paste are Colorose, Honey-O, Inversol, Nulomoline and Nevuline.

Sources: eGullet, Wikipedia

Meanwhile I sifted together the cake flour and baking powder. Took the whipped egg mixture off the stand mixer and gently folded in the sifted flour. In a small bowl I combined the milk and cherry liquid, then stirred into my batter.

Poured the batter onto the baking tray and popped into the oven for 20 minutes. Removed and let cool.

Sponge cake

King Arthur all-purpose flour
Trimoline (or glucose paste or corn syrup)
Grape seed oil
Kosher salt
King Arthur cake flour, sifted
Baking powder
Alta-Dena whole milk
Maraschino cherry liquid

About Tonka Beans

Alineaphile tonka beansKumaru (Dipteryx odoratais) is a species of flowering tree in the pea family, native to Central and South America. Its seeds are known as tonka beans (sometimes tonkin or tonquin beans), and have a vanilla and cherry-like flavor. As tonka beans may contain a high content of coumarin, an anticoagulant, they are regulated in food products within many countries including the US. In large, concentrated amounts, coumarin may cause hemorrhages, liver damage, or paralysis of the heart. Adverse affects are negligible or non-existent when consumed in small amounts.

Coumadin® brand of warfarin is a commercially manufactured anticoagulant used to prevent blood clots.

Learn More…

Yay! Let’s work with this terrifying ingredient!

Tonka Bean Cream
I re-hydrated the gelatin sheets in cold water, and squeezed out the excess. In a medium saucepan I combined the milk, cream, tonka beans, cherry liquid and sugar. I brought them all to a simmer, then added the gelatin sheets, stirring to dissolve the solids. Removed from the heat. In a large stainless bowl I whisked together the egg yolks and and salt, then slowly whisked in half the cream mixture to ‘temper’ the eggs. (If you add it all together quickly, you’ll just scramble the egg yolks and ruin your sauce…) Then whisked in the remainder and returned to very low heat on the stovetop. Whisk constantly with one hand while holding the rim of the stainless bowl in a towel or mitt with the other. I rotate the bowl while I do this to keep an even low heat over the thicken sauce. This technique works perfectly for egg sauces like hollandaise and sabayons.

After the sauce has emulsified a bit, the cookbook tells you to to immerse the pan in ice water. This cools it down fast enough to stop any cooking of the eggs that’s still going on.

At this point you can strain the tonka beans out and add the liquid to a ISO siphon canister if your’e foaming it.

I decided to forgo the siphon method, and thickened my tonka bean cream up with some more gelatin. It was not super light and foamy as it would have been coming out of a siphon, but more of a sour cream texture, which was fine for me. It tasted like vanilla cream with a hint of cherries. A very unique flavor. I was out of NO2 cartridges anyway…

This made a lot and I saved the rest for deserts.

Rousselot silver gelatin sheets
Alta-Dena whole milk
Alta-Dena heavy cream
Dried tonka beans
Maraschino cherry liquid
Egg yolks
Kosher salt

Tonka Bean Froth
This component recipe is very similar to that for Tonka Bean Cream, but its ultimate form with be bubbly not foamy. In a medium saucepan I combined the milk, cream, soy lecithin, tonka beans and sugar. I brought the mixture to a simmer, whisking to dissolve all the solids. Then removed the saucepan to an ice bath to cool. When the liquid cooled to room temp, the tonka beans had infused their flavor. I strained this into a tall container and reserved for later. We’ll foam it up with an immersion circulator later. The soy lecithin provides elasticity to the bubbles, and delays them from popping too quickly.

Alta-Dena whole milk
Alta-Dena heavy cream
Soy lecithin powder
Dried toka beans

Neutral Caramel Rectangles
When you say ‘caramel,’ I think of those golden brown cubes of chewy goodness from See’s Candies. Indeed, most of us associate the word with a amber-to-brownish color. Neutral caramel is supposed to be a thin layer of crystal-clear candy, carefully heated so as not to discolor. This recipe uses Isomalt, a sweet sugar substitute derived from beet sugar alcohols. Isomalt is used in the production of sugar-free candy, “especially hard-boiled candy, because it resists crystallization much better than the standard combinations of sucrose and corn syrup. It is used in sugar sculpture for the same reason.”

Neutral caramel mise-en-place
Mise en place for neutral caramel.

I combined the Isomalt, sugar, glucose and water, and brought to a boil. The neutral caramel in the cookbook is completely clear. Mine turned a bit yellow. It wasn’t until I was researching this post that I found out why. Many things can yellow the caramel. Gas burners at too high heat instead of a controlled heat with induction burner. The minerals in tap water. Wooden spoons and natural bristle brushes…

Here are some invaluable tips from Chef Dominic Palazzolo’s blog, MakeYourOwnMolds.

Use distilled water. The minerals in tap water can turn brown when exposed to elevated temperatures but because there is so little of these minerals it is perceived as a yellowing effect.

Use stainless steel pots and stainless steel utensils for stirring. Do not use a wooden spoon. Foreign materials in the wood leach out into the Isomalt which can turn the mixture yellow.

Do not cook less than three pounds of Isomalt at a time. Cooking small amounts of Isomalt creates too shallow a depth of material which can cause hot spots in your mixture and lead to premature yellowing.

Cook Isomalt on an appropriately sized burner. Electric [induction] burner should be slightly smaller than bottom of pot. When cooking with gas, flame should not creep up the side of the pot and remain on the bottom of the pot only. These precautions prevent overheating of the sides of the cooking pot which can cause premature yellowing. Using an induction range is the best way to cook Isomalt because it delivers heat only to the bottom of the pot.

Do not use a natural bristle brush to wash down the sides of the pot once Isomalt comes to a boil. Use a nylon pastry brush. There are a host of chemicals and conditioning agents in the natural bristles that can turn your Isomalt yellow.

Test your candy thermometer. Many of them read inaccurately. Test by bringing water to a boil and inserting thermometer and observe the temperature is shows. It should read 212ºF at sea level.

Cook Isomalt to 338ºF. Take off heat at about 333ºF and place bottom of pot in water to stop the cooking process. Allow the pot to stay in water only until the hissing stops — about 5 seconds.

Alineaphile boiling sugar for neutral caramel

Then poured out on a silpat mat to cool. Broke in pieces small enough to fit into my spice grinder.

Alineaphile neutral caramel

Ground to a fine white powder.

powderizing neutral caramel in a spice grinder

Reserved to an airtight plastic container. Can save for awhile too!

neutral caramel powder

To make the thin neutral caramel “tuile” squares, I sifted the powder onto a silpat mat, then heated in a low oven until it had just meltd again. Then removed to cool

sifting neutral caramel powder

But I sifted it waaay too thick. I found out you don’t need much! I could have ground it up and remelted it once more (think “Live, Die, Repeat”), but I’m too lazy for that. Just remember, the thinner the layer the better…

melted too-thick caramel tuile

Powdered Isomalt
Granulated Sugar

Let’s make some frikken cake pops! I cut the sponge cake into long rectangles, impaled each with a long vanilla pos, then placed a thin sheet of the neutral caramel atop each. The tuiles have to extend over the sides of the cake, so when heated, the sugar “encases” the cake. I put into a warm oven just long enough to melt the sugar, and removed to let cool.

Flip ’em over and repeat! Then you’ll have cake pops fully encased in a hard sugar coating. Just like an ice cream treat is encased in hard chocolate…

I used some antique punch glasses, but you can use whatever you’d like. In the cup, I added a generous dollop of Tonka Bean Cream, and placed the cake pops in each. Then whipped up the Tonka Bean Foam with an immersion blender and added to the top of the cream. Sprinkled some grated freeze-dried cherries over and topped with a bit of freshly grated tonka bean.

There we go — fancy-schmancy cake pops fit for good old Queen Victoria herself!

King Edward VII, Queen Victoria and Queen Alexandra

King Edward VII, Queen Victoria and Queen Alexandra, photographed by Alexander Bassano, c1883. © National Portrait Gallery, London. Used with permission.

Dried vanilla beans
1 Dried tonka bean
Freeze-dried cherries

Yields: Enough to make at least 12 cake pops. (Maybe 24 if you’ve got enough vanilla beans…)

Any ol’ glass will do

Cutting board and kitchen knife
Salter digital scale
Measuring cup, spoons
Cuisinart SmartStick immersion blender
Kitchen sieve or chinois
Wire whisk
Rubber spatula
Pastry brush
Small and medium sauce pans
Full and halfsheet cooking trays
Silpat silicone baking mat
Plastic containers

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SALSIFY, Smoked Salmon, Dill, Caper (Part 3)

SALSIFY, Smoked Salmon, Dill, Caper (Part 3) – Alinea Restaurant cookbook recipe, pages 264-269.

A fancy recipe for bagels and lox, Alinea style. Continued from SALSIFY, Smoked Salmon, Dill, Caper (Part 2)

Alinea cookbook recipe for Salsify, Smoked Salmon, Dill, Caper - Alineaphile

Day Three

01 Mise en place, salmon mousse

Smoked Salmon Mousse
This is a smooth mousse-y version of a bagel “schmear,” usually made with a flavored cream cheese.

I blended the salmon in small pieces with a steady slow stream of olive oil then water, until it formed an emulsified liquid.

02 Blending the slamon mousse

I had my capable assistant whip up the crème fraiche until it formed stiff peaks

Whipped butter

Then salted and folded the two together…

Smoked salmon
Ice water
Olive oil
Crème fraiche
Diamond Crystal kosher salt

Dill Sauce
Mise en place for dill sauce…
Mise en place for dill sauce

In a medium saucepan I made a white roux with butter and flour.

Then whisked in some heavy cream and minced shallots, cooking for about 20 minutes on very low heat. Then strained into my Oster blender, added the dill and a bit of salt. Blended until smooth.

King Arthur all-purpose flour
Challenge unsalted butter
Alta-Dena heavy cream
Minced shallots
Fresh dill, stems removed
Diamond Crystal kosher salt

Smoked Salmon
The recipe says to vacuum seal some smoked salmon and olive oil in bags. I just used the prepackaged salmon and warmed it up en sous-vide.

Smoked salmon
Olive oil

Herb Powder
Another super-easy recipe. I dehydrated the herbs in my American Harvest dehydrator overnight.

Then ran them through the spice grinder with a little kosher salt.

The recipe says to sift through a chinois, but it’s really not that necessary…

Fresh Parsley, dill, chervil, and chives
Diamond Crystal kosher salt

Red Radish Dice
I cut some red radishes into 1/16″ slices, then sliced those into thin 1/16″ strips. The cut those in 1/16″ dice. Reserved in ice water.

Red radishes

Dill Fronds
These ae just the ends of dill tops.

Fresh dill fronds

Micro Chives
Use the micro or just the smaller ends if regular chives.

Fresh micro chives or chive tips

Woohoo! It’s about time, right? Below, mise en place for Salsify, Smoked Salmon, Dill, Caper recipe.

mise en place for Salsify, Smoked Salmon, Dill

I removed the salsify from its sous vide bag, rolled each in olive oil mayo, then coated with the veggie coating.

I removed the smoked salmon from the sous-vide and put two flaked pieces on the corner of each plate. Then put some of the veggie-coated salsify in the center. A little toasted crumb mix next to that.

Squeezed out a little lemon pudding in dots to the side. Then some smoked salmon mousse at the front of the plate, topped with herb powder, and garnished with a garlic chip.

Then comes the random garnishment. I scattered red radish dice, red onion, dried lemon zest and red pepper strips around the plate and sticking out of the sauces. Topped with a few dill fronds and chive tips here and there. Finally added a dot of dill sauce near the center of the plate.

I followed the plating directions and mine turned out like a hot mess. Or you could do whatever…

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SALSIFY, Smoked Salmon, Dill, Caper (Part 2)

SALSIFY, Smoked Salmon, Dill, Caper (Part 2) – Alinea Restaurant cookbook recipe, pages 264-269.
A fancy recipe for bagels and lox, Alinea style. Continued from SALSIFY, Smoked Salmon, Dill, Caper (Part 1)

Alinea cookbook recipe for Salsify, Smoked Salmon, Dill, Caper - Alineaphile

Day Two


Salsify goatsbeard oyster plant tragopogonWhat is Salsify?

Salsify (sawl sih FEE) is the edible root of the Tragopogon plant, a member of the sunflower family. Originally a winter European vegetable, it is now readily available year-round as Black Salisfy (Scorzonera hispanica), Purple Tragopogon and White Salsify (Tragopogon porrifolius).

After its brown skin is peeled off, the salisfy’s surface will darken and weep a milky white sap, so I keep them in a bowl of water. When cooked they have a creamy, sweet taste not unlike that of an oyster, and a soft texture. Salsify is also called ‘tragopogon,’ ‘oyster plant’ and ‘goatsbeard.’

Learn More…

Mise en place:
Alinea Recipe Salsify

I peeled the roots and kept them submerged in a bowl of cold water so they would not brown…

Peeled salsify kept in water

There are a bunch of options for cooking sousvide style. I use a SousVide Supreme Water Oven and SousVide Supreme Vacuum Sealer. These are very handy and work like a charm.

SousVide Supreme vacuum sealer

I trimmed the salsify, added them to vacuum bags with butter and thyme, then sealed them up with the vacuum sealer.

Sealing a bag of salsify with butter and herbs with my SousVide Supreme vacuum sealer

I should note that it takes awhile for the SousVide Supreme to come up to temp, so you should ‘preheat’ the oven before you need it. I cooked the salsify en sous vide in the SousVide Supreme water oven at 190ºF.

sous vide cooking

After 45 minutes, I removed them from the water oven and plunged the bags into an icewater bath. (This stops the cooking.)

Salsify, cooked en sous-vide

Peeled salsifies
Challenge Brand unsalted butter
Fresh thyme

Smoked Salmon Powder
This is an easy component to make. Freeze a piece of smoked salmon, then grate it up with a Microplane. Dehydrate. Done.

Mise en place:
Mise for Salmon Powder

I retrieved a piece of smoked salmon from the freezer, which I’d frozen the night before.

Grating Frozen Salmon

The grated it up with a fine Microplane grater.

Salmon Powder

Smoked salmon

Olive Oil Mayonnaise
This is an easy, 30-second recipe for making your own mayo, sauce mayonnaise, based on Escoffier recipe 202 mayonnaise.

Escoffier’s traditional recipe for Sauce Mayonnaise takes a little time and elbow grease to complete. He tells us to whisk, whisk, whisk. That’s fine and dandy… but with an immersion blender you can do it in 30 seconds. I use a Cuisinart SmartStick brand immersion blender to emulsify the mayo.

Cuisinart SmartStick immersion blender

In reality, you can use a light oil like canola, or a heavy oil like olive. You can use vinegar or lemon juice, or a combination of both. Just as long as you have enough acid for the emulsion to work. Some people add pepper, dijon mustard or sugar to taste (personally, I don’t like sweet mayos like Miracle Whip). But it doesn’t matter. Whatever suits your own taste. It’s up to you!

Mise en place for Olive Oil Mayonnaise

I added the egg yolks, lemon juice, a pinch of salt, water and a pinch of salt to a narrow container. I poured in the oils and allowed to settle. Then positioned the immersion blender head in the oil at the bottom of the container. I pulsed gently several times to get the emulsion going, then longer until all the oil is blended.

It will be very thick. If you let ’er rip too fast at the beginning, the emulsion will break, and you’ll get nothing usable.

Here’s a video of how easy it is:

Store in a sealed container or squeeze bottle in the fridge, just as you would for store-bought mayo.

30-Second Mayonnaise Recipe

Egg yolks
Fresh lemon juice
Grape seed oil
STAR Brand extra virgin olive oil
Morton’s kosher salt, to taste

Olive Oil Powder
Another easy recipe. Two or three ingredients (two if you nix the salt).

Mise-en-place for making olive oil powder

I put the olive oil into a large bowl, adding the maltodextrin and mixed.

Mixing olive oil and maltodextrin

It takes a bit more dubious white powder than you’d first imagine, but after adding more and more maltodextrin, I got the powdery consistency I wanted.

Olive oil powder

STAR Brand extra virgin olive oil
Tapioca maltodextrin, from WillPowder
Morton’s kosher salt, to taste

Parsley Dust
Have you ever gone to a steakhouse, ordered, and received a grand bouquet of parsley garnishing your plate? I’m sure you have. It was for years the old school method of fancying up the plate. But no one ever ate it. Until some articles came out about the healthful benefits of eating fresh parsley. Well, as a prep-cook in an old-school steakhouse, we used parsley just like that. What else ya gonna do with it?

This is an age-old, classic kitchen technique, taught by all culinary schools. Chop, rinse, squeeze, dry. I washed and patted dry a bunch of parsley, removed the stems then roughly chopped. Then chopped fine. When you’re in a hurry, you can use a butcher knife or cleaver in each hand and go nuts on it (sounds like a machine gun)…

Then I put the finely chopped parsley in some cheesecloth, wetted under the faucet, and wrung out the water, very tightly. then reserved in a container.

Or — how about dehydrating it and adding it to a breading mix?

Sounds good. It’s done all the time in the pre-packaged food industry. So why not take that technique and apply it to our home cooking? Simple enough.
Put it a dehydrator and voila! Dried parsley flakes.

Or — buy a bottle of dried parsley flakes, if you dare…


Toasted Crumb Mixture
This is simply stirring together some of the already-done components, to make a fancy Italian-style bread crumb mixture. I mixed together some of the toasted bread crumbs, dried Picholine olives, olive oil powder and parsley dust, then stored in an airtight plastic container.

Toasted Bread Crumbs, reserved from previous day
Dried Picholine Olives, reserved from previous day
Olive Oil Powder, reserved from above
Parsley Dust, reserved from above

Dried Vegetable Coating
So I’ve been a dehydration maniac for the last day or so, and all my veggies should be crispy now. You can take each of these and grind up with a mortar and pestle if you’re feeling medieval. I wanted a rough texture, not powder, and lightly pulsed in a spice grinder. Then reserved the mixture in a sealed plastic container.

Finished Dried Vegetable Coating copy

Smoked salmon powder, reserved from above
Dried capers, dehydrating from previous night
Dried ginger, dehydrating from previous night
Dried lemon zest, dehydrating from previous night
Dried red bell pepper, dehydrating from previous night
Dried red onion, dehydrating from previous night

Lemon Pudding

Lemon pudding

I combined the water, sugar, salt, lemon zest and saffron in a medium saucepan and brought it to a boil to dissolve the solids, then removed from the heat to let steep for about twenty minutes.

I strained it into a clean saucepan, added the agar and brought to a simmer, whisking for about two minutes.

I then strained it into a stainless bowl set in an ice bath to cool and set up.

After it had set, I chopped it up. This helps the blending process immensely.

…and blended with the lemon juice until it was smooth.

I had to agitate the mass with a ladle, and ending up adding a bit more lemon juice than the recipe called for to loosen it up.

This recipe made a whole liter of lemon pudding!

Finally, I transferred some to a squeeze bottle and stored in the fridge.

C&H cane sugar
Diamond Crystal kosher salt
Lemon zest
Saffron threads
Agar agar
Freshly squeezed lemon juice

Cutting board and kitchen knife
Salter digital scale
Measuring cup
Cuisinart SmartStick immersion blender
Rubber spatula
Plastic containers

To Be Continued…

Next, SALSIFY, Smoked Salmon, Dill, Caper (Part 3)

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