My adventures recreating Alinea Restaurant’s food at home

HUCKLEBERRY Soda, Five Flavors Gelled

Alinea Recipe, pages 200-203.

Ahhhh, the tart sweetness of huckleberries! I remember the taste distinctly from my childhood in Oregon. And that of just-picked wild blackberries. This dessert recipe from Alinea Restaurant brings together a unique combination of flavors: berries and cream, chocolate, hazelnut, smoke, fennel and lemon…

Huckleberry Soda
I ordered three pounds of fresh huckleberries from Oregon Mushrooms (US$11.00/pound), a great resource I’ve used again and again. They have both frozen and fresh, when in season. (I also got some frozen black Oregon truffles, we’ll see how they stack up to Perigords.) The package arrived in a styrofoam cooler the next day.

About Huckleberries

The Huckleberry (family Ericaceae), also known as bilberry, dewberry, hurtleberry and whortleberry, is native to the northwestern United States and Canada, growing from Wyoming west to Alaska, Washington, and Oregon. They also grow in Idaho and Montana. The wild red huckleberry also grows in northern California.

Huckleberries are small, round berries related to the blueberry, but have a more tart taste reminiscent of cranberry. Their juice is of a deep, reddish burgundy, and very staining.

Like blueberries, they’re most often used in in syrups, pancakes and jams. In the Pacific Northwest, huckleberry honey is quite popular (and yummy too).

Fresh Huckleberries

fresh huckleberries

Mise en place:

I combined the huckleberries, sugar and lemon juice in a pot and brought to a boil. I reduced the heat and simmered for about fifteen minutes, stirring to burst the berries and release their juices.

cooking huckleberries

I strained the cooked berries through a chinois, reserving the juice to two plastic containers: one for the soda and one for the huckleberry strips.

huckleberry juice

I pushed the solids through the chinois as much as I could, to get out all the juice. Did I mention how the juice stains?

Additionally, I reserved the solids for another use.

strained huckleberries

I transferred the juice to my ISI siphon canister, fitted it with an iSi CO2 N2O cartridge, and refrigerated.

Fresh huckleberries, from Oregon Mushrooms
Fresh-squeezed Meyer lemon juice, from my tree
C&H cane sugar

Hazelnut Gelée
In the Alinea cookbook, it looks like they use hazelnuts “sans skins.” I bought two bags of large, raw hazelnuts at Trader Joe’s, but they still had the skins on ’em. Not to worry: after I toasted them, the skins came off pretty easily (so I had a few really good ones for garnish).

Mise en place:

I heated the hazelnuts in a skillet to release their aromatic oils. Oops. Toasted ’em a little too much. Had to pick out the burnt ones. To get a light-colored gel, I peeled off their skins as best as I could, and reserved several for garnish.

In a medium saucepan, I combined the roasted nuts with the water, milk, sugar and a touch of salt, and brought to a boil.

Then removed from the heat and blended with an immersion blender. Refrigerated overnight.

The next day, I strained the blended nut mix through a chinois and forced out as much of the liquids from the leftover nutmeat as possible. Then reserved the leftover nuts for another use.


I lined a glass loaf pan with plastic wrap.

I warmed the hazelnut milk in a pan then added the gelatin, whisking until fully dissolved.

Then strained into the loaf pan and refrigerated. My first gel layer was done!

Unsalted, raw hazelnuts, from Trader Joe’s
Alta-Dena skim milk
C&H cane sugar
Morton’s kosher salt, to taste
Rousselot “silver” gelatin sheets, from L’Epicerie

Chocolate Gelée
This was the easiest gel to make. Two ingredients: chocolate and gelatin. I bought a little more Hershey’s milk chocolate than I needed, ’cause it always seems to disappear while I’m cooking with it. I caught my daughter’s fingers in the bowl more than several times.

Mise en place:

I hydrated the gelatin sheets in cold water, wrung out, and reserved. Then I filled a pot halfway with water and put a larger stainless bowl with the chopped up chocolate on top: instant double boiler.

Heated until the chocolate melted, and folded in the gelatin until it was fully dissolved.

Then added as a new layer atop the hazelnut gel layer. Refrigerated.

Hershey’s milk chocolate
Rousselot “silver” gelatin sheets, from L’Epicerie

Smoked Cream Gelée
I thought of using my Smoking Gun from PolyScience to smoke the cream for this recipe, but ending up borrowing a chef friend’s stainless steel smoker.

It’s a heavy duty steel affair with a rack inside, over a firebox.

So I fired it up, and added some hickory chips to the compartment next to the firebox.

Placed a bowl of cream inside, and while I was at it, smoked some fingerling potatoes for our weekend barbecue.

After about an hour, I removed the cream from the smoker. (I left the potatoes in for another hour. They were really good in a rough mash with the dozen or so types of sausage we had at the barbecue). If you don’t have a smoker, an improvised one can be made from a throwaway aluminum turkey pan. Place a metal bowl of cream in it, and surround with a thin layer of hardwood chips. Cover with aluminum foil, and place on a hot outdoor grill.

Mise en place:

I combined the cream and sugar in a medium saucepan and brought to a simmer. Then added the softened gelatin sheets and whisked until fully dissolved.

Let it cool, added as a new layer on top of the chocolate gel layer, then refrigerated.

Alta-Dena half-and-half
C&H cane sugar
Morton’s kosher salt, to taste
Rousselot “silver” gelatin sheets, from L’Epicerie

Fennel Stalk Gelée
I found some organic fennel bulbs (with stalks and fronds attached) at Suzie’s Farm here in San Diego at Little Italy Farmer’s Market (US$1.00/bulb).

I heated a large pot of salted water to a boil for big pot blanching. Chopped up the fennel into small pieces for blanching. Also, hydrated some gelatin sheets in cold water, wrung out, and reserved to my prep area.

Blanched the fennel for about five minutes, until in became bright green and tender, then immersed in an ice bath to cool.

Added to the blender with some icewater, puréed until smooth, and let stand for awhile.

After it had set for an hour or so, I strained the juice through a chinois and discarded the solids. then I had several tubs of bright green fennel juice!

Mise en place:

In a medium saucepan, I combined the fennel juice, sugar and a touch of salt and brought to a simmer. Then whisked in the gelatin until it was dissolved, removed from the heat, and let cool.

Strained this into a new plastic-sheet-lined loaf pan, and refrigerated. Our other gel pan was getting full. So we decided to start a new loaf pan for these next two gelées. And I’m glad we did anyway, because these last two gels didn’t set up as solidly as the previous three. If I make it again, I’d definitely increase the amount of gelatin sheets in this and the lemon verbena gel.

Pot of salted water for blanching
Fresh fennel bulbs, with stalks and fronds, from Suzie’s Farm
Ice water
C&H cane sugar
Morton’s kosher salt, to taste
Rousselot “silver” gelatin sheets, from L’Epicerie

Lemon Verbena Gelée
My girlfriend and I shop at the Little Italy Farmer’s Market almost every weekend. One vendor, Thirsteas, sells the most excellent infused iced teas ever. My favorites are lavender and lemon verbena. I knew they used — and I needed — fresh verbena, so I inquired. Turns out, they get their lemon verbena from Maggie’s Farm (conveniently for me, in the stall just across the street). So I got two huge bunches for a dollar each. Score!

Fresh lavender, left, and lemon verbena, right.

Mise en place:

I combined the water and sugar in a large saucepan and brought to a boil, to dissolve the sugar. Removed from heat and added the lemon verbena leaves. Covered and let steep for about fifteen minutes.

After it had steeped, I strained the lemon verbena “tea” through a chinois, salted to taste, and reserved the leaves for another use. This I refrigerated because I was going to do the gelée the next day.

So, the next morning, we heated up the tea and stirred in the softened gelatin until dissolved, then let cool.

Added as a new layer on top of the fennel stock gel and refrigerated.

Fresh lemon verbena, from Maggie’s Farm
C&H cane sugar
Morton’s kosher salt, to taste
Rousselot “silver” gelatin sheets, from L’Epicerie


Huckleberry Strips
This component recipe lists huckleberry juice and sugar in the ingredients, but does not elaborate. If you use the huckleberry juice you already made, you may not need to add as much sugar as is indicated.

Mise en place:

I combined the reserved huckleberry juice and some sugar to taste in a medium saucepan. As with all the other gelatins in this dish, I soaked the gelatin sheets in cold water, wrung out, then whisked in the hot juice until it was fully dissolved. Then strained onto a metal halfsheet tray, and refrigerated.

Huckleberry juice, reserved from above
C&H cane sugar
Rousselot “silver” gelatin sheets, from L’Epicerie


Now this makes several Alinea-gel recipes with which I have had problems. In this instance, severe structural problems. I don’t want to bring up unpleasant memories, but I just flashed back to my saffron-molasses gel debacle, in which I had some of the same.

This time, the gels didn’t set up consistently. Some were harder than others: the fennel and lemon verbena being the weakest. Thus, having a strip of five gels glued together didn’t work out. I opted to do a larger portion in two sections on a divided plate…

To Assemble and Serve
I fetched the siphon canister and gelées from the fridge, and filled some shot glasses with the foamy huckleberry soda.

Use iSi CO2 soda cartridges for a bubbly soda. Use iSi N2O cream cartridges for a more foamy soda.
soda and cream cartridges for iSi siphon bottles

The Land of Many Garnishs:

Half of them anyway…

Including Blis Gourmet’s smoked salt. Yum.

I removed the gels from their pans and tried to set them up in a row, like in the Alinea Cookbook recipe.

Fell down and went boom! So I tried supporting the fennel-verbena between the firmer gels. Didn’t look good enough.

So I rethought the presentation and split up the gels on divided plates. That worked!

Hazelnut, chocolate and smoked cream gelées atop a strip of huckleberry gelée:
hazelnut gel, chocolate gel, smoked cream gel and huckleberry gel

Fennel and lemon verbena gelées atop a strip of huckleberry gelée:
fennel gel, lemon verbena gel and huckleberry gel

Huckleberry soda:
huckleberry soda

Toasted hazelnuts
Shaved milk chocolate
Blis Gourmet smoked salt
Reserved fennel fronds
Small lemon verbena or lemon balm leaves

Salter digital scale
Measuring bowls
Cutting board and kitchen knife
Paring knife
Wooden spoon, rubber spatula
Wire whisk
Chinois and sieve
Small bowls
Smoker, or The Smoking Gun from PolyScience
iSi siphon canister/creamer
Large pot
Medium saucepan
Sheet trays
Oster blender
Stainless steel bowls
Paper towels and sheet tray
Plastic containers
Huckleberry Hound

“Spirit” 2oz. cordial glasses, from Crate&Barrel
Small rectangular plates, from Crate&Barrel

Yields: Waaay more than eight servings, with LOTS of jelly and huckleberry soda leftover. See below.

Next, FOIE GRAS, Spicy Cinnamon Puff, Apple Candy

What to do with the leftovers?
I’m glad you asked!

Huckleberry Compote
Previously, when I first made the huckleberry soda, there were a LOT of huckleberry solids left over. I just couldn’t throw them away (especially at $11.00/pound!), so I saved them.

I roughly processed some of berry solids in my Cuisineart mini food processor, then combined with some maple syrup and simmered for about twenty minutes. This is great on top of pancakes, waffles and French toast!

Huckleberry Michelada
I had a bunch of huckleberry juice left over, so what better way to enjoy a sunny summer day on the backyard deck?

I mixed it with a bit of fresh-squeezed lime juice in a pitcher of Mexican Tecate beer, and we had cool, refreshing micheladas frescas.

I got the idea the other day when we went for dinner to El Take It Easy gastro cantina in North Park (3926 30th Street, San Diego, California, 619-255-8778). Had a great meal (even though my girlfriend prevented me from ordering the deep-fried chicken heads — sadly no longer on the menu) and some excellent defeña micheladas and Clamato chavelas.

A michelada or chelada is a cerveza preparada made with Mexican beer, lime juice, and salt. A chavela or chabela is a cerveza preparada made with Mexican beer, clam broth, lime juice, spices, and sometimes tequila.

Home-made Ovaltine Nutella and Chocolate Nutella
After making the hazelnut gelée, I had quite a bit of totally usable leftover hazelnut ‘meat’. So I made several batches of home-made “nutellas” in two flavors: Ovaltine and dark Valrhona chocolate.

The leftover nuts from straining still had a lot of sugars and dampness to them, so all I had to do was purée them in my food processor with a little hazelnut oil I had on-hand. Then added a bit of sugar to taste, the cocoa powder, and Ovaltine (respectively). They taste just like real Nutella (with only with a slightly grittier mouthfeel). And I had enough to make four tubs of nutella!

Lemon Verbena Iced Tea
Again, as with the other recipes, I had leftovers from the lemon verbena gelée — this time a bunch of totally reusable herb branches . So I boiled them again and used the water and herbs to make sun tea with some loose orange pekoe tea leaves I had. It’s quite different than adding lemon juice to tea: a much herbier, less citrusy taste. It became my son’s favorite beverage! Yum!

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5 Responses to HUCKLEBERRY Soda, Five Flavors Gelled

  1. Pingback: Next Restaurant Recipe - Paris 1906 - Pommes de Terre à la Dauphinoise

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