Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Ciao Bella Lebanese Yogurt Sherbet

Composition and effect are critical elements in the art of flavor and fragrance creation. When fantasy and tradition are perfectly balanced, an alchemical result is certain. In creating Lebanese Yogurt Sherbet, Chef Danilo Zecchin of Ciao Bella Gelato accessed a memory from his travels and used it to create a refreshing dessert that elevates the genre, setting a new standard for sherbet.

Creamy and slightly acidic by nature, labneh is a cultured milk product that is served cold. In 1976 Chef Danilo Zecchin was vacationing in Syria when he had his first taste of labneh. “I was 19 years old and it was love at first sight,” says Zecchin. Foods that are tart in nature usually require sweetening to make them palatable, but Zecchin focused on the refreshing nature of labneh, “In creating the flavor for the sherbet I sought to sustain the intense flavor of labneh while maintaining its light structure…letting the labneh drive the flavor, as opposed to adding other flavor ingredients was key.” Zecchin’s inspiration went from concept to completion in three days.

Traditional sherbet, which is Arabic in origin, is a frozen mixture of sweetened fruit juice and water (and occasionally, wine). American sherbets favor citrus fruits, but time-honored flavors such as tamarind, rose, and mulberry are recalled by author Claudia Roden in A New Book of Middle Eastern Food (1985). What makes Zecchin’s Lebanese Yogurt Sherbet astoundingly delicious is a fruity milky harmony that resonates throughout the structure. In perfumery, L’Artisan Parfumer’s Premier Figuier is an example of a perfectly pitched, fruity lactonic harmony—the creamy essence beneath the fig's skin shares center stage with the fruit's lush and refreshing interior. Launched in 1994, Premier Figuier set the standard for future iterations of green fig scents in perfumery. Ciao Bella’s Lebanese Yogurt Sherbet will likely have the same effect in the culinary world.

For Zecchin, travel is a catalyst for culinary and olfactive inspiration. “Travel is the best way to open up your mind. Emotions are translated in dishes and recipes and when you meet people from other countries…you come to know different smells, colors and foods. I’m Italian and love dishes that are as natural and simple as possible. This influences my gelato creations.” Spices from exotic lands also influence Zecchin’s taste in fine fragrance. “Calvin Klein’s Truth is my favorite…It’s dry, intense, woody and there's cardamom.”


Lebanese Yogurt Sherbet is available at the Ciao Bella store, located in the lower level at Grand Central Station in New York City. It can also be ordered in 5 liter and 5 quart tubs by calling 1-800-GELATO-3.

Photo of Chef Danilo Zecchin from the Ciao Bella Gelato website.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Badam Halwa: Saffron Almond Seduction

The long “a” in the name of this Indian dessert escapes the lips of anyone who has ever tasted badam halwa—the vowel inextricably wed to a sigh tinged with yearning. Served warm this softened paste of ground almonds, sugar and ghee is generously perfumed with saffron. Eating badam halwa, one forgets purposeful speech and mastication and is instantly transported to culinary rapture.

Badam halwa is marzipan gloriously deconstructed. Unlike malleable almond paste (which is sculpted or enrobed in chocolate) badam halwa resembles a scented, exotic pudding. Fragrant musky notes in the saffron vibrate against its inherent woody qualities and in combination with the delicate gloss of ghee, set off a synergistic effect against the taste and texture of ground almonds. Exhaling without a sigh or moan at first taste is impossible. Even the letting go of breath seems unacceptable, as if the desire to completely take in the preciousness of badam halwa’s olfactive and gustatory delights deserves an infinite amount of time—much longer than is humanly possible to go without inhaling once again. Perhaps this is the nature of seduction by food.

Tiffin Wallah* and Chennai Garden in New York City serve terrific badam halwa. Both restaurants are owned by Pradeep Shinde, who is one of the Indian restaurant pioneers of Curry Hill (he is the former owner of Madras). Shinde's interesting past includes a stint working for Leona Helmsley, one which he recalls fondly as it reinforced his sense of accommodation and hospitality. When asked about the regional manner in which badam halwa is prepared at his restaurants, he emphasizes its south Indian style, which is softer than the badam halwa prepared in the north. Both styles of this dessert have their merits and each manages to move the senses. Indulging in badam halwa after a meal of dosa is highly recommended.

*This post was published before Tiffin Wallah and Chennai Garden merged.

For more information on the history of saffron read "Saffron: Spice of Ecstasy and Sensory Seduction". If the saffron and almond combination of badam halwa speaks to your tastebuds, you can bake Gâteau Baiser De Safran, a saffron cake delicately perfumed with almond extract, rosewater and cardamom.

Photo of a spring almond blossom from the BBC.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

On the Horizon: Honeysuckle Berries

The sound of the word “honeysuckle” conveys sweet comfort, an experience well-known to backyard flower foragers of the fragrant vine. Lovers of Gewürztraminer and Muscat de Beaumes de Venise know that these wines are renown for their honeysuckle notes, though they haven’t a petal of the flower in them. True honeysuckle nectar resembles lush apricots with hints of lemon and musk, but it isn’t the only sweet treat that species of Lonicera have to offer the taste buds. An edible honeysuckle berry is on the horizon.

Eating honeysuckle nectar from Lonicera periclymenum flowers requires patience and agility. A nimble thumb and forefinger are required to slowly extract the stigma from the base of the flower. When carefully drawn, the stigma reveals a dewy nectar bead at its end—which is smaller than a raindrop. Detailed instructions on how to extract nectar from a honeysuckle flower appear on the pages of a website called Instructables. Each step is illustrated with photographs that are beautiful in their simplicity, reflecting the joy that one finds in these delicate and fragrant flowers.

Vice President and Senior Flavor Chemist Kevin Miller, of International Flavor & Fragrances, spends his days developing flavors for health care products like toothpaste and mouthwash. Mention the word honeysuckle to Kevin and he will instinctively recite childhood memories that involve raiding honeysuckle bushes for nectar. Honeysuckle flowers are one of several artificially created fragrances used in perfumery as the essence is not extractable by traditional means. Were an outstanding honeysuckle flavor available, its application would likely resemble that of rose water. Such a creation would work nicely in alcoholic or sweet bases, such as gin, exotic gelées or granité. One could even envision a traditional yellow cake flavored with honeysuckle and frosted with a lemon butter cream.

Last year, news of edible blue honeysuckle berries appeared in an article in the Journal of American Pomological Society. Edible cultivars of Lonicera caerulea from Russia have made their way to Canada and the United States, and limited harvesting is currently underway in these areas. According to a presentation by Dr. Bob Bors , of the University of Saskatchewan, the flavor profiles of blue honeysuckle (called “Haskap” in Canada) resemble black currants, rhubarb, blackberries, blueberries and raspberries. Kim Hummer, author of the referenced journal article, finds more of a blueberry taste profile for edible honeysuckle berries grown in Oregon. "...To me blue honeysuckle fruit has a sharp-sweet flavor, somewhat similar to blueberries – but more heavy on the acid rather than sugars. I wouldn’t describe it as flowery.”

It’s possible that fans of honeysuckle may come to look upon their favored flower with even more fondness in the future. If crop yields go as planned, we could see these highly antioxidant fruits appearing in the marketplace in a few years, going the way of goji berries and pomegranate. Tea and toast with honeysuckle jam—now that is a peaceful moment worth imagining…


Honeysuckle sorbet can be made from the flowers of the plant. Author Neenah Ellis’ recipe is posted on NPR’s website.

Photo of blue haskap honeysuckle berries from Canada's DNA Gardens.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Floral Wines for Perfume & Dessert Lovers

Some wines possess outstanding floralcy, causing one to pause and reflect on beauty which anoints the taste buds. There are stunning bouquets in wines that seem to transform the soul as they are drank. Perhaps the archetypal power of beauty lies in its ability to temporarily stop the breath, separating the veil between earthly existence and that of the spirit realm. For the uninitiated, wines rich in floralcy offer a glimpse into territory where surrender is the key to infinite pleasure.

Domaine de Beaumalric Muscat de Beaumes de Venise 2004 (France):

If the perfume of precious white flowers were a drink, it would be Muscat de Beaumes de Venise. Brimming with apricot, pear, honeysuckle and lily notes this elixir is pure nectar. Serve with a Madagascar vanilla crème brûlée as the richness of the dessert plays nicely against the delicate, sweet notes of the wine.

Accent Fragrance: The gentle citrus notes in Annick Goutal’s Eau de Sud are a perfect match for this wine and dessert pairing.

Lucien Albrecht Gewürztraminer, 2005 (Alsace-France):
Rose and lychee dominate the flavor profile of this fine Alsace wine, which also has notes of peach and yellow honeysuckle. Crisp and delicate, it is refreshingly memorable. An apricot sorbet or peach cobbler would do well as dessert offerings. If you haven’t experienced wines with natural floralcy, Alsace Gewürztraminer is the perfect place to start.

Accent Fragrance: Antonia’s Flowers is a wonderful complement to a great Gewürz as the perfume’s freesia, jasmine, magnolia and lily notes weave a synchronous spell on the senses.

Quady Elysium 2005 (California):
Deep notes of rose permeate this Black Muscat dessert wine, which is outstanding when paired with a good dark chocolate. If extravagance is in the air, Amedei Porcelana criollo bar will suffice. Otherwise, a 71% Valrhona dark will do nicely.

Accent Fragrance: If you are planning on seduction, a spritz of Frédéric Malle’s Une Rose on the décolletage would be a nice addition to the evening, as would a light application of the fragrance cream around the abdomen (which will rise and fall with your breath). The rose notes in Une Rose are lighter than those in Elysium, so you can tease your intended’s sense of smell before building a crescendo on the palate.

(P.S. Quady also makes Essencia, which is an Orange Muscat with orange blossom and apricot notes.)

Trimbach Mirabelle Brandy (Alsace-France):
This eau de vie was the inspiration behind perfumer Christophe Laudamiel’s Virgin #1, one of the 15 scents created for Thierry Mugler’s Perfume Coffret. Pleasant floral, musky and woody aromas rise from the tongue to the roof of the mouth after the volatile sharpness of the alcohol has become subdued. Chilled fruit compote consisting of pears, apricots, green grapes, shredded yellow apples (and a quick dash of cardamom) would do nicely as complementary dessert.

Accent Fragrance: If you are one of the lucky owners of the Thierry Mugler’s Perfume Coffret, wear Virgin #1. If not, a sheer and delicate application of Hermes’ Hiris or Le Labo’s Aldehyde 44 will work nicely.

Belvoir Elderflower Cordial (alcohol-free):
If you or a loved one prefers to go the non-alcoholic route, elderflower cordial will be quite a revelation. Since the concentrate is made with citric acid and sugar, there is a decidedly refreshing aspect with regard to taste, but the flavor perfectly captures dewy white flowers in bloom. Traditionally, elderflower cordial is used to impart essence in still or sparkling mineral water. As a dessert it may be used to create a refreshing basil sorbet or as an accoutrement to vanilla ice-cream.

Accent Fragrance: The scent of Acqua di Biella Baraja was made for this elderflower cordial. Delicate and fresh, Baraja resonates with the clean, crisp floral notes of elderflower cordial. Could it be a touch of dihydromyrcenol lingering in subdued woods, citrus and spices that makes this fragrance so perfectly suited to a petal-flavored drink? The answer is in the molecules—where all beautiful scents and flavors reside.


All of the wines recommended in this article can be purchased at Sherry Lehmann, in New York City. Elysium can be hard to find, but your local wine purveyor can check with their distributor and order it for you.

Belvoir Elderflower Cordial is available at Kalustyan’s (item number 190EO1).

Amedei chocolates can be purchased online from the purveyor or from Chocosphere.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Rose Geranium Unmasked

Rose geranium is an ingredient common to perfumery, but it is unrelated to the common geranium. Derived from the leaves of pelargonium graveolens, the essential oil has a soft rose-like scent with an inkling of citrus. There are over 250 varieties of pelargonium, each with its own scent profile. Though the perfume arts may play favorites with a single cultivar, a creative gourmand may take advantage of several scented geraniums when it comes to creating flavor effects.

In a garden, scented geraniums are subtle and delicate provocateurs. The simple act of touching the leaves will delicately perfume the fingertips. In addition, brushing up against the plant will anoint passersby. This enchantment is a result of nature’s design--miniscule hairs at the base of leaves are attached to glands that generate essential oil. If one were to step back and imagine human hair capable of producing such an effect, the world would be an intoxicating place indeed. Perhaps this thought was not lost on fragrance designer Raymond Matts, who utilized headspace technology to capture the smell of his infant son’s head when he was creating Simply for Clinique.

Six fragrance families are used to categorized “scenteds,”as they are referred to in the gardening world. The categories include rose, mint, lemon/citrus, fruit, nut and pungent. ‘Nutmeg’, ‘Attar of Roses’, ‘Strawberry’, ‘Lemon Meringue’, ‘Apple Mint’, and ‘Ginger’ cultivars all smell like their descriptors and just scratch the surface when it comes to the world of flavor possibilities in the pelargonium world. The easiest way to capture the flavor of pelargonium is by creating a scented sugar, similar to the way one would use a vanilla bean to perfume granulated sugar. The process is simple, somewhat alchemical and well worth the patience it takes to achieve the desired result.

In a glass container assemble layers of fresh leaves between 1-inch (2-cm) of sugar, using four cups of sugar. Store in a warm area for at least two weeks (one month is optimal). The leaves will dry in the sugar and the essential oil will permeate the crystals. The scented sugar can be added to cakes, frostings, teas or as a finishing touch on fresh fruit. Another way to enjoy the flavor and fragrance of pelargonium leaves is to freeze them in an ice cube tray or use them neat, as a garnish in cool drinks. The use of pesticide-free leaves is imperative and there are many nurseries that utilize organic methods for cultivating pelargonium that will ship the plants anywhere in the U.S., in appropriate weather.

With so much to offer in terms of aroma, one wonders why more varieties of pelargonium aren’t utilized in perfumery. There are no easy answers to this question, though speculation leads to the assumption that pelargonium graveolens is more highly cultivated and thus less expensive to harvest. Perhaps particular olfactive pleasures are best experienced in the garden, where they can be shared and cherished for the delight they bring to all who thoroughly embrace them with their senses.


Photo of P. graveolens from Essential Oils Online.

Becker, Jim. Brawner, Faye. Scented Geraniums, Loveland, Colorado: Interweave Press, 1996.