Saturday, March 1, 2014

Bergamot and Chocolate: A Perfect Flavor Pairing (Brownie Recipe Included)

A person’s first taste of bergamot is typically experienced in a sip of Earl Grey tea. A refreshing and distinctive perfume greets the nose as steam rises from the cup. The tantalizing fruity floral aroma has the same affect on the senses as the invisible aromatic trail left behind by a beautiful perfume; it inspires the desire to encounter the source and merge with it. One sip and the scent is transformed into flavor on the taste buds as bergamot balances the astringent tannins in the tea leaves. Black tea and bergamot is a perfect flavor pairing, one that is easily understood by anyone who finds comfort in a warm drink.

Another flavor pairing that produces an equally sensual effect is that of bergamot and chocolate. Like its lemon, lime and orange cousins, bergamot marries well with chocolate and provides a complementary citrus contrast against chocolate's deep dark earthiness. Like all good flavor pairings, when bergamot is combined with chocolate none of the unique characteristics of the individual ingredients are lost. The edge between their differences blurs in harmonious transformation.

Bergamot has floral and citrus notes, both of which can be found in single origin chocolate. Spicy, nutty, winey and caramel-like aspects can make these delicate notes of bergamot harder to detect, but they are there. The contrasting notes have common ground in a specific medium. The trick is to find the space where they meet and consciously refrain from being distracted by the ambiguous fringes. This is difficult for many as ambiguity is irksome because it defies black and white distinctions. When it comes to ambiguity in flavors, notions of certainty disparate and give way to shades of gray that disrupt the senses. It is in this locus that new flavors are born.

Flavor pairing is an art and a science. Home cooks regularly build on flavor pairings that are particular to their culture (tomato and basil, garlic and ginger, shallots and tarragon, etcetera). Though it is true that one can taste harmony in an ordinary dish without donning a lab coat, innovative flavor pairings are evolving as a result of collaborations between chefs (artists) and flavorists (scientists).

Flavor pairing research has yielded an interesting though hotly contested result; when aromatic properties of ingredients are compared and analyzed for common molecules, chefs and flavorists are able to build bridges that result in flavor pairings between ingredients that appear to have nothing in common. "Whilst this [flavor pairing] is still just a theory it is a great tool for creativity," says Heston Blumenthal, chef at The Fat Duck.

Blue Cheese and chocolate. Bananas and parsley. Mango and pine. These are just a few of the flavor pairings that Heston Blumenthal has discovered and applied in his kitchen. His experiments involve cross-pollinating reference material from perfumery and gastronomy (this approach developed when Blumenthal consulted with scientist Fran├žois Benzi of Firmenich). Blumenthal tests and applies innovative flavor pairings using Steffen Arctander’s Perfume and Flavor Materials of Natural Origin (known as the "perfumer's bible" in the industry) and Leffingwell’s flavor database. The approach is intelligent and intuitive.

Flavor extracts sold in supermarkets are the equivalent of food grade eau de colognes. This may sound odd but essential oils used in perfumery are the same ingredients used to make food grade extracts, with one caveat: essential oils used to create flavors are subject to stricter safety standards as end product is ingested. A growing trend in the use of food grade essential oils continues to influence chefs and mixologists (something White House pastry chef Bill Yosses and I evangelized at a flavor and fragrance event at the James Beard Foundation in May of 2006).

You don't have to be a professional chef to use food grade essential oils. With products like Aftelier's Chef's Essences home cooks can add unique flavor facets to their culinary creations. Glass Petal Smoke’s Bergamot Brownies utilize a bergamot and chocolate flavor pairing in a flourless pastry base that is gluten-free. The recipe is the result of a complete reworking of the Gluten-Free Goddess’ “Dark Chocolate Brownies”.*

Bergamot Brownies 
Recipe by Michelle Krell Kydd 
Serves 9-12 

·      5 ounces 72% dark chocolate (chips or broken up bar)
·      ½  cup Unsalted Butter
·      2 large organic eggs
·      1 cup Dark Muscovado Sugar
·      ½  cup almond meal
·      ¼ cup Brown Rice Flour
·      ¼ cup Flaxseed Meal
·      ½  teaspoon non-iodized sea salt
·      ¼  teaspoon baking soda
·      4 teaspoons Mexican Vanilla Extract
·      8-10 drops Aftelier's Bergamot Chef's Essence

·    Position rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Grease an 8x8-inch square baking pan with cooking oil spray and set aside.
·   Microwave butter in a glass bowl. Start with 20 seconds, adding 15 second increments until the butter is melted. The butter should be melted, not hot. Set aside.
·   Microwave chopped chocolate in a glass bowl. Start with 30 seconds, adding 10 second increments, stirring every time you add more time to the melting process. (Do not over melt as chocolate will crystallize and won’t be good for baking.) Using a dropper add essential oil of Bergamot to the melted chocolate and mix thoroughly. Set aside.
·   In another bowl, beat eggs by hand until combined. Add sugar and vanilla, making sure to smooth out any lumps. Fold the egg and sugar mixture into the chocolate and butter mixture. Blend until smooth and glossy.
·   In a separate bowl combine almond meal, rice flour, sea salt and baking soda. Mix together with a silicone spatula until well incorporated. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and add the chocolate mixture. Combine thoroughly.
·   Fill baking pan with brownie mixture, using a spatula to even out the batter. Bake for 30-35 minutes. Test for doneness by sticking a toothpick in the center of the pan; there should be no crumbs sticking to the toothpick. The brownies will be slightly moist. Do not overbake.
·   Allow pan to cool on a wire rack. Refrigerate the brownies until ready to serve. If you don’t plan on serving all of the brownies at once you can wrap individual pieces in foil and store them in an airtight bag in the freezer. Thaw or microwave to soften when the craving for a brownie strikes. 

*Flavor modifications include: use of chocolate at percentages higher than 70%, substitution of dark muscovado sugar in place of light brown sugar, use of butter in place of coconut oil (very important if you don't want coconut to be part of the flavor profile), substitution of brown rice flour in place of sorghum flour, the addition of flaxseed meal to improve texture, and use of Mexican vanilla in place of Madagascar vanilla for a creamy woody caramelized tone. Food grade essential oil of bergamot is utilized to complete flavor pairing synergies. 

Food grade essential oils are highly concentrated and should be dosed with a very light hand. A primer on baking with food grade essential oils can be found here.

LorAnn sells food grade essential oil of bergamot. Click here for more information.

Bergamot is a top note in perfumery which means it evaporates more quickly than middle and base notes. If a middle or base note was used in this recipe the amount of essential oil would be cut by at least 50% as middle and base notes evaporate more slowly and evoke stronger flavor effects. 

Blood orange, Ginger, Jasmine, Neroli, Rose, and Ylang Ylang would work nicely in the brownie recipe should you choose to experiment in a chocolate flavor pairing using food grade essential oils.

Glass Petal Smoke predicts that national brands like McCormick will produce gourmet flavor extracts inspired by materials used in fine fragrance. The materials will have acceptance in existing cultures and expose consumers to new flavor combinations that will balance the exotic and the familiar. Growth in local food movements across the U.S. will increase the chances of palatable flavor pairings rooted in authentic foodways (e.g. Midwest). 

Images by Michelle Krell Kydd are marked as such (all rights reserved). 

Image of flourless chocolate pastry is taken by Karen Neoh (some rights reserved).