Dessert is my favorite part of the meal. The base is sugar, but the rest is whimsy – be it popcorn from Contra, or a decision to emulate the Chateau d’Yquem wine from the Fat Duck. The following desserts were masterpieces, my favorites of 2014. I present them, with my reactions as I first blogged them…
Other 2014 write-ups:
23. Tangerine, popcorn
New York City, USA
Toppings: Popcorn powder, malt crumble, tangerine granita.
Underneath: Popcorn mousse, olive oil jam, slices of tangerine.
Bright, fruity, energetic. A slight bitterness from the olive oil jam melded perfectly with the sweet popcorn. The tangerine cut against the oil, and left this diner feeling refreshed.
22. Mountain Range and Forest: Cacao, Coca, Chirimoya, Chaco Clay
I loved this dish. I had chirimoya desserts at Borago, Gustu, Astrid y Gaston; but this took the cake. Chirimoya was served simply as the main dish; a fruit with the texture of pineapple and the taste of soursop. It was served simply with chocolate-coca soil. Simplicity.
21. Crisp Crepes and Meringue, served with Sweet Egg Strands or Prawns
Street food at Taling Chan Floating Market
I could not have imagined any improvement upon these crisp crepes, sandwiching a soft pillowy meringue and sprinkled with prawns for a salty counterpoint.
20. Yeast ice cream / White caramel film / Meringue / Silver Leaf
“Chef wants you to have this, in order to ‘shock the palate’ “. The yeasty flavor (which yeast? what proportions, if a mixture?) was pronounced, capturing a hearty, bready flavor. For such a thin film, the caramel flavor came through strongly.
19. (Cheese Course) Yeast ice cream, fermented huckleberry watermelon jelly, with Chimay cheese “brulee”
Chicago, IL, USA
Amazing. Chimay cheese below was treated with a creme brulee crust above, and the funky taste of good bread came from the yeast ice cream. Ostensibly a cheese course, this was a great tribute to beer. Rounded. Completely unique. I miss it already.
18. olive oil, coconut, borage
St. Helena, CA, USA
Frozen coconut cream with Hudson ranch olive oil (peppery) and gooseberry sauce+lime juice, borage sprouts. I thought was a very good dish, with the peppery olive oil going well with sour gooseberry, sweet coconut tastes, and fishy taste of borage.
17. Strawberry Special Sweet
Toraya, two soft (pillowy would not begin to describe it) buns with strawberry and red bean paste, custard.
So simple, but the tartness of the strawberries (they were sweet too) was perfectly calibrated NOT to standout from the custard and red bean paste. They harmonized – and the entire bite was a magical taste of strawberries, fragrance et al…
16. Millefeuille rhubarbe <<vintage>> a l’angelique officinale, sirop rose
The flaky pastry cuts beautifully, and with an audible crunch. Rhubarb millefeuille with sour cherries, and then paired off with an intensely floral rose ice cream, which brought to mind the intensely floral geranium oil in the beetroot sushi that our meal started off with.
15. black walnut, soufflé and ice cream
San Francisco, CA, USA
A good pairing of black walnut soufflé with maple flavors. Nuttiness with sweetness, Hot souffle cut by cold ice cream.
14. Bahuaja: Milk, ice cream and crispy “castaña”, mango, cranberry, cushuro, mochi
A sublime dish. A sweet milk ice-cream with an array of delicious ingredients. No ingredient outshined the other – but the most curious was “cushuro”. Cushuro was one of the most wondrous discoveries of my gastronomic travels in South America. It’s textured like a tender bubble-tea pearl, and tastes like mild earl grey tea. Maido perfectly incorporated it in a “Treasures” themed dessert.
13. carrot & coconut
Boston, MA, USA
An inspired pairing. Coconut milk and cream is made into foam, and sits on top of a bowl of carrot soup with a bit of ginger. Sprinkled on top is toasted coconut. Refreshing, and decadent at the same time.
12. Spiced Chocolate Foam, Yuzu Marmalade, Sugar Globe
New York City, USA
A dark chocolate/yuzu cake base; a yuzu(?) sorbet in the center, with spiced chocolate foam around, and covered with a sugar globe.
The tastes were harmonious, creating a pleasantly spiced dessert on its own
However, what makes it truly spectacular is the sugar [isomalt] globe. Never have I seen such a perfectly clear (usually sugar glass is frosted and unclear) sugar glass with such thin-ness. It yielded easily to my spoon.
11. Sweet Grain Cereal: Apple Butter, Johnny Cake, Honey and Toasted Grain Milk
Providence, RI, USA
“birch’s tribute to breakfast consists of whipped grain milk, on top of apple sauce and a cornmeal johnnycake, mixed with the kitchen sink: honeycomb, puffed rice, oat snaps, and a few other things that are delicious. Eating this is like eating the best bowl of breakfast cereal ever. The mix of textures is complex, with at least four different kinds of crunchiness: thin, oaty crunchiness from the oat snaps, hollow crunchiness from the rice, and sweet dense crunchiness from the honeycomb, and what I think are airy cylinders of dried apple. One of the best desserts I have ever tried anywhere.” I wrote this a year ago in 2013, it still holds true in 2014.
10. น้อยหน่าน ้ากะทิกับขนมดอกจอก (custard apple in coconut cream with sesame biscuits)
A dish to die for. These fresh sesame biscuits were still coated with just the thinnest film of oil when they were served fresh next to a cold bowl of iced coconut cream. When you break up the warm sesame-encrusted biscuits over the iced coconut cream, it feels like eating the world’s best* bowl of breakfast cereal. Instead of cold milk, we get the rich taste of cold coconut milk, and biting into the sweet warm biscuits like crunching into fresh warm sugared cornflakes. A magical contrast of hot-and-cold, crunchy-and-soupy. (*joint-1st breakfast cereal dish, with the Sweet Grain Cereal of birch in Providence, half the world away)
Custard apples provide a sour-sweet soursop taste, with firmer texture, a beautiful dish. Truly spectacular.
9. Persimmon-apple blancmange
A delicate milky flavor from the blancmange (thickened milk pudding). Sensational. The creamy milk tastes blended well with apple. Persimmon disguised tartness from the apple.
8. Dacquoise au praliné, giboulée de fraises de jardin
Tarte fine sablée au cacao, glace à la vanille Bourbon
- A tremendous dacquoise (a cake made with layering nut-flavored meringues with cream). Here the meringues sandwiched a hazelnut cream. The meringues were light, and contrasted beautifully with the cream. It was every bit the equal of the legendary chocolate tart, the two were like yin (chocolate) and yang (hazelnut)
- The legendary L’Ambroisie chocolate tart – the chocolate as light as air, melting on the tongue like a cloud, it was perfect with a vanilla ice cream. A classic, intense combination. Both tarts were tremendous.
7. CHOCONUTS ‘TART’ Taste and textures
I was very pleased with this dessert. Chocolate in multiple forms: a perfectly formed quenelle of chocolate ice-cream, with chocolate foam, chocolate balls, chocolate tuile, on a chocolate tart, with a huge dollop of hot chocolate cream being applied as the coup-de-grace.
Marvelous and classic chocolate dessert, one of the very best I have tried anywhere in the world. Decadent, delicious, and (very quickly) disappeared.
6. Seven Deadly Sins
Each of the Seven Deadly Sins became a representative chocolate. Highly imaginative. Where else in the world would you expect something so heart-on-sleeve artistic, so playfully ambitious?
5. Rica Rica de Atacama
Ice cream from the rica rica plant, and a macaron layer made of rica rica. The filling was made from the Chañar wildflower. Evoked the Atacama desert.
4. Egg and dairy products, Farmhouse Milk Ice Cream, Butter Toffee, “homemade eggs” milk skin and gelée of yogurt
- “It has made me fall in love with vanilla” – that was what I wrote. Bed of toffee butter, cubes of yoghurt gelatin, dehydrated spiced milk. Dehydrated milk bits, milk ice cream, along with for a seventh time, eggs with liquid creme caramel filling.
- The vanilla in the ice cream was accentuated by its supporting cast. It was the star. The taste of spiced milk; the sour of yoghurt; the richness of toffee butter. A homage to milk.
3. Mille Crêpe: Preserved Lemon
Providence, RI, USA
As I wrote in my 2014 review – “Birch also had a few guest chef stints – the most memorable was the one of Justin Yu from Oxheart in Houston, TX, who created an amazing lemon mille-crepe cake. (the first and last mille-crepe this year that I admired – the freshness of the crepe is essential to giving the cake a “zipping” texture as your knife cuts through alternating layers of crepe and cream).”
He had brought a few crepes from Houston (courtesy of his wife and Oxheart baker Karen Man), and made a mille-crepe about half the size of those he makes at Oxheart. It was absolutely delicious and had a lemon flavor in the sweet spot of tartness. I can’t wait to get to Oxheart and try the larger mille-crepe cake on premise.
2. Reduced milk ice cream with red fruit infusion
Smoked milk ice cream. How? Buckets of milk in an oven, to absorb the aromas of fire.
It was a cognitive double-take, the smoky flavors we usually associate with heat, with the cold temperature of a floral milk ice cream. Perfect. Paired with red fruit infusion, which was a good fruit-ish complement to the ice cream.
1. Botrytis Cinerea
One of the greatest desserts in the world. The fungus botrytis cinerea creates the Chateau d’Yquem wine. Originally developed by the kitchen for a Chateau d’Yquem tasting, this was a cornucopia of flavors and textures to evoke the Chateau d’Yquem wine. Deconstructed: An frosty wine ball, a creamy yeasty meringue, fantastic raisins, golden chocolate, gums… Each individual grape of the dish had its own flavor, together they sang in harmony like a dish sprung from heaven itself. It was a true pleasure to have witnessed and tasted this dish for myself.
Worth the price of admission to the Fat Duck for this dish alone.