In this season of gift giving, one of the most thoughtful gifts you can give is food you made yourself. Using a whipping siphon, you can create flavorful infusions that taste like they’ve been aging for months, but actually only take a few seconds to make. Below are recipes for herb- and spice-infused olive oil, “barrel aged” maple syrup, and candy cane vodka.
The traditional approach to creamy, smooth potatoes is to add so much cream and butter that you can hardly taste the potatoes anymore. But, we’ve discovered how you can make velvety-smooth potatoes without adding any cream at all! The secret ingredient is diastatic malt powder, an ingredient available from specialty baking or brewing supply stores that converts potato starches into sugars, leaving no trace of gumminess or graininess.
Potato starch granules are big: up to a tenth of a millimeter in diameter. That’s large enough for your tongue and teeth to detect. The microscope image above, taken by our very own Nathan Myhrvold, reveals the potato starch granules (stained red by iodine vapor) surrounded by the potato’s cell walls (stained blue).
Diastatic malt powder is made from a grain containing the enzyme diastase. This enzyme speeds up the rate at which starches breakdown into sugars. When you set this enzyme loose on potato starches, it actually splits the giant starch molecules into much smaller sugar molecules, smoothing the puree at the microscopic level and eliminating the graininess associated with dairy-free potato purees.
The Caramelized Carrot Soup recipe from Modernist Cuisine is not only a favorite of ours, but is also the most popular among readers for its silky, sweet, intense carrot flavor. We knew we had to include it in Modernist Cuisine at Home, but first we had to make a few adjustments because the original recipe used a centrifuge. So we simplified it by using simmered, strained carrot juice and refrigeration to get the carotene butter to congeal and separate.
The recipe still works because it’s the pressure-cooking that really allows the flavors of this soup to flourish. The flavors are a combination of caramelization and the Maillard reaction (what people commonly call “browning”), which produces a rich, caramelized, nutty flavor. Pressure cookers are particularly suited for promoting the Maillard reaction because elevated temperatures encourage foods to develop their characteristic flavors far more quickly than conventional cooking methods (such as roasting) do, thereby transforming a long process into a short 20-minute cook time. Adding 0.5% baking soda when pressure-cooking further speeds flavor reactions by producing an alkaline pH of about 7.5.
By using this technique, the carrot flavor is further heightened because no heavy cream is needed. It’s just carrots, carrot juice, and butter. It is so delicious that you can only taste two things: the pure intense essence of the carrots, and a warm undertone of caramel flavor.
I like to serve it with a combination of coconut foam, fried curry leaf, glazed carrots in carotene butter, and chaat masala. I usually serve it warm, but it can be served cold too.
Simply put, this recipe is delicious, rich, silky, simple, convenient, and efficient.
Anjana Shanker, Development Chef
This adaptation of the Home Jus Gras recipe from Modernist Cuisine at Home substitutes store-bought chicken stock and rendered duck fat in place of the homemade chicken jus and pressure-rendered chicken fat called for in the original. To illustrate the point that this is a very stable, very flavorful emulsion, feel free to substitute other water-based liquids in place of the chicken stock. Apple cider and beer are both great choices. Unlike the original recipe, here we add gelatin to the water component of the emulsion to give it the same mouthfeel as if it were made from the highly gelatinous pan drippings of roasted chicken wings and feet.
Scott Heimendinger, Director of Applied Research
One of the traditional dishes we took on in Modernist Cuisine at Home is classic mac and cheese. While we have always loved this family staple, there is an inherent problem with traditional preparations: all of the virtues of using good cheese are lost when you make a cheese sauce with flour and milk, as in a traditional béchamel sauce, the standard in nearly all macaroni and cheese recipes.
Cheese is an emulsion of dairy fat and water, but that emulsion tends to break down when it gets hot. The starch particles and milk proteins in béchamel act as emulsifiers, but they aren’t very good at their job and result in poor flavor release. So, either you sacrifice the flavor of the cheese by adding far too much béchamel, or you dilute the cheese less at the cost of greasiness. We solve this problem with a little emulsion science and the use of sodium citrate.
Our modernist version of mac and cheese owes its chemistry to James L. Kraft, who in 1916 patented the first American cheese slice. He showed that sodium phosphate keeps the water and fat droplets mixed when the cheese is melted. We use sodium citrate, which has the same effect and is easier to find. The resulting texture is as smooth as melted American cheese, but as complex and intense in flavor as any of your favorite cheeses.
adapted from the recipe for Mac and Cheese on page 310 of Modernist Cuisine at Home
The team looked at each recipe in a number of different ways to see if the layout solved any potential complications both editorially and visually. Was the recipe procedure difficult to follow? Would visuals of textures or close-ups help show what the recipe should look like? Would adding an explanation be okay or did we need photographs to make a culinary point? Wherever we felt there was a need to explain more of the procedure or show a texture, we did that in an expanded format. In preparation, I would read each recipe thoroughly and flag the ones I thought needed more visual explanation. It’s important to show textures and techniques so that the readers know if they are doing something correctly.Though this is a short recipe, it is a fairly complicated one. There is a lot going on, especially when you pull the vacuum and the brioche absorbs the custard. So it ended up as a two-page spread in the Gels chapter of volume 4.
Mark Clemens, Art Director, Modernist Cuisine
The marbling technique is an adaptation of the traditional Chinese tea egg. We tested many different colors, knowing that we wanted to use vegetable dye so that the eggs were sure to be safe for consumption. After testing 12 different colors, we figured out that beet juice worked best. Other colors either weren’t bright enough or didn’t stick to the egg enough.
Then we tested to find the perfect way to serve a boiled egg with a liquid yolk. We wanted the yolk to be runny, so we had to keep it at that perfect silky texture, and at the same time, avoid the rubbery feel that egg whites sometimes get. Finally, we said, why don’t we boil it to set the white, and then cook it sous vide? But we still had to test many different times and temperatures after we created that process. This was before we had our Best Bets for Cooking Whole Eggs table (see page 4·78). Actually, because at that time it seemed like everyone was working with eggs in some way (Johnny was working on custards), we put all of our results together and that became the Best Bets table.
Anjana Shanker, Staff Chef, The Cooking Lab
The Brassicas dish was one of the first things I developed for the lab dinner tasting menus. Max had already had a concept in mind. That’s often how it happens. Max will come in and describe something that he’s thinking about. He’ll give a number of components to build the dish with, and Max is great about giving a lot of suggestions. So it’s very organic in that sense. We’ll develop a dish and taste it; see what it needs quite a few times before Nathan gets his hands on it.
So we started off with the idea of brassicas–the family of cabbages–and we constructed many of the elements for the dish. We then wanted a cheese sauce. One of the first things I wanted to try was to centrifuge the cheese sauce that is in MC, which we already use for a number of other applications. I centrifuged that, and it separated into a fat layer, a water layer, and also a bunch of solids that pretty much tasted like nothing. I then reintroduced the fat, which still had a lot of flavor, back into the liquid. We essentially separated it and put it back together without all the undesirable stuff. We presented this first iteration to Nathan, and he loved it! That was my first real tasting with him, and there were about eight or so different things that he was tasting as potential dishes to incorporate into our dinner menu. The Brassicas recipe was his favorite dish that day, so it was a great moment for me.
Something Max has been working on, too, is a cabbage-juice dish. For the recipe below, it was a great idea to change up the cheese sauce because the whole broth-stew aspect plays more into St. Patrick’s Day, which is what we were going for this time. In terms of classical or Irish dishes, it brings the elements together well.
–Aaron Verzosa, The Cooking Lab
As we were working on Modernist Cuisine, we kept adding more and more to it. We could have kept adding to it, but then it never would have been finished. For the most part, we didn’t cover pastry, desserts, and baked goods. A few recipes of that kind did make it into the book, like our Pistachio Gelato and Sous Vide Lemon Curd. We’ve served both of them at our lab dinners and other events. Often, we’ll use the lemon curd to top off an Earl Grey posset.
Even though Modernist Cuisine was published almost a year ago, we’re still developing new recipes–and now there are no restrictions on the directions we can pursue. That is how we came up with the idea of using freeze-dried raspberries to make a sablé. It is a wonderful vehicle for the lemon curd.
Nathan Myhrvold, coauthor of Modernist Cuisine and Modernist Cuisine at Home
Wylie Dufresne is one of the most inspiring chefs working today. We first met at Madrid Fusión in 2003, and we’ve been close friends ever since. He’s one of those relatively unsung heroes of the culinary world; he may not be as well known as Heston Blumenthal or Ferran Adrià, but few chefs working today have done as much to push the Modernist movement forward. Wylie has been deeply influential for many chefs, myself included, because he has pushed more boundaries in the kitchen than just about anyone else cooking today.
Wylie was a great help to us when we were working on Modernist Cuisine. Many of the recipes in our book were adapted from, or inspired by, recipes and techniques published by other chefs in their own books. Wylie doesn’t have a book (at least not yet). But he graciously sent us many of his recipes and worked with us to accurately convey the techniques behind them. Wylie also generously donated his time to serve as an expert reviewer for several of the chapters, including chapter 13 on Thickeners and chapter 14 on Gels. Wylie is certainly one of the better-represented Modernist chefs in our book precisely because so many of his recipes have inspired Nathan, Max, and me. The recipe for Cheese Puffs below is just one small example.
Chris Young, coauthor of Modernist Cuisine