As you know, I make chocolates every year, often with some fairly exotic flavor combinations. People ask me how I come up with my choices, often marveling at their creativity and apparent daring. The full answer is that I do it exactly the same way that I get the ideas for my woven pieces: I’m intensely curious, so I keep my eyes peeled for unusual things. As soon as I spot something interesting, I capture the idea in my “idea box” or notes for future use. Then I take the idea into the studio and think about how to combine it with other ideas I’ve captured, and create samples with those combinations. Finally, I take the experiments that work and put them into the final pieces. People who see the final pieces are amazed by the combinations of ideas, assuming I came up with it on the spot. What they don’t see are the hundreds of combinations that didn’t work, that got discarded along the way because they weren’t good enough. I’m not a wizard at design – merely experimental and persistent. Those are more valuable, in my opinion, than genius.
At any rate, I (and my idea box) am in pig heaven right now. The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook, which I posted about yesterday, is proving to be a treasure trove of culinary ideas. It’s perfect for me – full of recipes using locally available fruits (the author lives in my area and apparently haunts very similar farmer’s markets), and combining those fruits with interesting herbs, spices, and liqueurs as well as with each other. Some are mixes I’d never even thought of – strawberries, Marsala, rosemary? – and some are classics I’ve never tried, like melon jam or damson plum jam. Some are intriguing twists on fruits I’ve worked with before (bergamot marmalade), others add a spice I hadn’t considered, like the apricot-orange-marmalade with a touch of saffron. All are possibilities with chocolate.
Last year I dramatically increased my chocolate flavor possibilities by introducing a new type of chocolate bonbon: a layer of fruit jelly over a layer of chocolate. That allowed the creation of intense fruit flavors that I’d been unable to achieve by mixing fruit purees with chocolate. And since I think I can convert jams into fruit pates relatively easily, any jam I make is potentially fair game for adding to chocolates, later.
So I am reading through this book with a wonderful sense of opportunity, playing the “fortune cookie game” all the way through, only with chocolate.
What’s the “fortune cookie game”? Back in high school and college, we used to amuse ourselves at the end of dinner by reading the fortune-cookie fortune and adding “…in bed” at the end, as a way of spicing it up a bit.
As I got older, I (mostly) abandoned this game, but developed a new variant: I now end every sweets recipe I read with “…with chocolate”.
So for every flavor combination, I think about whether that recipe (or some subset of the ingredients for that recipe) will work well with chocolate. Dark, milk, white chocolate? Mixed into the ganache or done as a separate layer? Using the recipe as written, or simply snatching up some of the flavors to try in a traditional bonbon?
Being in the habit of scanning for ideas is the first step to good design – ideas aren’t sufficient in themselves, but they give you material for the studio (or test kitchen!) experiments that will lead to good design. And it is profoundly exciting to come across some great ideas and sprint into the studio with them!
So here are some of the ideas that sound intriguing (each of the jams is a recipe from the book):
- Bergamot marmalade with a layer of tea-flavored dark chocolate ganache on top, for an “Earl Grey” bonbon.
- Strawberry Meyer Lemon Marmalade with rose geranium
- Concord grape jam with hints of orange and lemon – would make a lovely “peanut butter and jelly” bonbon.
- Apricot orange marmalade with hints of saffron – with white chocolate?
- Strawberry marsala jam with rosemary – dark or milk chocolate
- Meyer lemon marmalade with mandarins and lavender – intriguing mix of floral and citrus flavors, maybe with white chocolate?
There are so many possible variants that my head is really abuzz with possibilities. One thing that is obvious, though – if I’m going to try making these jams, I need to figure out how to dispose of the excess production. Since mailing glass jars is a pain, I’m guessing my jam-loving coworkers are going to have an awesome time for the next couple weeks, as I play around with flavor combinations.
Planning to make two batches of jam or marmalade this weekend, plus do more dyework, plus get the Handwoven project completed and written up. Thank goodness it’s a three day weekend!