31 Dec 2008

TGRWT #13 roundup: caraway and cocoa

It's time to sum up the entered dishes for They go really well together #13. From the entries, it seems like caraway and cocoa/chocolate indeed do go well together.
However, for starters it should be mentioned that this combination has been discussed on khymos at several instances already. Also, I was made aware of the fact that pumpernickel contains both of these, see discussion and links at Medellitin.

What fascinates me with this month's entries is that you can literally build a whole multi-course meal on caraway and cocoa (in order of submission):

Caraway cocoa chili
by Brian at The Food Geek
[...] the chili turned out great, [...]all the flavors were balanced quite well. I could certainly taste the caraway, [...] and it definitely adds a new note to the chili. Probably some sesame would have rounded it out nicely.

Caraway chocolate cake
by M
[...] mixed 150 gram self raising flour, 1 tablespoon cocoa, 1 teaspoon caraway fruits, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 150 gram brown sugar, 75 gram walnuts, 75 gram pine nuts, 75 gram raisins and 75 gram chopped chocolate. I added 300 gram Turkish yoghurt, mixed everything gentle but thoroughly, spooned the mixture into a silicon cake pan and baked the cake in a preheated oven, 170 degrees Celsius, for about 75 minutes.

Caraway cocoa egg cream
by Rob at The Curious Blogquat
I was able to get the caraway flavor to stick with the chocolate [...] The chocolate is already subdued in an egg cream due to the seltzer, so it was nicely balanced with the caraway. We both enjoyed the drink and found it to be a nice pairing. [...] Interestingly I wouldn't do this combination again, but only because its a bit too "normal" for my liking. It was too good together, and not enough "wow" factor.

Chocolate cookies with caraway
by Martin at Khymos
In the stripped down version with only cocoa, caraway and some bitter lemon peel there you first notice the cocoa, then there is an aftertaste of caraway. I like caraway, so I was very pleased with the result. [...] Anyhow I think the 10:1 ratio of cocoa to caraway worked very fine. [...] With all the other spices present I wasn’t able to single out the caraway flavor, but it (probably) added to the overall complexity. I really recommend the recipe - even if you decide to omit caraway!

Chocolate-caraway mousse/caraway caramel tree surrounded by coconut water gelee pond, white chocolate-caraway-rye bread puree and dehydrated chocolate mousse rock (!)
by Larry at tri-2-cook
I like the flavor combo. It's not a powerful statement and it wasn't particularly easy to keep the caraway at the top of the flavor profile with the chocolate but they really do "go well together". Fun stuff.

Chocolate - caraway - peanut - Kumquat dessert
by Sølve at strezzafoods
I was quite happy with the result. A rich creamy dessert, and the caraway brought a spicy dimension that was both new but also very harmonious. The kumquat added much needed acid and bitterness. All in all a very different and amusing dessert, almost savory with nuts, spice, bitter chocolate and salt.

Beignets with Duck, caraway-chocolate and juniper sauce

by Alessio (alessiofangano [at] msn.com)

For 15 beignets:
15 Beignets
245 g Duck breast
40 g dark chocolate (60%)
1 tsp Caraway
100 g Butter
60 ml Red Wine like Shiraz
5 Juniper berries
½ tbsp Sugar
0.5 g Guar gum

Put the red wine with the juniper berries in a small saucepan and reduce over low heat with the lid on. When reduced of half, add the sugar and let simmer for some minutes. Strain trough a fine sieve and add guar gum while still warm. Brown butter on a skillet over medium fire. Strain and reserve. Grind caraway seeds in a mortar or spice grinder. Melt chocolate, caraway powder and 1 tsp of brown butter over a bain marie. Pour it on a shallow container so that the chocolate layer will be around 4mm thick. Let cool down at room temperature, unmold and cut into cubes. Refrigerate until ready to use. Take away the skin from the duck breast. Cut the meat in small dices. Render the duck skin in a warm skillet under a weight, drained the excess fat from time to time. Put the brown butter on a pan and when well warm, sauté rapidly the duck dices. Mix duck and chocolate dices in a bowl. Open in two the beignets, put in the lower part some of the duck chocolate mixture. Spoon over a teaspoon of the red wine sauce. Grind over some black pepper and close with the upper part and serve.

Verdict: When eating the beignet, the first aroma to be perceived is that of the juniper. The crunchiness of the beignet is followed by the juiciness of the duck meat and the barely melting chocolate with its caraway notes. In the whole the dish works very well, the tricky part is in the lightness of the beignet. The flavors come out very harmoniously and fulfilling. Chocolate and caraway are a perfect combination especially with red meat or game.

Chocolate sauerkraut
by Ole Eivind at Helt naturlig
As the sauce coated the cabbage shreds, the initial taste was very chocolatey with a nice caraway aftertaste. I could clearly taste that the two ingredients go really well together. The texture wasn't too bad either, but I wouldn't call the dish a success. The cabbage itself didn't work well, and for a dish consisting of little more, having the cabbage work against you can't be described as much other than a failure. It was an interesting failure however [...]

Almond-caraway coated chocolate truffles
by yours truly at fooducation
Firstly, a burst of crunchy, salt, roasted almonds followed by rich, dark chocolate. Second, while the chocolate melts and the cocoa flavour still dominates, the caraway comes through and lingers on together with the chocolate. [...] the chocolate and caraway work very well together.

Some comments on caraway aroma and flavour pairing with cocoa
Interestingly (at least to those of us with chemistry-oriented brains), the compound responsible for the intrinsic caraway aroma is (S)-carvone. The other stereoisomer, (R)-carvone, has a spearmint aroma. A striking example of the effect of chirality/handedness in chemistry: the two compounds are identical apart from the fact that they're mirror images, resulting in very different aromas.

(S)-carvone is also an important aroma component in dill seeds, and caraway is suggested to function as substitute for dill aroma (R. Zawirska-Wojtasiak: "Oils obtained from caraway and dill seeds are almost identical in composition").

(S)-carvone (left) has caraway aroma whereas (R)-carvone on the right smells of spearmint

Aroma components in caraway
Surprisingly, I could not find any literature reports on aroma components in caraway, but The Good Scents Company has listed aroma components for both caraway and chocolate/cocoa:

Aroma components in caraway
cuminyl alcohol
isobutyl angelate

Also, Flavornet has information on flavour components in caraway, only including carvone and carveol isomers, though. Compared to chocolate and cocoa, caraway seems to be a relatively uncomplicated mixture of aromatic substances. Is this possibly due to roasting of the cocoa beans resulting in very complex mixtures of aroma substances in these (from Maillard reactions etc.)?

I was quite surprised when I didn't find any direct matches between caraway and cocoa/chocolate. Maybe are any common substances in low concentrations? A caraway+cocoa google cross-search at The good Scents company returns a lot of hits, but none(?) with natural occurrence in both ingredients. The matches are mostly in the "odor and/or flavor blends with" category. This is of course uplifting, but gives no definite answers in terms of common components. If anyone can come up with such matches, I'd be happy to have a comment.

Finally, I can't resist taking a somewhat amusing detour by the 1927 Nature article Fluctuations in Affective Reactions to the Odour of Caraway Oil by J. H. Kenneth:

"Fluctuations in the affective reactions to caraway oil claimed attention [...the preference being] higher after lunch than that before. In the case of camphor, rosemary oil, menthol, sassafras oil, fennel oil, and a few other odours, no consistent fluctuations of this nature wore [sic] observed."

So, according to Nature, it's not indifferent what time of day you have your caraway. The paper also includes a plot of preference of caraway odour vs. time of day and moon phases :)

29 Dec 2008

Almond-caraway coated chocolate truffles

As a part of "They go really well together no. 13" (TGRWT #13), I wanted to try on making chocolate truffles. This was a first-timer for me, but I must (not very humbly) say that this time I had a lucky strike.

I think this might be the first time I've made something that gives me that experience you get when you go to a restaurant and they serve something you've never tasted before which leaves you both happy and amazed at the same time. Maybe for the first time, I felt that I'd produced such an experience. It's somewhat like the first time I was able to ride my bike without the support wheels.

Being a rookie in the field of confectionery, Shirley O'Corriher was my crutch (Cookwise, I haven't got around to buying Bakewise, yet). For basis recipe for chocolate truffles, I chose the "Smoothest-Ever Truffles" which worked well. Since I had already made salty almonds and caraway schnaps for Christmas, the table was laid.

5 egg yolks
300 g dark chocolate (70% cocoa, tried two different with similar results)
170 g milk chocolate ("lys kokesjokolade")
60 ml heavy cream
50 g butter (salted)
60 ml caraway schnaps
260 g salty almonds
13 g caraway seeds

1. Almonds were chopped in food processor and mixed with caraway seeds
2. Chocolate was finely chopped in food processor
3. Cream and egg yolks were heated gently in a pan, stirring constantly until slightly thickened. Butter added and stirred over low heat until melted. Chocolate added and stirred over low heat until melted. Stirred in the caraway schnaps
4. Left to cool in the pan (4-10 °C for a few hours or overnight)
5. Scooped up and made ca. 2-3 cm (1 in) diameter rough spheres. Rolled the spheres in my hands (warm hands make them melt slightly on the surface, helping ground almonds to stick)
6. Rolled in the ground almonds/caraway-mixture and left to cool

The experience
Firstly, a burst of crunchy, salt, roasted almonds followed by rich, dark chocolate. Second, while the chocolate melts and the cocoa flavour still dominates, the caraway comes through and lingers on together with the chocolate. Balance and contrast at the same time, both in flavour and texture, taking me through various phases of experience. Also, the chocolate and caraway work very well together.

The experience is different whether I let it melt in the mouth or if I chew it. Melting in the mouth gives a stepwise flavour experience since the caraway takes some time to come through. Chewing results in all the flavours coming out at the same time.

The size of the balls seem to make a difference. Too small, and all the tastes come out at once, and the amount of salt/almond/caraway is somewhat overpowering. Making them ca. 2-3 cm (1 in) diameter gives a creamy interior and a somewhat crunchy exterior which, to me, gives the best result.

The caraway schnaps does not seem to cut through the chocolate on its own, but gives that extra bite. I tried covering with cocoa powder rather than the almond/caraway mixture, resulting in no discernible caraway flavour. Hence, the caraway schnaps on its own does not give sufficient caraway flavour.

The amount of salt and caraway is of course a matter of taste preference. Some might want to reduce the amount of salt (i.e. use more lightly salted almonds), and caraway (less caraway vs. chopped almonds). To me the given amounts work well, though.

O’Corriher, S.: Cookwise. New York: William Morrow 1997.

27 Dec 2008

Salty roasted almonds and caraway schnaps

Christmas time is making your own stuff from the basics. This year brought, amongst other things, salty almonds and caraway schnaps (aquavit).

Salty roasted almonds
  • ca. 1 l concentrated brine
  • 0.5-1 kg almonds
A very approximate, but still fool proof, method: Make a concentrated brine by dissolving as much salt as possible in ca. 1 l boiling water (takes approx 500 g or so, maybe). Dump in almonds (0.5-1 kg), as much so that the almonds are just covered. Put on lid and leave cool/cold overnight. The lower the temperature, the saltier the almonds, I usually keep them on the porch in wintertime but the fridge works well. Next day, strain and spread on a baking tray with parchment. Roast in the oven, fan turned on, at 150 °C to taste (I usually prefer 15-20 minues).

Principles governing the crystallisation of salt on the almonds
  • Rapid cooling gives small crystals. If you want larger salt crystals that crunch, cool slowly (start with placing in a warm room), and use less saturated brine.
  • A lower end temperature results in precipitation of a larger proportion of the salt, probably giving saltier almonds. For less salty almonds, leave in warmer place to cool and/or strain earlier.
The good thing about these is that no fat is involved, avoiding greasy almonds. Also, the method allows for easy production of rather large amounts (0.5-1 kg at a time) with a minimum of labour.

Caraway schnaps (aquavit)
The caraway schnaps/aquavit/snaps is inevitable at many Norwegian Christmas dinners. Making one's own (in Norway and Denmark, the term would be "dram" or "krydderdram") is in fact rather easy. Although the flavour might not be as complex as the commercial ones (sherry cask aging is not an option in our home...), I believe that the ones you make at home might be more concentrated in the spice/herb flavour. The directions follow the recipe from Rolf Øvrum:
  • 25 ml caraway seeds
  • 50 + 450 ml 40% unflavoured alcohol/ethanol (80 proof)
Mix caraway seed and 50 ml ethanol in a lidded jar and leave in room temperature for 5-6 days to extract (longer storage times results, according to the literature, in unpleasant turpentine-like flavour). Make sure that the jar is perfectly clean as the alcohol might extract remaining flavour from plastic-lined lids of jars previously used for other foods. Filter through filter paper (paper coffee filter works fine), giving a highly concentrated caraway extract. Dilute with the 450 ml ethanol, rinsing the caraway seeds and filter paper with some of the ethanol in order to recover all the extract. It is perfectly drinkable right away, but will round of well if left to mature, preferably for 3-5 months. Goes well with strong flavoured meats such as mutton or game.

Øvrum, R.: Akevitt av egen avl. Cappelen Damm 1999.

20 Dec 2008

Leavens in cookies - theory and practice

Recently, I published a popular science article in Norwegian. Title might be translated "Christmas cookie chemistry, ...and some physics" on www.naturfag.no/mat. Focus is testing the effect of using different chemical leavening agents on the same cookies (yeast is hence not the issue here). A summary follows.

All photos (unless otherwise stated): Erlend Krumsvik

Why do some recipes require baking powder, others ask for baking soda, and yet others want hartshorn (baker's ammonia). For some cookies, various recipes for the same cookie even ask for different leavening agents. Puzzling...

(In writing this, I've realised that hartshorn is a rather rare ingredient in English speaking countries(?), even though it's still common in Scandinavia, and possibly also in central Europe. See references in the end for some information)

The chemistry, in short
  • Baking soda = sodium bicarbonate = NaHCO3. Requires acidic ingredient in order to produce CO2 (but see below)
  • Baking powder = baking soda plus (most commonly) two solid acids, one reacting at room temperature whereas the other doesn't react before heated. Does not require acid but does require water in order for the reagents to react.
  • Hartshorn = bakers ammonia = ammonium bicarbonate = (NH4)(HCO3). Does neither require acid nor water (but water may be used if required by other reasons). Reacts at higher temperatures only.
The two former produce CO2, whereas the latter produces both CO2 and ammonia (NH3). In all cases, gas production results in bubble expansion, giving porous and levened cookies.

Physics, in short
Either whipping eggs with sugar or creaming butter + sugar generates bubbles. When placed in the oven, the air in the bubbles expand and (more importantly) water evaporates expanding the bubbles.

Both baking powder and hartshorn do not require any other ingredient to work properly.

Baking soda, however, needs some acid (i.e. lactic acid from sour cream or buttermilk, syrup etc.). Heating pure baking soda releases some gas, but half of the baking soda remains as sodium carbonate (Na2CO3, soda). This might give a soapy bitter taste. Also, baking soda alone results in a dough in the basic pH range (opposite of acidic). In short, higher pH promotes Maillard reactions, resulting in darker cookies and more pronounced baking/caramel/nutty flavour. Also higher pH retards gluten formation, resulting in shorter texture (or more correctly, low pH promotes gluten formation).

Hartshorn liberates CO2 and ammonia. Ammonia is quite a basic substance, and seems to give rather marked different results compared to the rest (see below). Also, harthorn gives crisp, brittle and porous cookies. I haven't found any sources say exactly why, however (frustrating...). One reason might simply be of physical nature: cookies made with hartshorn are perforated due to bubble formation in a rather dry dough, resulting in cookies with lots of small holes.*

Made "tyske skiver" (shortbread cookies) and "sirupssnipper" (variety of gingerbread cookies).

(Click for table in pdf format or here for table in html format)

Of course, there are lots of variables to take into account in addition to the ingredients; baking temperature, baking time, inhomogenous temperature in the oven, using more than one tray, craftsmanship etc. The experiments above were conducted in identical fashions as far as possible. The various versions were not baked on the same tray, however, which would have given the most comparable results.

Some rules of thumb
  • For soft cookies: use baking powder, alternatively baking soda plus and acidic ingredient
  • Extra brown/dark cookies: use (more) baking soda. Not recommended if the cookies have a mild flavour, strong flavour might/will mask the taste of sodium carbonate (soda). Hartshorn might work, but has other side effects.
  • Brittle/crisp: hartshorn
  • Short texture: avoid working dough with water. Crumble flour and butter thoroughly. Keep pH above neutral by using (or adding a little) baking soda, or use hartshorn.
Skipping the leavening agent altogether is also an alternative that should be considered.

General quantities and conversions
  • 1 ts baking powder = 1/2 ts hartshorn = 1/4 ts baking soda
  • amount of acid for 1/2 ts baking soda ↔ ca. 250 ml buttermilk or 1 ts lemon juice/vinegar
  • 1 ts baking powder ↔ 250 ml (150 g) flour


Belitz, Grosch & Schieberle: Food Chemistry (3. ed.). Berlin: Springer 2004.
Gardiner & Wilson: The Inquisitive Cook. New York: Henry Holt & co 1998.
McGee, H.: McGee on Food and Cooking. London: Hodder and Stoughton 2004.
O’Corriher, S.: Cookwise. New York: William Morrow 1997.
Olver, L.: The Food Timeline

* Harold McGee has an interesting entry on hartshorn, however erraneously stating that ammonium bicarbonate does not release water. Indeed, it does as seen from the reaction scheme below. I gues, the main point is that hartshorn does not require water to funtion, allowing for rather dry doughs (flour - sugar - butter).

8 Dec 2008

The food timeline

A visit by The Food Geek made me aware of this treasure of a web site. The food timeline gives a comprehensive overview on the history of various foods and dishes. When teaching food topics, historic facts (or myths) are often excellent starting points. The problem is that such information isn't really very easy to get to. Here, loads of fascinating information is organised in a straightforward and highly effective way.

The site is far more than a timeline with information on foods and dishes, though:
  • historic cookbooks
  • economics & historic prices
  • Christmas food
  • meal times
  • references to various literature
  • free e-mail answer service promising answer withing 24 hours! (I haven't tested it yet, however)
  • tips and strategies in searching for historic information on food

Finally, citing the pages: "Information is checked against standard reference tools for accuracy". Also their book shelf is quite impressive.

Highly recommended

Late addition: I submitted a question (on hartshorn) and received an answer less than two days later. Not bad at all, taken that the service is free and done by a professional

4 Dec 2008

TGRWT #13: caraway and cocoa/chocolate

"They go really well together" round no. 13 is hereby announced. In taking on the task of hosting this somewhat sinister-sounding round, I thought a whiff of Christmas might be a proper safeguard, announcing caraway and cocoa/chocolate as flavour partners.

For newcomers: TGRWT (They Go Really Well Together) is a monthly(?) open invitation to come up with dishes that combine certain given ingredients that are supposed to match well. The hypothesis is that foods containing one or more common major volatile compound will work well in combination. The result of this might thus be a range of new and, sometimes unlikely, good combinations of ingredients. For further introductions to the topic, see the foodpairing web site and the introduction to the topic at khymos.

This is how you can participate in TGRWT #13:

1. Prepare a dish that combines chocolate and caraway. You can either
use an existing recipe (if there is any) or come up with your own.

2. Take a picture of the dish and write an entry in your blog by
January 1st with TGRWT #13 in the title. Readers will be particularly
interested in how the flavour pairing worked out, so make an attempt
at describing the taste and aroma and whether you liked it or not.

3. A round-up will be posted here (with pictures). Please send an
email to erik_at_fooducation.org with the following details: Your
name, URL of blog, URL of the TGRWT #13 post and a picture for your
entry in the round-up. If you don't have a blog, email me your name,
location, recipe and a brief description of how it worked out and I'll
be glad to include it in the final round-up.

Late addition: deadline 31. December

I'll have a look in the literature, and in the round-up I hope to be able to say something about what makes these two ingredients match, at least according to the favour pairing hypothesis.