As some of you know, I was recently working at Aziza again as their pastry chef. As a fruit-inspired pastry chef I found it difficult to start in the middle of winter. Although here in the Bay Area we are lucky enough to have bustling farmers’ markets year round, the fruit we see for months on end is not the easiest to work with in a plated dessert context.
Plainly said, winter fruit is not sexy. Sure pears are sensual and pomegranates are exotic, but the average restaurant goer orders chocolate desserts in winter. Pastry chefs look to nuts and tropicals and ingredients they forget about as soon as cherries and peaches hit the scene.
At Aziza, where the food is rich with intense spice activity, meats are braised for days and the traditional dish, B’stilla, is made with and covered in sugar, the dessert menu can be a tricky one. I tried to come up with desserts that would be refreshing after Mourad Lahlou’s California-French influenced modern Moroccan cooking.
When I worked at Aziza before, from 2003-2004, I turned one of my favorite things, the Redwood Hill goat yogurt into sorbet. This year I wanted to turn it into something else. I’d made pannacotta and goat cheese mousse at Citizen Cake, incorporated it into an Alsatian goat cheesecake at Bouchon, and now it was time for a new frontier. A new texture.
In my perfect world I would not have sweetened it at all. But I know those who love the taste of plain yogurt are few among the American populace. So, as a compromise, I sweetened it with Agave syrup, both in an attempt to stay away from corn syrup, and to educate my palate on this “new” sugar.
It’s always useful to use “an invert sugar” when making sorbet, granite or ice cream. A sugar that’s liquid in its natural state will help lower the freezing temperature, and thus make the mouth-feel of said frozen treat smoother. I like to say it helps the ice molecule, which wants to freeze into a little cube, lie down and flatten into a malleable icy shard which will be more easily led to manipulation.
In order to get a similar effect many people add alcohol to frozen concoctions, but I’m of the school that if I want something to taste like a cocktail, I’ll exacerbate that aspect of it, not hide it behind a lack of a knowledge about how certain liquids freeze and churn for the best outcome.
More than one customer compared the granite to eating snow. As cold as it’s been in the Bay Area, sometimes it’s better not to fight the chilly air, but go with it! After a meal of hearty stews, rich meat dishes, spicy saucy delicacies or take-out, it’s lovely to have a sweet that’s not so sweet as it is an inventive way to enliven plain yogurt. A trick up your sleeve, if you’ll allow me.
REDWOOD HILL GOAT YOGURT GRANITE
1 Quart Redwood Hill goat yogurt
1/4 Cup Agave syrup*
*There are many brands available in health food stores or in the “Natural” section of your local supermarket. If you shop at Rainbow Grocery, they sell it in bulk.
1. Heat up Agave syrup and pour it into a medium sized bowl.
2. Whisk about 1/3rd of the yogurt into the bowl of Agave syrup.
3. Incorporate the rest of the yogurt into the bowl by whisking thoroughly.
4. Pour bowl’s contents into a glass or stainless steel vessel (I use a Pyrex “lasagna pan.”) and place it in the freezer.
5. Starting at the one hour mark, pull out container and, using a strong dinner fork, scrape yogurt all around to keep it from freezing solid.
6. After the first hour, “fork” your mixture every half hour until the granite looks like shards of icy snow.
Granite will keep in your freezer in a tightly sealed container for at least a month. If you’ve found that it is too hard to eat, or is too chunky, place container in your refrigerator for about a half hour to “temper” it back to a consistency you can “fork” up a bit more.
I served the Redwood Hill goat yogurt granite with Meyer lemon sorbet and garnished the bowl with chopped candied citrus peels, but it would also be lovely with pomegranate seeds, citrus segments, or plain, like snow.