Last Week’s Aftelier Perfumes’ Chef’s Essences Review
Last week I published Part One of my review of Aftelier Perfumes’ Chef’s Essences, which included an extensive introduction to the flavour essences, a brief review of perfumer Mandy Aftel and chef Daniel Patterson’s book Aroma (which inspired the development of the Chef’s Essences range), and a survey of my experiences using two of the Chef’s Essence Sprays: Litsea Cubeba and Black Pepper. To read this post, click here.
If you don’t have time to read Part One, read on, as I give a brief introduction to the Chef’s Essences below.
What are Chef’s Essences®?
Put simply, Aftelier Perfumes’ Chef’s Essences are essential oils, natural isolates, resins and absolutes that can be used to flavour food and drinks. They allow the creation of magical, multi-dimensional, heightened and brand new flavour experiences. They seem high-tech, almost Willy-Wonka-esque, like something from the future, space-age. And yet, they are all based on natural ingredients. One or two sprays or drops of these essences will transform your food or drink into an experience like no other. Known flavours become dramatically intensified, others display flavour nuances and characteristics that you haven’t noticed before in the raw ingredient, and new flavour experiences become possible. Have you ever eaten the following: Frankincense, Fir Needle and Tolu Balsam? I haven’t, and I know I want to experience these ingredients, not just as smells (which is how they are most commonly used and encountered), but as flavours too.
Chef’s Essences come in both concentrated form (5ml bottles with a dropper cap) and in spray form (30ml), in which the essential oils and natural isolates are diluted with organic grain alcohol. There are 17 Chef’s Essence Sprays to choose from and 54 Chef’s Essences in concentrated form. All of them can be purchased from the Aftelier Perfumes website. The sprays are very versatile and easy to use as they can be added both during and after cooking, to complete a dish.
I recently interviewed Mandy Aftel for my Thirteen Thoughts: Perfumer Interview Series, and we had some email chats back and forth at the time. In one of these emails I expressed an interest in writing a piece about Mandy’s Chef’s Essences. As Perfume Polytechnic is all about smell (not just perfume), and as this blog has explored phenomena such as synaesthesia, I thought this would be a very suitable and interesting topic for my readers. Mandy very generously offered to send me some samples of a few Chef’s Essences Sprays: we decided on Litsea Cubeba, Black Pepper, Violet and Sarsaparilla.
Last week I wrote extensively about my experiences using two of the Chef’s Essence Sprays: Litsea Cubeba and Black Pepper. To read this post, which includes suggestions for use and some simple recipes, click here.
In Part Two today I will focus on Sarsaparilla, which was gorgeous yet somewhat challenging to use as it is not a very commonly used flavour. It took me several weeks of working with and thinking about it to come up with some exciting applications and recipes.
My Experiences with Chef’s Essences Sarsaparilla Spray
My Chef’s Essence Sprays samples arrived beautifully packaged with a note from Mandy suggesting that I add a few sprays onto ice cream, chocolate puddings and to finish off dishes. Mandy had also suggested spraying them onto plain, dark chocolate in a prior email. These ideas gave me a good launching point from which to start my exploration.
When I first used the Chef’s Essences sprays I was struck instantly by how much more intense the aroma of my food had become. Particularly when sprayed onto something just before eating it, I experienced the sense of a strong and beautiful aroma hitting my nostrils first, followed by the taste of the essence as I ate the food. That two-part sensation: smell, then taste (combining to form flavour), is not something I really notice much when I eat food generally, so I think that the Chef’s Essences really highlight and intensify the aroma component of eating, almost as a separate and discreet thing. I noticed that my eating also became more mindful and I ate with more care and took more time to savour the smell, taste and flavour of each Essence. Each mouthful was a heightened, sensual, novel, intensified flavour experience.
Sarsaparilla is a flavour close to my heart. When I was a young child, my late father would take my brother and I to an old stone pub in the seaside town of Robe, where we had a holiday house. Dad would have a beer, but being way too young to drink, my brother and I would always have a “pub sars” as Dad called it. This was my first experience of the unique flavour of sarsaparilla, which (in Australia) is a drink that has characteristics a little bit like Coca-Cola, a lot like vanilla, along with some interesting herbal and medicinal notes. The “sars” was always served straight from the tap in the pub, and my brother and I drank it sitting on high stools in front of the raging, enormous open fire, feeling very grown up indeed.
Sarsaparilla is a somewhat hard-to-find ingredient and flavour. It seems to be available in the UK, in Australia, in the US and also in parts of Asia. The Wikipedia article on sarsaparilla states:
Sarsaparilla is not readily available in most countries, although many pubs and most major supermarket chains in the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Australia stock sarsaparilla-flavored soft drinks, and sarsaparilla remains available in the United Kingdom as a legacy of the Temperance movement. Australian sarsaparilla has a different flavor from American root beer or sarsaparilla. Bundaberg [an Australian soft-drink company] brews sarsaparilla from “real sarsaparilla root, licorice root, vanilla beans, and molasses.
Aftelier Perfumes’ Sarsaparilla Chef’s Essence Spray contains the essential oil Hemidesmus Indicu (CO2 extract), which is Indian Sarsaparilla, diluted in organic grain alcohol.
How I used Sarsaparilla Chef’s Essence Spray
On Vanilla Ice cream
Following Mandy’s suggestion to try the sprays on vanilla ice cream, I thought this would be a good place to start, but I unfortunately overdid it! I sprayed a generous three sprays onto my scoop, and didn’t mix it in much, which resulted in a very intense, somewhat bitter flavour. My partner, Olly Technic, put one spray on his scoop, and said it was marvellous. So, some culinary advice: go easy on the sprays (you can always add more later), and mix the flavour through the ice cream before eating. If you do this, you will have a very yummy experience indeed!
In Baked Apples
I cored a couple of aging apples that needed eating and sprayed the inside of each of them with two sprays of Sarsaparilla Chef’s Essence Spray. Then, I stuffed them with a mixture of sultanas, chopped roasted almonds, ground cinnamon, some butter and a little coconut sugar. As I’m an improvisational cook, I didn’t write down the measurements for all this, so you’ll have to wing it and combine things according to your taste and the size of the apples you need to stuff! I baked the apples until they were soft and collapsing a little and served them with thick cream. The Sarsaparilla contributed a warm, vanilla-like flavour and was very complimentary to the dried fruit stuffed inside the apples.
Yes. On ham. This was, hands down, the most fabulous (and unexpected) use of the Sarsaparilla Chef’s Essences Spray. I came across a recipe for a leg of ham baked in sarsaparilla, and I thought “why not spray some on sliced leg ham instead?” It’s much easier than baking a whole leg of ham and it works amazingly well: the warm and rich vanilla/root beer flavours really offset the sweetness of the ham. And, if you like grilled cheese and ham on toast, add one or two sprays of Sarsaparilla Chef’s Essence to each slice, after grilling for maximum potency.
Melita’s Chocolate Sarsaparilla Almond Buckwheat Cookies (Gluten and Grain Free!)
Yes, the name is a mouthful, but they sure do make a very decadent and tasty mouthful, so it’s apt! I had a hunch chocolate and sarsaparilla would combine well, so I set about finding a good, wholesome and chunky chocolate cookie recipe and then modifying it. I used The Adult Chip recipe from Saltie: A Cookbook as a point to launch this recipe from, and deviated from it sufficiently that I can confidently call it my own. For those of you with gluten and grain intolerances (buckwheat is a seed, not a grain), this is a treat you can enjoy while not upsetting your tummies! The buckwheat flour and almond meal are rustic and compliment the robust flavours of chocolate and sarsaparilla, without overwhelming them.
Ingredients (makes about 15 cookies)
1 1/2 cups almond meal (ground almonds)
2 cups buckwheat flour
1 – 1 1/3 cups raw sugar (I used low GI raw sugar, made by CSR in Australia)
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
225g salted butter (softened, but not melted)
1 small egg
75g chopped dark eating chocolate
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
15 sprays Sarsaparilla Chef’s Essence Spray
Preheat the oven to 165º celcius. Combine the almond meal, buckwheat flour and cocoa powder in a large mixing bowl. Place the butter (softened) and sugar in another large bowl, or in the bowl of an electric mixer, and mix with electric beaters (or mixer) until fluffy.
Add the flour mixture from the other bowl, the vanilla, the egg, and the Sarsaparilla Chef’s Essence Spray (just spray it into the bowl directly). Mix some more. This can be very hard going on the electric mixer as it’s a thick dough. If your mixer isn’t coping well, use a wooden spoon instead and mix by hand until well combined. Be careful not to overwork the dough as it can make the cookies tough.
Fold through the chopped chocolate evenly with a spoon, or the mixer if it can manage. Gather the dough into a ball in the bowl, cover with cling wrap, and refrigerate for 1/2 hour.
Line two baking trays with non-stick baking paper. This will save you from having to grease the trays. Roll the cookie dough into 1 1/2 – 2 inch balls, place them on the trays, and flatten each slightly with your hand. Place them on the tray about 1 1/2 – 2 inches apart. You will have about 15 cookies, but it doesn’t really matter if there are a couple less, or more.
Cook for about 12-15 minutes, until they are starting to brown underneath and around the edges. Check around 10-12 minutes to make sure they aren’t too dark underneath. Take them out of the oven when done and let them sit in the tray for a moment, before carefully removing to a cold plate (not a rack, as they are quite delicate at this point). Spray each cookie with one spray each of Sarsaparilla Chef’s Essence. As the cookies are still warm and permeable, this will give them an extra boost of Sarsaparilla flavour. Let them cool completely, that is, if you can resist eating them when they are gooey and warm and oozing molten chocolate!
Store in an airtight jar for up to 5 days. They may last longer. Ours didn’t last long enough for me to find out! The cookie dough also freezes very well, if you want to cook the cookies in two batches, which is what I did. Make sure you wrap the dough in at least two layers of cling wrap to prevent freezer burn. When you’re ready to bake the cookies, simply defrost the dough for a few hours and cook following the directions above. Alternatively, you can shape the cookies prior to freezing, and separate them with layers of non-stick baking paper, and then wrap well with cling wrap. I did the latter, and it worked well.
I hope you’ve enjoyed Part Two of my review of Aftelier Perfumes’ Chef’s Essences. Have you tried any of the range? If so, please let me know in the comments box below which ones you’ve tried and how you used them. I would love to hear about your experiences!
You can purchase the Chef’s Essences and Sprays online at the Aftelier Perfumes website. The website also has suggestions on how to use the various flavours, as does the Aftelier Perfumes Pinterest account.
Part Three of the Aftelier Perfumes’ Chef’s Essences Review, in which I write about my experiences with the Violet Chef’s Essence Spray, and share another very yummy recipe for a baked good that will add excitement to your afternoon tea, is coming very soon!