Previous Aftelier Perfumes’ Chef’s Essences Reviews
A few weeks ago 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.
Last week, I published Part Two of my review of the Chef’s Essences, which focused on the Sarsaparilla Chef’s Essence Spray, including a recipe for a delicious Chocolate Sarsaparilla Almond Buckwheat Cookie! To read that post, click here.
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.
In Part Three today I will focus on Violet (Alpha Ionone), which was such a fun, “perfumey” flavour to work with. It took me several weeks of working with and thinking about this essence to come up with some interesting uses and recipes as violet is not used all that often as a flavour, and is associated more with perfumery than with food.
My Experiences with Chef’s Essences Violet (Alpha Ionone) 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.
Violet (Alpha Ionone)
From the Aftelier website:
“Alpha Ionone captures the delicate taste and aroma of violets — warm, woody with floral and berry notes. There is no violet essential oil. Alpha Ionone is naturally found in black currants, blackberries, raspberries, black tea, plum and peach.”
Violet in Perfumery and the Ionones
An “old-fashioned” perfumery ingredient, violet was very popular in perfumes of the 19th Century. It became even more popular from the 1890s onwards, when ionones, the molecules naturally occurring in violets (and which make a violet smell like it does), were first extracted. The extracted ionones made the scent of violets more affordable, which made violet fragrances intensely popular among Victorian ladies and into the 20th Century. Prior to the 1890s, the delicate scent of violet flowers could only be extracted using enfleurage, a time-consuming, expensive process, resulting in costly violet perfumes that few could afford.
The scent of violets is usually recreated in perfumery through the combination of various different molecules and essences, including three types of ionone molecules naturally present in the violet flower (alpha-ionone, beta-ionone and beta-dihydroionone), violet leaf (which smells very green and more like grass than violet flowers), and other essences. Violet oils, concretes or absolutes are not generally used any more as they are too expensive. The Perfumes and Flavors Technology Handbook has an interesting section on this topic, and you can read the relevant section on Google Books here.
So, the Aftelier Perfumes’ Violet (Alpha Ionone) Chef’s Essence Spray really only captures one element of the complex aroma and flavour of a violet flower. However, perfumers and others familiar with the various ionone molecules tend to agree that of all the ionones, Alpha Ionone is the most representative of the floral aspects of violet, and is redolent of the smell of natural violets. Although Alpha Ionone is considered to also possess both fruity and woody aspects, my brain associates the smell of this molecule with violet flowers, before noticing these other nuances. However, knowing that this molecule is also found in various fruits and also in tea (see the quote from the Aftelier website, above) came in handy for this review, as it helped give me some ideas about what to combine the Violet Chef’s Essence spray with, and what might work well.
Violet as a Flavour
My earliest memory of eating violets was at a friend’s 13th birthday sleepover party. Another friend, gifted with superb pastry-making skills for one so young, created a marvellous Croquembouche for the birthday girl, encrusting it in drizzles of toffee and crystallised violets. I had known about the existence of crystallised violets from a cookbook of my mother’s, but had never eaten them before. I was amazed to discover that they tasted just as they smelt!
There are, of course, violet-flavoured lollies and chocolates, including the famous Parma Violets, which have been around since the 1930s. I’ve also heard of violet-flavoured liqueurs and have eaten violet-flavoured macarons.
How I Used Violet 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 of Violet 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!
Strawberries with Violet
This is a magnificent combination that takes advantage of the fact that both violet and certain berries share the Alpha Ionone molecule. I’m not sure if strawberry actually contains Alpha Ionone, but nevertheless it is very complimentary to violet!
Take six medium strawberries (or a serve for one person), hull and halve them. Put them in a bowl and add 2 sprays of Violet Chef’s Essence Spray and about a teaspoon of sugar (I used coconut sugar). Mix it all together with a spoon and let it macerate a little for 10-15 minutes, as the strawberries come to room temperature. Eat alone or with yogurt, cream or ice cream.
Maple and Violet Infused Cream
As cream has such a neutral flavour, and goes well with many desserts, I thought it would be a great ingredient to showcase the violet flavour. Simply stir a few sprays of violet (to taste), and a couple of teaspoons of maple syrup (or more or less, to taste) into double or whipped cream, and serve with your favourite dessert.
The great thing about the Chef’s Essence Sprays is that you can add a tiny amount of an intense flavour like violet to your food, taste it, and then add more if you like.
I tried this cream with quinces that I baked with vincotto and honey, adapted from a recipe by Australian chef Rosa Mitchell in her Rosa’s Farm cookbook. It was floral, aromatic and delicate and provided a necessary contrast to the tart and tangy quinces.
White Chocolate and Violet
I combined white chocolate and violet in two ways:
- I simply sprayed two sprays of Violet Chef’s Essence onto a 25g bar of white chocolate, and ate it. Yum! Instant violet-flavoured white chocolate!
- I created a Hot White Chocolate and Violet drink. Simply heat a cup of milk of your choice, break 25g of white chocolate into the bottom of a mug and pour the milk over. Stir to melt the white chocolate and spray three sprays of Violet Chef’s Essence into your mug before drinking. This is sublime and great in the cooler weather.
Violet and Earl Grey Tea Scones
I created this recipe by combining two existing recipes: one for Earl Grey and Violet Shortbread biscuits that I came across on the Internet, and Lavandula‘s famous Lavender Scones, as published in Stephanie Alexander’s Kitchen Garden Companion. As I’ve eaten the Lavender Scones many times, I knew that floral-flavoured scones are delicious, and thought that violet would work well as a flavour in the plain, delicate scone dough. Earl Grey tea is another favourite flavour of mine, but it’s not often used in baked goods in Australia. However, when we travelled in Japan a few years ago, we found many Earl Grey and black tea flavoured baked goods, and I grew to love the taste. As I searched the Internet for ideas on how to use violet as a flavouring, I came across the Earl Grey and Violet Shortbread biscuits recipe and thought the flavour combination would translate well into a scone recipe. Also, as tea and violet both contain Alpha Ionones, I thought this would be a winning combination, and it is!
Ingredients (makes about 9 scones)
2 1/2 cups organic self-raising flour, plus extra for dusting
1/4 cup icing sugar
1/2 cup thickened cream
2/3 cup milk
12 sprays Violet Chef’s Essence Spray
3 tea bags of Earl Grey tea, or 6 teaspoons loose leaf Earl Grey tea
large pinch of salt
jam and double cream, to serve
Preheat the oven to 220º celcius.
Sift flour, icing sugar and salt into a large bowl. Add the tea (if using tea bags, cut them open and tip the contents into the bowl). Add the cream and mix in quickly with a spatula or butter knife, using a cutting motion. Add 12 sprays of Violet Chef’s Essence, then the milk. Mix these ingredients in quickly and using a light hand. Don’t overmix or the scone dough will be tough, however, you do want to end up with a cohesive ball of dough, not crumbley bits. If necessary, get your hands into the mix and knead it a few times, very lightly, to form a ball.
Sift a small amount of flour onto your kitchen counter and turn the dough out onto it. Shape the dough into a rectangle about 2 1/2-3cm thick with your hands. Cut into even squares with a knife, about 5-6cm square.
Sift a small amount of flour onto a baking tray to prevent the scones from burning and sticking underneath. Alternatively, use a non-stick baking paper, if you don’t like flour on the bottom of your scones (this is what I did). Separate the scones and place them about 1.5cm apart on the tray. I personally like it if the scones join up a little when baking, as it helps keep the edges a bit moister.
Bake the scones in the centre of the oven for 5 minutes, or until starting to turn a little bit golden on top. Reduce the oven temperature to 180º celcius and bake for a further 10 minutes. The scones should be cooked underneath (but not too dark), and tinged gold on top. If they look a little raw inside, keep cooking for two extra minutes at a time, but be careful not to overdo them. You don’t want dry, hard scones!
Remove the scones from the oven and cool a little before splitting them in half and eating with butter or a berry jam and thick cream. Remember that some berries also contain Alpha Ionones (like violet and tea), so berry jam is a great topping!
I hope you’ve enjoyed Part Three 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.
A review of three more Chef’s Essences: Frankincense, Coriander Leaf and Magnolia Flower will follow some time in the next couple of months. Stay tuned or follow this blog so you don’t miss out! I’m really looking forward to trying these new Chef’s Essence Sprays from Mandy Aftel and want to thank her warmly for providing me with generous samples to try, for this series of reviews, and the next!