You might be a little baffled by this totally extra title, or perhaps you’re already so used to my content that you didn’t stop to wonder why I didn’t even bother using an anime GIF to justify this post’s occurrence. But dear readers, I have something sweet for you…
Imagine that you ran into a nice lady with a baby stroller and they gush to you about how cute their baby is. You smile politely, but the corner of your mouth twitches because the baby that’s supposed to be cute is dolled up in an outrageous fur suit and somehow has an unlit cigarette in their mouth. Sorry for conjuring this imagery, but this is probably close to how my family and Twitter mutuals reacted when I enthusiastically presented them with a broccoli, yogurt, and white chocolate mousse, paired with 70% chocolate and broccoli coconut truffles and garnished with glazed popcorn and spun sugar.
(Yeah, I don’t even know what to name this thing.)
I don’t know if you know of the Food Network show Sweet Genius, hosted by Ron Ben-Israel. It’s not recent, but I didn’t know about it until I watched it with some blogger pals in December! Some of these pals had enough faith in me to suggest that I try to recreate a Sweet Genius dish. And you know what, it hasn’t snowed enough this whole winter for me to build another snow sculpture, despite all the plans I’ve been making for one, so this was as good of a chance as any to scratch that arts & crafts itch.
The way Sweet Genius works is that contestants have to use at least two mandatory ingredients and refer to one object of inspiration to create desserts in three separate categories. To adapt this, I had 4 people who participated in the Sweet Genius watch to determine my conditions for me. The twist was that none of them knew what each other suggested.
Mandatory Ingredient 1: Popcorn (contributed by Jon Spencer)
Mandatory Ingredient 2: Broccoli (contributed by Scott)
Category: Chocolate (contributed by UssoEwin)
Inspiration: “A lighthouse is a high tower equipped with a bright light and lenses that help guide ships to port at night and alert sailors about sandbars, reefs and rocky coastlines.” (contributed by K at the Movies)
Broccoli was obviously the biggest problem factor here, but if you think about it, it’s not because it’s a vegetable that’s typically served savoury, but because when cooked, it doesn’t necessarily have a strong flavour by itself. I figured that the most important things to highlight in broccoli were colour and form.
As for popcorn, it really doesn’t blend well with any other ingredient, so I settled with using it as an eye-popping garnish. It can also add a bit of variety to the overall texture with its crunch.
Chocolate is versatile enough, so I wasn’t too worried about its incorporation. It is the theme of the dish, however, so I tried my best to feature it in two distinct ways – as a parfait and as truffles.
Lighthouse! It’s a strong and fairly tangible inspiration, and the first thing I thought of was going for the shape. After I decided on the glass cup, everything else kind of fell in place: caramelized sugar as a light-reflecting centerpiece that ties in with popcorn, layered mousse for depth of flavour and to create the lighthouse’s stripes, chocolate truffles as rocks, toasted broccoli as moss…and popcorn had the right colour and connotation to warmth to be used as decoration randomly.
The process took me the whole afternoon, but included in this duration were a long nap, running out of white chocolate because my older stock expired, technical difficulties involving the blender and food processor, getting stabbed in the fingers multiple times by hardened spun sugar, and heaps of dishes and other messes.
It would be tough, but I think an experienced chef in a well-equipped commercial kitchen should be able to make this dish under an hour like they did in the show! Granted, I took me sweet time to design the whole thing a day in advance.
What’s a dessert challenge without a judging panel? To comply with pandemic protocols and to ensure that none of my judges would sue me afterwards for serving dubiously prepared food, I made sure that all three of my judges were directly related to me. I prepared 2/3 of them for this by making them watch an episode of Sweet Genius with me.
Judge Mom: “At least it looks nice!”
Judge Brother: “She probably poisoned it. I’m not going first.”
Judge Dad: “What…how. How do I eat this? Where are you supposed to start?”
Broccoli florets, lightly toasted with sugar, salt, and butter.
Judge Dad: “Not bad! If I close my eyes, I wouldn’t know it’s broccoli.”
[Easily the most questionable thing on the plate. If one of you liked it and the others had no comment…you should survive the rest.]
Popcorn…Flowers? Beach Litter? Light?
Ready-made popcorn that came buttered and lightly salted. Upgraded with caramelized sugar glazing.
Judge Dad: “Nice, I can see that you glazed this with the same sugar as the decorative topping. Good job.”
[They were hardly crispy and got soggy fast, but I’m glad you didn’t mind…]
Broccoli White Chocolate Truffle
White chocolate truffles flavoured with pureed broccoli and toasted coconut flour. Coated in a mixture of toasted coconut flour and hojicha.
Judge Dad: “It’s surprisingly good! I think this is a good way of dealing with broccoli. You even refrigerated it before serving. Nice.”
Judge Mom: “Oh, this is sweet! Too sweet.”
Judge Brother: “It’s too sweet.”
[If I do say so myself, I’m pretty happy with how I balanced the sweetness with the bitter hojicha, but fair, white chocolate isn’t everyone’s friend.]
70% Chocolate Rocks
70% semi-sweet chocolate blended with cream, dusted in cocoa powder.
Judge Dad: “This is the one I expected to enjoy the most. It’s alright. Yeah, it’s…chocolate.”
Judge Mom: “Uh, sweet…”
[Yeah, I kind of wish I was more adventurous with this one. Rum or Kahlua would have been a good flavour enhancer. And I also took too long of a nap while it was refrigerating, so this was frozen too hard and lost its creamy texture.]
Broccoli, White Chocolate, and Yogurt Parfait
Broccoli layers: broccoli puree and white chocolate, folded into whipped cream and spiced with a little cardamom. A hint of matcha for extra greenness.
Yogurt layers: vanilla yogurt and whipped cream.
Judge Dad: “This is actually good. You can’t really taste the broccoli this way!”
[Wait…I don’t think that’s a good thing!]
Judge Mom: “The broccoli is surprisingly good! Not too sweet.”
[…I see that we are evaluating everything based on sweetness level. This is Sweet Genius! But I’m glad you liked it.]
[This was personally my favourite part! Perhaps an additional sprinkle of cardamom would make it even better, but I kind of liked how subtle the flavours were and the refreshing texture of mashed broccoli in the creaminess. Apparently my judges didn’t taste the broccoli…but I thought it was there!]
Caramelized sugar and corn syrup, spun into a web-like structure.
Judge Dad: “This is edible too, right? I like how everything’s edible.”
Judge Dad: “Given that you got broccoli to work with, this is probably the nicest way you could have gone about it. The broccoli truffles were the best part.”
Judge Mom: “You’ll have to wash some of those dishes by hand. They won’t all fit in the dishwasher.”
Judge Brother: *Look of concern* “You said this was about some dessert competition? Are you going to enter one??”
And finally, was Moya a Sweet Genius?
Judge Mom: “Yes! Yes, of course… Yes.”
[Hmm…you look and sound like I bullied you into this answer.]
Judge Brother: “No.” *pauses* “What’s a ‘Sweet Genius’?”
[You didn’t even watch the show and only ate one truffle. I think we need to disqualify you.]
(Judge Mom: *Whispers* “Say yes!”)
Judge Dad: “Well…you’re probably better than your friends.”
[What kind of politician answer is this!? And which friends are we talking about? I don’t think they’ll be too happy to hear this.]
Ultimately, I don’t think I was a Sweet Genius based on some basic flaws with the dish in terms of flavour, texture, and incorporation of mandatory ingredients (popcorn could possibly have been incorporated more fully?). I’m pretty proud of how I thought of gluing the truffles to a small, concealed bowl, but if I had more energy, I might have baked an appropriately shaped cake as the base. This was lots of fun, and I ended up going much harder on the challenge than I planned to, so thank you to the people who pushed for this to happen and contributed to it.
The greatest challenge to me was not wanting to waste a single bit of food, so I was always quite careful with the amount of ingredients I allocated to each thing, and at times erred on the side of caution with flavour. I might be an adventurous eater, but I know for a fact that my judges are not! The fact that they even accepted the premise of this challenge was a minor miracle.
Anyway, I mixed all the leftover ingredients together in the end, so I now still have a significant amount of a broccoli, white chocolate, cream, and yogurt mixture in my fridge. I wonder what I’ll do with it? It tastes fine enough to eat straight from the fridge, but maybe I’ll bake it into a cake or something. Let me know if you have suggestions.
Also, looks like this is my first post of the year! I’m too lazy to update you on what’s going to happen on this blog in a separate post (on top of the obvious that I don’t even know what’s happening). I’ll just tell you here that you can expect more Kino’s Journey episode reviews, collaborative episode reviews of Horimiya with the amazing Irina, and more utterly random content that you didn’t sign up for but hopefully stay around to read every once in a while.
A rather late Happy New Year!