Old ladies and the smell of roses seem to be inextricably linked—at least for certain local pastry chefs. Meg Galus (NoMi Kitchen)—who challenged Courtney Joseph, pastry chef at Takashi, to create a dish with rose water—said that the ingredient tastes like “grandma’s soap.” Joseph said it reminds her of “grandmother curtains . . . when I have it, it’s like I’m eating perfume.”
In fact, rose water is a by-product of the distillation of rose oil, which is used in perfume. Rose water has been employed as both a fragrance and an ingredient for thousands of years, and is still common in Persian, Middle Eastern, and Indian sweets. It’s sometimes used in desserts in the U.S. as well, but Joseph said that because she hated rose water, she’d never worked with it before.
Joseph did some experimenting, making a sorbet with rose water and ginger beer, but found that the rose flavor overwhelmed it. In the end she turned to The Flavor Bible, a “guide to culinary creativity” that suggests flavor pairings for common ingredients. According to the book, pistachio—one of Joseph’s favorites—pairs well with rose. As citrus flavors also seem to go with rose, she decided that yuzu would probably work too. “Then I was like, oh my gosh, this is actually pretty good,” she said. “Which is when I was like, I kind of like rose water, and I don’t want to admit this yet. I’m not ready for that.”
The difference between what she made and the desserts with rose water she’d had before, Joseph said, was that she was able to control how much she put in (not a lot). “You get the smell, and you’re like, OK, this isn’t too bad. And then you get the taste, and it actually doesn’t taste that bad once you put it with other stuff.”
The “other stuff” included cardamom panna cotta, yuzu curd, and blackberry gel to accompany a pistachio-rose financier. Joseph said she fell in love with financier, a cake made with brown butter, back in high school—long before she got into pastry. “I was like, I don’t get this . . . Wow, this is really good. It’s not like a pound cake, it’s not like angel food cake or anything out of a box. It was glorious.”
Joseph said she’d had chef Takashi Yagihashi try the pistachio-rose financier by itself the night before, and he too thought it was like eating perfume. But when you get all the elements of the dish together, Joseph said, the rose flavor is actually pretty subtle—though no less crucial. “It does give it that extra something,” she said. “With yuzu you’re going to have your bright citrus, with the cream it’s a nice soft flavor, and the pistachio’s just there for a crunch. But the rose water just really kind of pull out all the extra flavor.
“I kind of like it. Secret’s out,” Joseph said. She’d even use it again.
Jeremy Brutzkus, pastry chef at Longman & Eagle, challenged to make a dish with mastic, the resin from the mastic tree. (“It’s like pine sap, but different trees,” Joseph said.) Originally chewed like gum, it’s now used as a flavoring for foods in Greece, Turkey, Lebanon, and Egypt, among other countries.
115 g butter
150 g sugar
100 g dark brown sugar
4 g salt
125 g egg whites
95 g flour
95 g pistachios
15 g almond flour
4 g baking powder
2 t rose water
Brown butter and strain, set aside to cool. Blend flour, pistachios, almond flour, and baking powder in a food processor until finely ground. Whisk together whites, sugars, and salt until smooth. Add dry ingredients and stir until combined. Add browned butter and rose water and stir until smooth. Refrigerate for one hour.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease and flour mini muffin pans and set aside (I used a silicone baking mold with one-inch cubes). Pour batter into molds and sprinkle with chopped pistachios. Bake until golden brown, about 13 minutes.
Cardamom panna cotta
500 g heavy cream
6 g cardamom
1 ea vanilla bean
30 g sugar
3 ea gelatin sheets
Steep heavy cream, cardamom, and vanilla for 15 minutes. Add sugar and heat until dissolved. Whisk in bloomed gelatin. Pour through fine mesh strainer. Pour panna cotta into molds and refrigerate until set. Freeze the set panna cotta for easy removal from the molds.
255 g sugar
255 g egg yolks
315 g yuzu juice
2 ea gelatin sheets
298 g butter
Combine sugar, yolks, and yuzu juice in a bowl and whisk over double boiler until it reaches 83 C. Remove from heat and whisk in gelatin. Transfer into Vitamix and add butter cubes and continue blending until smooth. Transfer to another container and chill in an ice bath. Once cooled place in refrigerator and let set at least eight hours.
275 g blackberry puree
25 g yuzu juice
3 g agar agar
Bring puree and yuzu juice to boil. Add agar agar and whisk in. Bring back to a boil and then pour into a container and let set up. Once set, place in Vitamix with some simple syrup and blend. Keep adding simple until it reaches desired consistency.
Smear blackberry gel on plate. Place two pieces of financier on the smears. Pipe yuzu curd alongside financier and sprinkle with chopped pistachios. Place panna cotta alongside one of the financiers.