Breakfast for dessert
Breakfast for dessert Credit: Julia Thiel

The Chef: Brandon Baltzley (Crux)

The Challenger: Bryce Caron (Blackbird/Avec)

The Ingredient: Flour

Flour is one of the most common ingredients imaginable, something most chefs use on a regular basis. Except Brandon Baltzley.

“I don’t fuck with flour that much,” he said. “Unless I’m making cookies. And I don’t make cookies.”

The last time he could remember using it was in a crab cake—a savory birthday cake he made with Old Bay frosting. “It was fucking delicious.”

One of Baltzley’s first challenges was determining what constitutes flour. While he never uses all-purpose flour, he does use starches and hydrocolloids in his cooking. The general consensus among the friends he polled, he said, was that anything that’s milled counts.

Flour is such a simple ingredient that it was hard to keep it as the main focus of the dish, Baltzley said. He ended up using several forms of it—kudzu starch (also known as Japanese arrowroot flour), tapioca starch (regular and maltodextrin), carob powder, xanthan gum, and all-purpose flour—in a complex dish based on a breakfast-for-dessert course he’s been doing for his underground dinners.

Crux chef Brandon Baltzley
Crux chef Brandon BaltzleyCredit: Julia Thiel

Not a fan of the flavor of raw flour, Baltzley toasted all-purpose flour in a dry sautee pan over low heat for a couple of hours. The toasted flour went into a chocolate sponge cake along with carob powder, eggs, sugar, and cocoa nib puree; Baltzley aerated the mixture in an iSi canister and then cooked it in a paper cup in the microwave.

Baltzley also made a variation on the Turkish ice cream salep dondurma, substituting kudzu starch for the traditional thickener of orchid root flour and adding Darjeeling tea for flavor and xanthan gum for more elasticity. “It’s got the weirdest mouthfeel in the world,” he said of the stretchy ice cream. “It’s like a cold Airhead.”

In addition to putting flour in the dish, Baltzley made vanilla “flour” by dehydrating vanilla-infused oil with tapioca maltodextrin, a modified starch that can turn fats into powder.

Cocoa nib consomme—roasted cocoa nibs cooked in water, salt, and simple syrup and then strained out—appeared in both liquid and solid form. To make the solid, Baltzley added tapioca starch, then poured it onto a tray to dehydrate. Normally he’d do it overnight, he said, but since he’d only started it that morning it wasn’t working as well as he’d have liked. After chipping away a few small pieces he had his friend and accomplice in the project, Steve Newman, a cook at North Pond, put the tray outside to dry out more.

Baltzley was deep-frying the dehydrated cocoa so it would puff up like a chicharron, but after a couple attempts that failed because the oil was either too cold or too hot, he asked Newman to get the rest of the sheet from the balcony of the 25th-floor apartment in the South Loop where they were working. The tray was nowhere to be found, though, having (presumably) blown away.

“Oh, fuck me!” Baltzley said when he heard what had happened. “Well, that sucks. I really hope it didn’t hit someone.”

Much of what they were doing that day was a first for them, Baltzley said, but “usually when we try things for the first time they always work. I’ve gotten really lucky . . . for pretty much my whole career so far.”

The last element of the dish was an orange puree frozen into half spheres, put inside buttermilk panna cottas, and then thawed to make the puree liquid. “It’s going to look like a soft-boiled egg,” Baltzley said. “When you break into that it’ll be a runny yolk. Hopefully.”

Baltzley plated everything except the cocoa nib chicharron, which he deemed too ugly to go on the plate—though he said it “fucking tastes delicious. Like Cocoa Pebbles.”

He liked the finished product, saying that it reminded him of breakfast. “Buttermilk, kind of a cereal-like quality in the toasted flour, the carob powder . . . the vanilla, the citrus, the element of something hot to drink with it.”

Overall, Baltzley said, it was “pretty much the weirdest combination of textures ever.”

YouTube video

Video by Michael Gebert/Sky Full of Bacon

Who’s Next:

Iliana Regan of One Sister, another underground supper club, working with dried limes, a Middle Eastern ingredient usually used to flavor soups and stews. “I don’t see how you can make a dish out of this,” Baltzley said. “It’s inedible.”

Breakfast for dessert

Orange emulsion

Blanch three Valencia oranges (whole) in equal parts sugar and water. Repeat three times.Puree in blender until completely smooth, then drizzle in about a half cup of olive oil while blending. Continue blending and add a quarter teaspoon of xanthan gum.

Pass through chinoise into metal bowl over ice water. Once cooled completely, put in a squeeze bottle and fill small spherical molds (about a half inch in diameter) with it. Freeze, then remove from molds and keep in a plastic bag in the freezer.

Buttermilk panna cotta

710 ml heavy cream

237 ml buttermilk

250 g sugar

Cook all ingredients together until dissolved.

Bloom 15 g powdered gelatin or 17 g silver sheet gelatin in 75ml of ice-cold buttermilk, then add to the other ingredients. Cook to 190-200 F, then proceed to whisk vigorously. Season with a small pinch of salt.

Spray a one-inch spherical mold with cooking spray and fill each one up halfway. Refrigerate for 45 minutes, then set the frozen orange emulsion semi-spheres on top. Pour more panna cotta over the emulsion, up to the rims of the molds. Let set overnight.

Cocoa nib chicharron

We fucked this up. The majority of it was knocked 25 stories below us.

I would say use slightly less tapioca pearls (by volume NOT weight) than cocoa nib water.

Make a chocolate stock out of roasted cocoa nib, water, salt, and simple syrup to taste. Pass though chinoise and save the nibs and a little cocoa water for the sponge cake.

Add tapioca to cocoa water and simmer till tapioca pearls become soft. (You can use tapioca starch for this technique, in fact, we prefer it. We just so happened to only have the pearls, though.) Pulverize in blender. Dehydrate overnight on a silicone mat (somewhere dry). Deep-fry the remaining “paper” at 385 F for five to ten seconds. Pull out with tweezers. It will seem like it is still soft, but once it dries it will take on the texture of a cocoa frito or chicharron—nowadays the latter is more hip. Season with salt, sugar, and carob powder

Vanilla “flour”

Place one split vanilla bean and one cup grapeseed oil in a vacuum sealer. Cook en sous vide at 85 C for one hour (or in a pot over low flame for three hours). Add tapioca maltodextrin until oil becomes a powder. Season with salt.

Darjeeling kudzu dondurma

Steep the nicest tea you can find (we used rare tea cellars 2011 vintage first flush Darjeeling) in 250 ml milk and 250 ml heavy cream. Pass through a chinoise, then return to pot and add 35 g of kudzu starch. Simmer for about 15-20 minutes, whisking. The mixture will be come elastic.

In a separate bowl, cream four egg yolks with 40 g of honey and 100 g of sugar. Blend everything in blender with 1.5 g xanthan gum, then pass through chinoise. Adjust seasoning with honey and salt. Cool mixture in a bain marie over an ice bath and let settle for about two hours. Churn in an ice cream maker or freeze and then pacotize.

Roux spongecake

In a dry sauté pan, toast 100 g all-purpose flour over low heat for about an hour, stirring constantly.

Whip eight whole eggs (around 400 g) with 100 g sugar and 3 g salt. Add to the mixture 42 g toasted flour, 20 g toasted carob powder, and 190 g of cocoa nib puree that you can make from the reserved nibs and stock from the cocoa chicharron. Pass mixture through a chinoise.

Fill an iSi canister halfway with mixture. Add three charges of nitrous. Let sit in your refrigerator for three hours. Go to Starbucks and get a coffee while you wait.

Take that paper coffee cup and put three small holes around the bottom with tweezers or an exacto knife. Not too big so the mixture stays in the cup. Microwave on high power (900 watts) for 40 seconds. Let cool a little, then remove from cup.


Good luck.