Most pastry chefs know better than to throw milk on a hot, wood-burning range. Not Jordan Kahn. With an imagination that threatens to outpace circumstance, Kahn is always looking for ways to harness the physical properties of common ingredients so he can use them in uncommon, even counterintuitive ways. One of his recent innovations is grilled milk mousse, which combines the rich, vanilla sweetness of a milk base with the smoky char of the grill.
Kahn’s milk base starts with powdered nonfat milk, whole milk, and sweetened condensed milk, the latter imparting its characteristic caramely thickness to the mixture. But the star chemical player in the whole operation is Kelcogel F, a low acyl gellan gum that stabilizes the mixture so it can withstand the intense heat of a Jade wood-burning range. Together with sodium citrate, the gellan gum enables milk, a product usually unacquainted with extreme temperatures, to endure some serious heat.
Once the mixture is chilled and set, Kahn cuts it into rectangles and gives it a fiery kiss from the grill. The gelled milk mixture does come away with a bit of tasty char, but the idea isn’t to end up with a handsome crosshatch. Kahn actually blends these charred blocks with heavy cream and aerates the mixture to create the final product, a silky, light “grilled milk mousse” that has just a hint of woodsy smokiness, or as Kahn puts it, “the flavor of a charred crème brulee.”
Step One: With the blender running, combine the Kelcogel F and whole milk to shear and disperse all the particles evenly. Step Two: Add the milk powder, condensed milk, glucose syrup, and salt, blending well to incorporate. Step Three: Transfer the mixture to a pot over high heat and bring to a boil or about 210°F, whisking constantly. Step Four: Add the sodium citrate and whisk to incorporate. Step Five: Strain mixture into a rectangular pan and refrigerate until it sets into a solidified block. Step Six: Cut the gelled milk into even rectangles, brush with brown butter, and grill briefly on a hot, wood-fired range, charring each side slightly. Cool. Step Seven: Blend the grilled milk gel at high speed. Remove the puréed milk gel to a bowl and whisk in heavy cream. Step Eight: Pour this mixture into a whipper and aerate before transferring the mousse to a pastry bag.