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    More Than Just S’Mores

    by Rebecca Cohen
    Antoinette Bruno
    July 2013

    Smoke, the signature flavor of pitmasters, charcutiers, and Scotch distillers, has wafted into the realm of pastry. If you’ve ever had a toasted marshmallow you can attest to the transformative magic of a little smoke and char, but creating a memorable dessert is not as easy as firing up a torch.

    2013 Rising Star Pastry Chef Mellisa Root of Madera in Menlo Park, California, toys with tobacco, applewood, and cedar substrates, and has settled on tea smoke in one dish for its subtlety. “[The smoke] can’t be overpowering. I look for a delicate balance.” Her dessert of smoked chocolate ganache, chocolate brownie, and African red bush ice cream gains dimension from the delicate flavors of tea smoke, which enhance the flowering fruit profile of Maracaibo chocolate. “I’ve played with smoke in the past, but more in the sense of doing a plated dessert in a small dish, smoking it and trapping [the smoke] under a lid, and sending it to the dining room that way,” she says. “This is the first time I’ve concentrated on smoking an item [that] when you eat it, you really get that effervescence.”

    Tea-smoked Maracaibo Chocolate Ganache, Chocolate Brownie, Apricot Coulis, and African Red Bush Tea Ice Cream

    Tea-smoked Maracaibo Chocolate Ganache, Chocolate Brownie, Apricot Coulis, and African Red Bush Tea Ice Cream

    Tea-smoked Maracaibo Chocolate Ganache, Chocolate Brownie, Apricot Coulis, and African Red Bush Tea Ice Cream

    Tea-smoked Maracaibo Chocolate Ganache, Chocolate Brownie, Apricot Coulis, and African Red Bush Tea Ice Cream

    Meringue Ice Cream, Bitter Cocoa, Graham Cracker, and Black Currant-Mezcal Sauce

    Meringue Ice Cream, Bitter Cocoa, Graham Cracker, and Black Currant-Mezcal Sauce

    Meringue Ice Cream, Bitter Cocoa, Graham Cracker, and Black Currant-Mezcal Sauce

    Meringue Ice Cream, Bitter Cocoa, Graham Cracker, and Black Currant-Mezcal Sauce

    Root smokes her ganache for six hours, swapping out the depleted tea leaves for new ones halfway through. “You see [smoke] a lot in savory, but not so much in pastry. I think it’s a little underutilized.”

    Pastry Chef Malcolm Livingston—another 2013 Rising Star, and the creative force behind the envelope-pushing desserts at wd~50—has gone back to basics, figuratively, with his iteration of s’mores. “I just kind of re-invented them. I wanted to figure out a really cool way that we could [keep] s’mores kind of childlike, but also adult-like, and in the manner of wd~50.” To achieve these disparate goals, Livingston pairs a bitter chocolate ganache with his graham crackers, charred marshmallow ice cream on a stick made from stout beer, and a smoky black currant-mezcal sauce.

    Not content with the minimal smoke essence torching added to the marshmallow “ice cream” (truly more of a frozen meringue) he cast about for other ways to reinforce the distinctive flavor. After spiking his black currant sauce with tequila to counterbalance the sweet richness of the rest of the dessert, Livingston made the conceptual leap to mezcal, and decided to swap the former anejo for the latter. Mezcal brings a fitting depth to the dish, reminiscent of the smokiness of a campfire.

    Like Root, Livingston sees no reason to leave these bold flavors to the savory chefs. “The savory [kitchen] uses the smoker religiously. It’s like a barbecue shack in there. So that got me thinking.” He turns to his Big Chief wood smoker as a more direct route to infusing complex flavor. “I like the aromatics of the wood; it really brings the smokiness home.” Livingston smokes everything from nuts to fruit, dairy and yogurt, usually favoring hickory wood. He recommends smoking ingredients that are sugary and/or acidic, and that will lend body to the aromatics. “I think it’s nice in desserts, it adds a different element. Sort of bitter and really aromatic.” But Livingston warns, “It can also take a turn. If it’s really smoky it’s just like ash.”

    When it comes to smoke experimentation, these chefs don’t hesitate to explore uncharted territory. “I think smoke can go as far as you can push it,” says Livingston. Root, meanwhile, is amorously enthusiastic. “Heck yeah, I love that little smoke gun! We’ve developed quite the love affair.” She’s got all kinds of plans for expanding her smoky repertoire. “Everything I’ve done so far has been chocolate, so I want to branch out into smoking creamy textures, something full of air. I think a mousse or chibouste would smoke wonderfully, and I’d like to see the depth of flavor.” Insubstantial as it may seem, smoke is all about depth, and these chefs are matching it with the profundity of their visions.