After all the years I’ve spent experimenting with recipes I feel I’ve got a decent grasp of which flavors work together, but tend to be a traditionalist — especially in the savory department. Cilantro goes with onion, tomatoes, spicy peppers, and citrus. Basil goes with tomatoes, onions, garlic, and olive oil. Bell peppers go with celery and onions. Once in a while, I’ll play around with one of the combinations, but not often.
I scan the ingredient list of an accomplished chef’s recipe and think, really? wondering where their inspiration comes from. I dissect it with my own familiarity of and opinion about each flavor in an attempt to understand how one works with the other, but know that my simple lack of experience is my biggest obstacle. It’s a slow process, but it works if I’m in the mood to tackle one of the often complicated recipes. Again — not very often. And even when I do, the experience is rarely if ever repeated, so my ability to grow knowledge beyond my traditional ingredient choices peters out. Well, except for that dense, rich, dark chocolate tart I’ve made a few times with cayenne and chipotles in adobo. But still.
A good example of my semi lack of awareness would be with maple syrup. It makes me think of breakfast: bacon or ham, eggs, hash browns. I think of Fall for some reason because I think of apples. Apples + maple syrup + walnuts = great with a German pancake. Chalk this up to someone who grew up about as far as one can get from maple trees and their accompanying “sugaring-off” season which occurs as winter’s cold temperatures wane into spring. Sasha Chapman’s article “The Sweet Life: Maple Syrup Season in Quebec” published this past March in Saveur magazine provided an excellent foundation to restructure my thinking about maple flavored anything — authentically, of course. I was drawn into Chapman’s nostalgic description of how Canadians gather in the “sugar shack” and work within the family to make syrup, waiting for that first taste of the season.
Why use maple syrup as an example to explain my not so edge-cutting ingredient combining ability? Because it’s what the Daring Bakers were challenged with this month. Color me surprised. The April 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Evelyne of the blog Cheap Ethnic Eatz. Evelyne chose to challenge everyone to make a maple mousse in an edible container. Prizes are being awarded to the most creative edible container and filling, so vote on your favorite from April 27th to May 27th at http://thedaringkitchen.com!
I had to do a bit of reading to get my head out of my maple syrup rut and consider what flavors might work with a mousse.
There are berries everywhere…
Resisting the addition of a chiffonade of basil, a piquant maple balsamic vinegar reduction was added, and voila.
Maple Mousse in a Phyllo Nest with Strawberry and Mango Sauce and a Maple Balsamic Reduction
For the phyllo nests…
16 (9 x 14 inch) phyllo dough sheets, thawed overnight in the fridge
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
3 tablespoons granulated raw sugar
3 tablespoons ground almonds
For the strawberry sauce…
20 oz. fresh strawberries
3 tablespoons maple syrup
3 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
For the mango sauce…
16 oz. fresh mango (about 2)
3 tablespoons maple syrup
3 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
For the maple mousse…
1 cup (240 ml/ 8 fluid oz.) pure maple syrup (not maple-flavoured syrup)
4 large egg yolks
1 package (7g/1 tbsp.) unflavoured gelatine
1-1/2 cups (360 ml. g/12 fluid oz) whipping cream (35% fat content)
For the maple balsamic reduction…
1 quantity maple syrup
1 quantity balsamic vinegar
Additional strawberries and mango slices for garnish if desired.
Make the phyllo nests first:
Heat oven to 400°F. Spray oil lightly on 6 large capacity muffin cups and set aside.
Brown the butter over medium heat until a rich golden brown and with a nutty aroma. Scoop off foam and discard. Filter through a cheese cloth lined strainer into a bowl. Discard milk solids at the bottom of the pan.
Remove thawed phyllo from the fridge and separate 16 sheets from the roll. Re-roll them and with a sharp knife, cut into thin strips, about 1/4″.
Place in a muffin cup, forming it into a cup itself and pressing lightly against the sides and bottom. Sprinkle sides and bottom with 1-1/2 teaspoon sugar, then 1-1/2 teaspoon ground almonds. Repeat with remaining phyllo strips until 6 phyllo nests are formed.
Bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes. Remove from oven to cool on a baking rack, then remove from muffin cups and cool completely. If not using immediately, seal in an air tight container.
To make the strawberry sauce:
Hull the strawberries and place them along with the other ingredients in the bowl of a food processor, blender, or narrow container to use an immersion blender. Blend until smooth, then strain through a fine meshed strainer, discarding seeds and remaining pulp. Heat in a shallow sauce pan over medium low heat and stirring occasionally until reduced and the consistency of a thin syrup, about 10 minutes. Scrape into a bowl to cool until ready for use.
To make the mango sauce:
Follow the same procedure as with the strawberry sauce, but omit cooking it.
To make the mousse:
Bring maple syrup to a boil then remove from heat.
In a large bowl, whisk egg yolks and pour a little bit of the maple syrup in while whisking (this is to temper your egg yolks so they don’t curdle). Add warmed egg yolks to hot maple syrup until well mixed.
Measure 1/4 cup of whipping cream in a bowl and sprinkle it with the gelatine. Let it rest for 5 minutes. Place the bowl in a microwave for 45 seconds (microwave for 10 seconds at a time and check it in between) or place the bowl in a pan of barely simmering water, stir to ensure the gelatine has completely dissolved.
Whisk the gelatine/whipping cream mixture into the maple syrup mixture and set aside. Whisk occasionally for approximately an hour or until the mixture has the consistency of an unbeaten raw egg white.
Whip the remaining cream. Stir 1/4 of the whipped cream into the maple syrup mixture. Fold in the remaining cream and refrigerate for at least an hour.
To make the maple balsamic reduction:
Add equal amounts of each ingredient to a small sauce pan (3 tablespoons of each, for example). Over medium heat, bring to a boil and allow to cook until reduced and thickened to a medium syrup that can be easily drizzled or squeezed through a nozzle. It will easily adhere to the back of a spoon but will still be pourable. Remove from heat until needed. Refrigerate to store.
To plate the dessert:
Spoon or squeeze some of the strawberry and mango sauces onto the serving dish and add the balsamic reduction sparingly. Place the fruit garnishes either in the phyllo nest or on the plate, and pipe in the mousse to finish.
- I was pleasantly surprised by this bearing in mind there was no bacon, eggs, or hash browns involved! It sounds like quite a bit of work, but it’s really not. Even the final plating doesn’t take that much effort. To make ahead, cool the nests completely, then wrap and store at room temperature. The fruit sauces can be made and frozen, then thawed and pureed again if necessary to make them smooth.
- If you’ve not used phyllo (filo, fillo) before, it’s much more forgiving than you might think. The very best tip in working with it is to thaw it in the fridge over night. You can tightly wrap whatever you haven’t used and freeze it over again. I’m afraid to tell you just how long my phyllo languished in my freezer. Goodness.
- You don’t have to brown the butter before tossing the phyllo in it, but who doesn’t like browned butter? So good. The sugar and ground almonds sprinkled in before baking provide stability and a very nice crunch, so don’t skip that part, but you might cut down on the quantity of ground almonds. I used Trader Joe’s almond meal for this. Saved some time.
- Thinking the phyllo nests would be just fine in a nice little pile, too. Just sprinkle on the sugar and almonds, but go easy.
- The mango sauce is a breeze. Peeling it is more of an issue until you get the hang of it. Finding and cutting the flat sides or “cheeks” while the mango is positioned on its end is half the battle. Remove the peel after you’ve sliced and diced. Such a fabulous flavor!
- The strawberry sauce is more work. I know some people say there’s no need to reduce the sauce after straining, but I’ve found the flavor is so much more intense and delicious. This particular sauce recipe is new to me and I think I’d leave the water out next time because strawberries are full of water. Be patient on the straining and use a rubber spatula with a whipping sort of motion — like a wheel. It goes much more quickly like that.
- The balsamic reduction is amazing. I’ve never tried it with maple syrup before and would love to take credit, but I Googled it and wow. I am clearly not in the know on these things. But I have made it often with sugar and love it on fruit salad or just strawberries. Yes, sprinkling slivers of basil over it and giving it a toss is quite wonderful tasting. The vinegar brings out all the sweetness in the fruit.
- The mousse is quite lovely all by itself and I’m thinking it would be great frozen, like a fudgesicle. Mmmm…dipped in chocolate and rolled in nuts. I’ll save that one for another time.
- I wanted to play with the plating for this dessert, but when I’m the only one at home and it’s a dessert that needs to be eaten, clearly, I can’t play without wasting food and I’m not going to do that. With respect to my plating, more of the maple balsamic reduction would have been great. All the flavors mix quite well, though. Very nice.
- Surprisingly, after about 40 minutes of shooting this dessert, it wasn’t soggy at all. Good to know for a bit of prep ahead of time.
- If I had gone more traditional with this, you’d have seen sliced bananas, chocolate, and nuts.
- Even less traditional? Fried flour tortillas with cinnamon sugar, bananas, and spicy chocolate.
- Here’s a print friendly copy of the recipe.
Many thanks to the hosts Evelyne and Renata for the challenge — I’m now thinking about maple syrup in completely different ways! And as always, big thanks to Lis and Ivonne who founded the Daring Bakers. If you’re interested in visiting the other Daring Bakers to see what their creations look like, check out the blog roll.