Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Beetroot Caramel: a work in progress

Beetroot caramel – possibly as crazy as it sounds

It doesn’t take much to amuse me. For example,
this add* reduces me to fits of laughter. Every. Time. And the surprised kitty? I can watch that on a continuous loop and weep.

I like to laugh, and I like to make people laugh. I have a very good friend who is a boxer and personal trainer. He is probably one of the funniest people I know. It’s a bit of a challenge for me, to try to find something that will make him laugh. Because he’s not just funny, he’s really good at keeping a poker face. No matter how funny something is, he’ll rarely crack a smile. I think this is because he knows that people will laugh even harder, and joke around even more just to try to get him to give in.

One of the things I like to do is say outrageous things to him, just to try to shock him into giggling. Just a bit. Mostly though, he just laughs at me when I’m not trying to be funny. This is devastating, because he still wins. He’s still the funniest, because this isn’t about me being funny, but about him finding the funny in a situation.

A little while ago we were talking about beetroot. And the joke, finally, may be on him.

It started out serious: the merits of tinned versus fresh. I, as ever, the advocate for fresh. Sure, steam, boil and/or pickle if you feel the need, but start with the fresh b’root. I argued for raw-grated, whole-baked-in-foil, unpeel-steamed, juiced and borscht (yes, I even bought up the borscht). He, as ever, remained underwhelmed by my passionate defence. Refused to rise to the emotion of the debate. Refused to even concede there could be a difference (he wouldn’t even defend the primacy of the tin. Just that it made no difference!).

And then it popped out – beetroot caramel. Dessert beetroot. The ultimate in the absurd. Finally, he cracked, a little, a tiny, miniscule crack. And then, the poker face reasserted. He questioned the sanity of such a suggestion. Claimed it just wouldn’t work.

Challenge accepted. Less a case, now, of ‘can I make him laugh?’, and more a case of calling his bluff. What was a whimsical throwaway line was now a serious challenge.

I’ve played around in my head with different ideas for how this beetroot caramel could work. And it does make sense – beetroot is already sweet, and already a delicious dessert purple colour. We make pumpkin pie, and yam pastries. I have been known to consume sweet potato with condensed milk (don’t ask). It’s not so ridiculous after all.

Ideas have included: mandolin sliced beetroot, sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar and baked in the oven until crisp (with coffee); grated beetroot, air- (or oven-) dried, mixed with toasted pine-nuts and then drizzled with burnt sugar caramel (a little like a praline in my head – serve with yoghurt or ice-cream); whole roasted beetroot, cubed and then dipped in caramel like a toffee apple and sprinkled with sea salt (with dessert wine or port); beetroot crème-caramel, with pureed steamed beetroot blended with cream and eggs topped with a orange-chilli caramel sauce.

At some point I clearly forgot that I have no particular talent for making anything sweet.

My first attempt at beetroot praline looked fantastic (or at least better than I expected)– however, I burnt the caramel, which made everything far too bitter, and the sweetness and colour of the beetroot was lost in the dehydration. But I was not ready to give up on this idea yet.

Beetroot-toffee-apples: also a miserable failure. The beetroot went soggy. And the caramel wouldn’t stick.

Spicy beetroot custard pie with toffee crisps was the closest I’ve come yet. Chocolate and orange rind shortcrust pastry, custard spiced with copious amounts of cinnamon and cardamom, enriched with strained mashed roasted beetroot. Topped with sugar lace, just melted in the oven then hardened. The trouble was – not beetroot-y enough. Also, my pastry technique is pretty much non-existent.

I maintain however, that it’s not insane at all.** The key? Balancing the sweetness of the beetroot with that almost bitterness that a good caramel can impart, and balancing the texture of the beetroot – soft with hard, mushy with crispy. I just haven’t managed it yet.

* I don’t even watch the show. I don’t even eat this product. It’s just insanely funny to me.

** And imagine my surprise when I saw, on the menu of a fantastic restaurant recently ‘mango bavarois with caramel beetroot’. Of course I ordered it. Only to be informed that the chef had taken the beetroot off the dish – turns out, the caramel melts in their tropical heat. I ordered the dish anyway – the caramelised slice of lime and coconut and chilli sambal more than made up for the disappointment!

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