Thursday, August 9, 2012

Salty & Sweet

Food and Wine's milk chocolate tart with pretzel crust a la Marly

Now that this blog's grad school hiatus is officially over, I can tell you about one of my all-time favorite pleasures. It is the taste of salty and sweet on the palate, and here are just a few of the ways to enjoy this:
  • the Canadian tradition of dipping bacon into maple syrup
  • a cheese plate with wine and some salty & sweet accoutrements  
  • adding plain M&Ms to movie theater popcorn (some prefer M&M peanut)
  • the trend of adding salt to caramel and other desserts: 1) here is a recipe for a caramel sea salt tart from Saveur magazine in 2009; 2) you can buy bittersweet sea salt chocolate chip cookies online now from Saint Cupcake in Portland, and you should! One of the best cookies I ever tasted.

    My favorite salty/sweet combo has got to be chocolate-covered pretzels. Chocolate paired with the salty crunch of a pretzel makes more sense than many things in this world. Their coming together is as relevant as the food marriages of bacon and eggs, steak and french fries, chocolate and peanut butter, and all those other popular flavor combinations we now can't live without. When people think of chocolate and pretzels, the result is often smiles and visions of old-time summer carnivals.

    The combo has always been popular, and in 2004 it entered the mainstream when Hershey’s introduced its Take Five bar. This was seen by my chocolate-and-pretzel-loving family as a brilliant addition to our blasé national candy mix. Things don't change often in the candy aisle. Most "new" candies are simply adaptations of a Reese's or a Snicker's, since those are the top-selling candy bars in the country. The Take Five was refreshingly new, and it made this favorite flavor combination both accessible and reasonably priced. The addition of peanut butter and caramel fit like a glove, and people really liked the combination of silky and crunchy, salty and sweet.

    So it makes perfect sense that in the last few years pretzels have become the new salt, and therefore the new darling of pastry chefs. Incorporating pretzels into desserts is the rage, and customers are as happy to find such desserts as they were in the '90s when restaurants started putting s’mores on menus. My initial exposure to pretzels in cuisine was in the '90s too, when I read about chef David Burke's unique new dishes like angry lobster and chicken with a pretzel crust. His creative use of "pretzel as menu ingredient" was definitely ahead of its time.

    Sprinkles peanut butter pretzel chip
    The first time I noticed pretzels in pastry was while leafing through a 2009 Food and Wine magazine in 2011. I came across a recipe for a milk chocolate tart with pretzel crust (see photo above). At first I experienced a kicking-of-self moment for not making this when I read of it two years earlier, and this was followed by relief—hey, I can make this now! Which is what I did at my friend Jen’s house. (Part of this was recorded in a short video clip.) It took awhile to make but it was worth it—what a tart! The only thing I noticed is that the pretzel pieces on top soon became soggy. That was also the case last Tuesday when I bought a delightfully chunky peanut butter pretzel chip cookie for $3 at the Sprinkles Ice Cream store in Beverly Hills. That’s right America, there is fattening food for sale in La La Land. People eat what they want and then go hiking is all. Or get lipo.

    Mesa Grill's chocolate pretzel tart
    So pretzels are appearing in magazine dessert recipes now. One could always buy or make chocolate-covered pretzels, and this was a welcome twist on the theme. I don’t think pretzel desserts are too far-spread yet, which is why I was thrilled in Las Vegas last month during dinner at Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill. An item from Clarisa Martino’s dessert menu was tattooed on my brain before the plane even landed in the desert, so I made it very clear to my party that this particular dessert would be my destiny that night: "chocolate pretzel tart with spicy peanut butter and chocolate swirl ice cream." Seriously, they had me at chocolate pretzel, and spicy peanut butter flirted with me too. Someone else at the table ordered the same, because the desserts seemed too small to share. The result was a dessert at the high-end of the chocolate/pretzel continuum: a chocolate brownie sitting in a buttery pretzel crust with a molten moat of chocolate sauce to soften the blow. Did I know where the spicy peanut butter part existed? Nope, and I didn't care. This was a humble yet spectacular dessert featuring various textures and temperatures, and complimentary flavors.

    What I liked too about the Mesa Grill dessert is that there were pretzels in the crust, like the tart above, and the crust was crunchy. The crushed pieces of pretzel in the crust may not be crunchy as they were in their original form, but after being mixed with flour and butter and baked, the pretzel bits transform into a crust that one envisions as having the same crunch of a pretzel. Not so in the case of Sprinkles’ peanut butter pretzel chip cookie, which had a crunchy fabulousness when I ate the one half on day 1, yet on day 2 the second half lost most of its pretzel crunch! Lesson: always eat the whole cookie, heck especially if you live near mountains or plastic surgeons.

    Marly's dipped pretzel cookies
    After making the chocolate pretzel tart in 2011, the crust tasted so good I decided to experiment and make cookies out of it. (Let me know if you'd like the recipe.) And next time I venture into the kitchen to make cookies, I'm going to try to make a version of the Sprinkles peanut butter pretzel chip, with pretzel pieces, some peanut butter and chocolate chips too. But I don't want my pretzels to get soggy, since my willpower and desire to fit in clothes will not allow me to eat all the cookies in their pretzel-crunchy state in one day. So here's an idea: instead of pretzel pieces, I'll mix in pieces of chocolate-covered pretzel. This will protect the pretzels from getting soggy and allow me to enjoy the cookies days later with no less crunch.

    Until we eat again,

    No comments:

    Post a Comment