IMBB#15: All Jelled Up and Nowhere to Go

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Quartet of espresso gelées: clockwise from top left are curry, lavender, star anise and fennel.

It seemed like such a unique idea. After all, who would think to JELL coffee? Well, I’ll tell you who: other adventurous food-bloggers (as I write, THREE jelled coffees have already been posted by Santos, Joone and Barbara, and I thought that being in Europe I was ahead of the game!).

The Recipe:

I chose this recipe after realizing that I had senselessly squandered my all-time gelatin favorite for last month’s IMBB. I was tempted into trying jellied coffee by epicurious, who among all their gelatin-laden delights offered me this chance to combine COFFEE with CURRY, a pairing I never would have dared dream about, much less invent myself. Suitably intrigued by this unorthodox duo, I decided to branch out and not limit myself to one unexpected flavor combination, but FOUR. I mean if you’re going to do something, go ahead and do it right. Even if most of it ends up down the drain, at least your horizons will have been stretched that tiny little bit more.

The Verdict:

Coffee with CURRY: This was the original, and every single person who reviewed this recipe online said it was unexpectedly good (of course there were plenty others who unabashedly bypassed the curry). I must say I agree. The flavor of the curry is amazing subtle, and I would even go so far as to say it’s unrecognizable as curry. It just tastes like very intriguingly-spiced coffee. Used with restraint, this was my favorite of the lot.

Coffee with LAVENDER: This turned out to be the most disappointing. I think lavender’s grassy, herbal flavor is better suited to pairings with fruity or creamy, rather than bitter.

Coffee with STAR ANISE: I kept thinking of Thai coffee as I ate this, the kind that comes iced and tooth-achingly sweet. The combination of star anise and coffee was good; not quite as complex as the curry, but very fragrant and hauntingly exotic. A definite success.

Coffee with FENNEL: This surprised me by how much I liked it. I thought fennel would echo lavender and clash with the bitterness of the coffee, but the opposite was true. Thinking about it, I realized that coffee and aniseed are old buddies (think coffee with sambuca, for example), and fennel and aniseed are very similar. Two thumbs up, and a nice complement to the other three flavors.

Will I make it again? No doubt. It is unbelievably easy, the flavors are sophisticated and intriguing, and the recipe offers almost endless possibilities for experimentation. I wish everything I cooked was like this!

And by the way, thanks to Elise for hosting this month’s event. Can’t wait to see the roundup!

Quartet of Espresso Gelées with Curry, Lavender, Star Anise and Fennel
Serves: 6

For the Coffee Gelée:
1 cup freshly-brewed espresso
1 cup boiling water
1/4 cup cold water
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup brandy or other liquor (optional)
2 teaspoons powdered gelatin

For the Spiced Cream:
2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar or mild honey
1/8 teaspoon curry powder
1 teaspoon dried lavender
1 star anise
1 teaspoon fennel seeds

Soften the gelatin in 1/4 cup cold water for 1 minute. Combine with the espresso, boiling water and sugar in a large bowl and stir until the sugar and gelatin have both dissolved. If things have cooled too much by this point for this to happen, heat it gently in a saucepan until there are no granules left. Add the brandy (if using), and do one of two things: either spoon the mixture into individual cups or bowls, or else keep it all in one bowl, and then put it in the fridge to chill for several hours.

In the meantime, using a clean coffee grinder grind the lavender, star anise and fennel separately. Reserve.

When the gelées have set, whip the cream with the sugar or honey. Separate the cream into four bowls; into each portion fold in one of the reserved spices. If you’ve chilled the gelée in one bowl, spoon it out now into individual cups or bowls. Top each portion of gelee with one spoonful of each of the differently-spiced creams. Or you could serve four communal bowls contianing the gelee and different creams, and let people help themselves to the flavors they like.

Note: I was really impressed with the flavor possibilities of this simple dessert. I can think of many other traditional and nontraditional flavors I would like to try here: lemongrass, cardamom, chili, grapefruit, rosemary, ginger, saffron – basically anything with enough punch to stand up next to the dark, malty espresso.

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