Eleven Madison Park chef Daniel Humm isn’t particularly known for his work with strawberries. But, he should be. Every time I make an Elven Madison dish that involves spring’s favorite fruit, it turns out amazing. I recently wrote about the strawberry gazpacho dish from the first Eleven Madison cookbook, and now I want to talk about the Strawberry Elderflower desert in their second cookbook.
I’ll cut to the chase: it’s delicious.
Like many Eleven Madison dishes, this concoction contains several subrecipes that are challenging in their own right, and results in a dish that can take many hours to recreate. Fortunately, some of these subrecipes can be done a day or two ahead of time, but it’s still a lot of work.
A couple days before I planned on serving this desert, I picked up most of the ingredients, and got started on a couple of the subcomponents. First up was the elderflower cream. This is basically a simple pastry cream with the addition of Saint Germain. I happened to have some of the liquor left over from when I made Jean Georges’ signature parsnip soup (blog post to follow), so that was one less ingredient that I had to buy.
I also didn’t have to pick up any strawberries, because my family and I had recently gone strawberry picking in New Jersey. We ended up with a ton of farm-fresh berries to use, which was nice because this dish requires a lot of them.
This dessert also requires a large amount of elderflower syrup. I love when recipes call out the specific brands of ingredients they use, as such specificity can really make or break a dish. Few cookbooks actually do this, with the second Eleven Madison book being a rare exception. So, when such instructions are given, I take them seriously and do my best to seek out the right ingredients. Between living in NYC and the miracles of the internet, I don’t think there was ever a time I could not find a particular brand of a specific ingredient. Until now. I am familiar with Nikolaihof brand, as I very much enjoy their gruner veltliner wine. However, their elderflower syrup is made in extremely small batches and released just once a year. I simply could not find it. Instead, I found another brand, D’Arbo, which had great reviews on Amazon. It did not let me down.
One of my first steps was to create a strawberry liquid by vacuum sealing strawberries with sugar and putting the mixture in a steam oven for an hour. Many recipes in the Eleven Madison book call for either a steam oven or a convection oven, neither of which I ever had. So, when our toaster oven broke down last December, I took it as an opportunity to buy a fancy Cuisinart combi-oven. This thing is fantastic, and it’s reassuring to know I’m making these subcomponents true to the recipe’s specifications. One thing to note is that it’s not necessary to strain the cooked strawberries for two hours, as the recipes says. All the juice you need should have been released during the steaming.
Similarly, I do not think the full amount of elderflower syrup (almost an entire bottle) the recipe calls for to make the poached strawberries is necessary. I mixed a much smaller amount with some the strawberry juice, brought it to a boil, and poached the fresh berries.
In theory, the vanilla ice cream can be done days before, but I skipped this step completely and just went with a high-end store-bought one. After all, it’s just vanilla, and the ice cream is a mere afterthought compared to the dish’s two main stars: strawberries and elderflower. If you go this route, do try to get the best ice cream you possibly can. I went with Van Leeuwen, which is made in small batches right here in Brooklyn.
The day I actually planned to serve this dish, I woke up early to bake the angel food cake. In reality, cake isn’t that hard to make, but when you tell someone you baked one from scratch, it sounds impressive. Now, my wife has been known, to my dismay, to sleep-in on the weekends, while I handle the kids and begin to cook that evening’s diner. And on this lovely spring Saturday, she slept particularly late, so when she woke up I tried to make her feel guilty by saying “you know I did while you were sleeping? I baked a cake.”
She didn’t really care.
Next up on the agenda was the roasted strawberry puree, which was pretty simple to make. However, one thing that the recipe failed to provide clarity on was whether or not to include the large amount of strawberry juice that leaks out into the actual puree, or if it should be omitted. I decided to dump it all in, even though I knew deep down the best course of action would be to include a little of the juice, slowly adding more until it I had just the right consistency. I neglected to heed my own advice, however, and what resulted was a puree that was too thin and would not hold in a piping bag.
Foams often give me a hard time. I’ve gotten better at making them, but I can never be sure if I am going to end up with a usable product. This one was simple to make, but when I first tried to dispense it, it came out super thin and not foamy at all. I put it back in the fridge for a couple hours, hoping that it was an issue with the gelatin needing to reset after breaking the mixture apart to pour it in the siphon (as per the recipe). I was right. To my delight I ended up with a perfect foam.
Ultimately, this was a very pretty, extremely delicious dessert that I plan to make over and over again. It definitely requires a lot of patience, but is not particularly difficult to pull off.