Searzall the Sweets

I'm always inspired by new techniques to achieve delicious results. So when Dave Arnold of Cooking Issues posted a Kickstarter on the Searzall, I backed it immediately.

Searzall Flame On!

What is a Searzall? For industry folks, it's a torch attachment that diffuses the flame to eliminate off flavors, AKA torch taste. Primarily used to finish sous vide and low temperature cooked meats. For adventurous home cooks out there, an Eater article has described it as a hand-held broiler. All in all, it's portable intense heat on demand for searing anything to your heart's desire.

I didn't plan ahead when the unit arrived so there wasn't any meat ready for the treatment. Of course I couldn't wait to get it fired up. That left me thinking about what would benefit from applying crazy heat to? Sugar was the answer.

Searzall Candied Fennel
I happened to have some candied fennel kicking around. The caramelization added a level of complexity that was pleasant. It was good but not amazing.

Searzall Malted Milk Powdered Baby Corn
Inspired by elote and grilled corn, I dusted baby corn with malted milk powder. The seared malted milk powder was freaking delicious. Not to mention the roasted corn aroma.

Searzall Malted Milk Powdered Caramel Apple
After testing a caramel apple recipe, it got the malted milk powder treatment. Ridiculously good.

Caramelized Malted Milk Powered Gingerbread

With that method under my belt, it was waiting for a dessert application. Recently, I was coring out centers of cut gingerbread squares for filling and had the light bulb moment. The caramelized malted milk gingerbread nugget was born. It's a flavor and texture extravaganza. A description wouldn't do it justice. You'll have to wait until it's on the Mei Mei Street Kitchen menu again or buy a Searzall and try it yourself.

The Process
Warning: Before you use a Searzall, please be sure to read and follow all the instructions provided especially those relating to safety. It's a wonderful piece of equipment, but can be dangerous if used improperly.

  • Dust small rounds of cake with malted milk powder. In fact, this will likely work with anything that has a cake-like structure and anything with sugar in a dust or fine granule form.
  • Set up a wire cooling rack over a sheet pan on a surface that can handle the heat.
  • Set parchment paper on another sheet pan for the finished pieces.
  • Place one of the rounds on the wire rack on its side.
  • Light up the Searzall.
  • Move the head of the Searzall back and forth over the cake until the milk powder caramelizes. Bank on incinerating one or two to figure out the optimal height and duration of exposure.
  • Rotate the round and repeat the process until all sides are caramelized. You should use a spoon or tool to push the cake around so you don't burn your fingers like I did.
  • Place the round of cake on each end to finish the ends.
  • Place the finished piece on its side and allow it to cool. 
  • Cycle through the remaining pieces until you're done.
  • Suggest eating them with a fine drizzle of smoked dulce de leche on top.

Pre Searzall Malted Milk Powdered Gingerbread

Post Searzall Malted Milk Powdered Gingerbread

For more details on how the Searzall works, check out the Booker and Dax Lab YouTube channel. The Searzall has a ton of potential and I'm looking forward to seeing all the applications folks come up with.

As always, I hope this idea inspires you to create and keep the ideas bouncing.

Kojify All the Grains

Homemade koji has been on my list for a while. It was serendipitous when @geofflukas asked me to figure out the process for his fermentation focused brunch.

What is koji? It's the Japanese term for the mold Aspergillus oryzae. Scratching the surface, koji is used to ferment soy beans for soy sauce and miso. It also has the power to convert rice carbohydrates to sugars for sake. I encourage you to research and discover all the delicious products that are based on koji. You'll be amazed.

Popcorn Koji, Not a Blurry Pic
Searching for DIY options, I discovered @fermup's incubator to make koji and tempeh. I got in contact with @brandenbyers who generously provided everything I needed to make A. oryzae flourish. His help was key to my success.

The incubator only consists of four components: large cooler, aquarium heater, aquarium bubbler and 2" hotel pan (standard stainless steel tray that restaurants use). It is dead simple to put together and requires no customization. Then all you have to do is fill it with water, turn it on, set your hotel pan filled with grain/legume mixed with koji starter on the top, cover and wait.

Incubator Rig in Action
The incubator performs extremely well based on two important factors. The cooler's insulated environment allows for the temperature and high humidity to be easily maintained. The water bath at the bottom of the cooler provides heat capacity to keep the temperature rock solid as well as a reservoir for the humidity.

Thai Jasmine Rice with Koji Starter
Aside from tight controls on the environment, maximizing surface area is paramount for mold development. Prior to inoculation, the grains are "under cooked" so they remain separate and don't stick together. Long grain Thai Jasmine rice fit the bill.

Thai Jasmine Rice Koji
When the koji is done, you'll see a layer of white, fuzzy mold on top of the rice as seen in the clumps in the picture above. In my excitement, I didn't snap a shot until after I started breaking it up. The finished Jasmine koji smells and tastes amazing. Sweet and delicate. It was an excellent rice choice for the first run due to its high amylose content. Perfect for horchata.

Wetted Down Popcorn with Koji Starter
I went through my pantry to find a grain that maximized surface area for the koji to eat. Popcorn kernels were at eye level staring me down. Tons of accessible starch and maintains a great deal of separation, a perfect medium. The only minor issue was moisture content which was easily solved by adding a touch of water to wilt the popcorn.

Fuzzy Popcorn Koji
The koji thrived on the popcorn! The result was koji forward and not nearly as sweet as the Jasmine. Now I have to figure out what to do with it aside from eating it straight up.

On the next run, I decided upon steel cut oats because I was looking for a new breakfast flavor.

Steel Cut Oats with Koji Starter
After an overnight soak, the oats were ready for the koji without additional cooking. I did a quick 10 minute run in the steamer to make sure I killed off any unwanted beasties prior to mixing in the starter. The oats had a tendency to clump and stick. I did my best throughout the process to keep it fluffed up to make it koji friendly.

Steel Cut Oat Koji
The oats came out much better than I expected. The koji both fermented and sweetened probably due to the clumps creating a varied environment. A perfect breakfast cereal base.

Now go forth and kojify your favorite grains and legumes. Thanks to Branden and @fermup for developing a foolproof process. He was kind enough to put together a blog post that provides detailed instructions from start to finish. It also has a link to the incubator build.

Please share your koji adventures with us to keep the ideas bouncing.

Ogiri-Saro, Funky Sesame Paste

I had no idea what ogiri was until @geofflukas mentioned it after tasting a butternut squash seed tahini I made seasons ago. Ogiri is an African alkaline fermented seed paste used for umami. Time passed and I forgot all about it.

Mesquite Smoked Ogiri-Saro (Fermented Sesame Seeds)

Geoff called me a couple weeks ago to help him make lesser known fermented products from around the world. Of course, ogiri was at the top of the list. I did some research and discovered there isn't a whole lot out there on this flavoring agent. I was lucky enough to find a couple of references on Google Books that have pretty good detail on the processes.

Handbook of Indigenous Fermented Foods by Keith Steinkraus
Fermented Grain Legumes, Seeds and Nuts: A Global Perspective, Issue 142

I decided to try the Sierra Leone ogiri-saro first because it has the most readily available ingredient, sesame seeds. I put together a process based on what I read. It's actually very easy to ferment. All you do is boil the seeds, strain and wrap in a banana leaf. Then wait a week for the bacteria to do its work. Keep in mind the banana leaf does a wonderful job containing the ammonia smell. Do not open it up, stick your nose right on top of the seeds and take a whiff like I did. It's an awful smell.

Banana Leaf Wrapped Boiled Sesame Seeds

After the fermentation is done, hot smoke the packets for two hours. I decided on mesquite because I was sure it would stand up to the strong aroma. Another reason for smoking is to get the ogiri hot enough to kill the bacteria. This is followed by pounding into a paste with salt to taste. I figured it should be a little on the salty side to keep it shelf stable.

Finished Ogiri-Saro Paste

Ogiri-saro has a unique flavor that's well worth the effort. It's nutty, funky and has cheese notes. I'm looking forward to playing around with it. I'm also hoping that someone out there can help me source some so I can get a reference taste.

The Needs
  • 8 oz. hulled sesame seeds
  • 2-3 banana leaves depending on size
  • Butcher's/cotton twine
  • Medium size pan
  • Large size pot and towel to cover or ceramic crock with cover
  • Smoker
  • Mesquite chunks or chips
The Process
  • Add sesame seeds to 3 quarts of water in a pan
  • Bring to a boil
  • Simmer covered for 2 hours
  • Strain the sesame seeds to remove most of the water
  • Let the sesame seeds sit in the strainer until you're ready to package
  • Cut eight pieces of banana leaf approximately 12" long
  • Lay out four pieces in a row
  • Stack a second layer on each piece with the leaf fibers rotated 90 degrees
  • Split the sesame into four equal piles at the center of each of the leaf stacks
  • Fold each banana leaf stack around the seeds creating a disk/puck that is completely covered by the leaves
  • Tie the packet with butcher's/cotton twine
  • Stack the packets at the bottom of a stainless steel pot covered with a towel or a ceramic crock with a cover
  • Allow the seeds to ferment for 5-7 days at room temperature
  • Open a packet and check for an ammonia smell
  • Hot smoke the packets for two hours
Important: During the smoking process, monitor the temperature of the seeds to ensure it reaches the temperature to kill off the bacteria that drove the fermentation. I used 180 degrees F to be safe. 
  • Allow the sesame seeds to cool to room temperature
  • Pound the seeds into a paste and add salt to taste
Next up, raw sunflower seed ogiri.

As always, stay inspired and keep the ideas bouncing.

Epazote Sherbet

Epazote is strong enough to power through a frozen application. It adds a flavor dimension that has no equal. Once you try it, you'll be addicted.

Epazote Orange Sherbet

Aside from the flavor depth that shines through, it's the seed texture that drives. I love the micro-bursts and did my best to get as much into the base as possible.

Epazote Seeds Sinking in Sherbet Base

The Needs
  • (2) 6" lengths of epazote cut from the top of a full plant 
  • Basic sherbet recipe and ingredients (I'm pretty sure it'll work with just about any fruit. Here's AB's recipe.)
  • Blender 
  • Coarse mesh strainer, standard should work, so epazote seeds will pass through
Infuse the Juice
  • Pull the epazote apart over the blender pitcher into short strands and drop them in
  • Pour the recipe required liquid juice over the epazote (If needed, add a portion of the milk.)
  • Blend on high until the epazote is fully incorporated/tiny bits
  • Strain the juice into a medium sized bowl
  • Use the back of a spoon to stir and smash the remaining epazote seeds through the strainer
  • Scrape the back of the strainer to get the stuck seeds into the juice 
  • Follow the recipe with the epazote mixture in place of the juice

If you'd like to see more sweet epazote ideas, read the Dulce de Epazote inception.

As always, stay inspired and keep the ideas bouncing.

Dulce de Epazote

I like to bring flavor discoveries to @meimeiboston to bounce ideas and experiment. I had been chewing on epazote every morning for a few days trying to decide what to do with it. I had savory on the brain until @jacquelinedole pointed us down a sweeter path.

Jacqueline's Blueberry Shortcake w/ Epazote Whipped Cream

What does epazote taste like? I find it hard to describe due to the complexity and prefer not to toss out words that would lead you in the wrong direction. I will tell you that it can be used to make tea. Just get some, taste it and understand why you can't live without it.

Sprigs of Backyard Epazote

One of our first thoughts was ice cream, but we weren't sure if the flavor would be muted. We both agreed that whipped cream was the way to go. I steeped two healthy 10" sprigs in one quart of cream to see how the flavor would take. After it came to room temperature, we tasted it. Simply amazing. It added wonderful depth to the rich dairy. By far, the best part was the flavor bursts of seeds and bits of buds. 

Epazote Suspended in Cream

I strained out the epazote while making sure the pops of flavor passed through and tasted the spent sprigs. They still had a good amount of flavor so down the waste not want not candied road we went. Jacqueline gave me the ratio using honey, but we couldn't find any. I happened upon some agave and couldn't have been happier.

Agave Candied Epazote & Bottom of the Pan Syrup
I added the epazote to the hot syrup and allowed it to cool for a bit. Then I pulled out the sprigs and arranged them on a wire rack. Of course, we had to taste the syrup. Freaking delicious! Soda was the next logical step. Jacqueline poured a lemon seltzer over ice and I stirred in the syrup. It was brilliant. Pulling out the carbonator and doing a proper soda is on our list.

Candied Epazote Syrup

  • (2) 10" long, healthy sized epazote sprigs
  • 1/2 c granulated sugar
  • 1/2 c agave syrup
  • 1/2 c water
  • Add everything except the epazote to a small pan
  • Heat at medium, stir until sugar dissolves then bring it to 230F
  • Remove the pan from the heat
  • Above the pan, pull the epazote branches off the main stem
  • Rub the epazote between your hands to release the buds and seeds into the pan
  • Put the epazote into the syrup and submerge
  • Allow it to cool to room temperature
  • Remove the epazote sprigs and set them on parchment or wax paper
  • Pour the syrup through a coarse mesh strainer to remove the remaining large bits and allow the flavor pops to pass
Only eat the buds and seeds off the candied epazote because the stems are pretty tough.

As always, stay inspired and keep the ideas bouncing.