Brown Butter & Chocolate fleur de sel Meringue

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Champagne_Glass_Image_courtesy_of_eyehook_comBrown Butter ice-cream.

If there’s ever a dessert that can unite disparate groups of people, break the ice between strangers and cement friendships, it’s a tub of this dairy goodness.

I was recently invited to a potluck where we all had to bring a dish that was brown. After chewing over the natural choices – chocolate truffles, brownies – my thoughts landed on brown butter and I was curious as to how it would fare in dessert, specifically, as an ice-cream. It’s on my list of tastes that I’ve always wondered about, seeing as how everyone who’s tasted it starts waxing lyrical and falls completely, utterly in love with its nuttiness. I’ve tried brown butter sauces in pasta dishes, but each experience left me more quizzical than enlightened about the joys of deconstructed butter. I figured that casting it in a starring role in ice-cream would be the best way to truly understand what the fuss was all about, and I was glad to see that Chez Pim thought likewise.

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Many people describe brown butter as ‘nutty’. Alongside cream, sugar and egg yolks in an ice-cream, I saw a hint of that, but what struck me the most was its indescribable goodness. I know. That is a lame description and doesn’t tell you anything about its flavor. But really, that’s all I can come up with, even as I sit here with (yet) another scoop of ice-cream trying to nail the sweet spots on my palate with my eyes closed. M described it as “soft, silky smooth caramel”, and some friends thought it was a variant of vanilla, but I’m not quite sure these descriptions do it justice. Our only recourse at this stage, really, is for you to try this recipe for yourself!

Judging from the reactions of the other guests – who unashamedly queued up for second and third helpings – I am convinced about brown butter’s outgoing, seductive nature. There’s no need for cheesy pick-up lines or a modern-looking business card. Just bring a tub of this ice-cream to your next party and let its ethereal flavors work its magic. I seriously believe that if all diplomatic negotiations began with a spoonful of this dessert, everyone would be in better spirits and we’d resolve disputes far more amicably. Yes, it’s that good. I have yet to find someone who has a severe aversion to brown butter, and I suspect that when I do, we are going to have a very interesting conversation about flavors.

This ice-cream needs little dressing up (if any at all), but with a whole host of egg whites on my hands, it was either macarons or meringues next. I chanced upon the following recipe for chocolate fleur de sel meringues which fit the theme perfectly. It had just the right amount of crunch and the fleur de sel crystals provided the perfect savory afternote to round off each scoop of ice-cream. And it’s brown!

Chocolate fleur de sel mini-meringues (adapted from Lumiere Light: Recipes from the Tasting Bar)

2 to 3 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 teaspoon cornstarch
4 large egg whites
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/2 teaspoon white wine vinegar or lemon juice
Fleur de sel or coarse sea salt

Preheat the oven to 250F/ 130C.

Sift the cocoa powder and cornstarch. Place the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment and whisk at medium speed for a minute. Slowly add the sugar a tablespoon at a time until all the sugar is incorporated. Mix for a minute or two then add the vinegar until the whites form stiff peaks.

Gently incorporate the cocoa mixture with the beaten egg whites until you get a smooth paste.

With two spoons or a piping bag, spoon the meringue mixture on a lined baking tray, leaving half-inch gaps between each mound, and sprinkle the salt over the tops. Bake in the oven for about 45 minutes to an hour, until crisp, then leave to cool on a wire rack until room temperature. The meringues can be kept in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days. Refrigerate or freeze the unused meringues for an afternoon treat.

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