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Chocolate and mustard is back

Masterchef has returned to our screens this week and, as it’s now been going for years and might start to look a little tired, it has come with a slight tweak to the format. The old format involved first round contestants cooking their signature dish followed by the Masterchef “Invention Test”, in which they had to cook something from a box of random ingredients in an allotted time frame. (You may remember, Professor Plum set me an invention test challenge a while back and I produced something that probably tasted better than it looked). Now, however, the Invention Test has been pushed aside in favour of a “Re-Invention Test”.

Mustard fondantInstead of having to follow up their signature dish with one that uses random ingredients, contestants that fail to impress on the first round have to do their invention test with the same ingredients as their initial failed recipe. (Those that do impress with their signature dish just go straight through to the next round). It’s an interesting exercise, trying to get people to figure what aspects of their dish failed and what could be salvaged from their core flavour combination, so I decided to give it a go myself.

Now, there’s been some odd flavour combinations or ingredients on this blog in the past (crocodile peach pizza, anyone?), but mostly they’ve actually worked pretty well. Which means that there’s really only one option when it comes to failed dishes: mustard chocolate fondant. This was the dessert I made in the week I tried making my own mustard. It was a chocolate fondant whose runny centre was a mix of cream and my own dessert mustard (a combination of white mustard seeds, orange juice and ground cinnamon).

At the time Professor Plum described it as something that “didn’t work so well” and had “a slightly unpleasant aftertaste”. Since then, however, she has been more blunt, describing the fondant as “the worst thing you’ve ever served me”. (And when I suggested that this would be the theme of this month, this was upped once again to the grandiose “worst thing I’ve ever eaten”). If there’s anything from previous entries, then, that could use a Re-invention Test, it’s this.

Chocolate and mustardMasterchef contestants are presented with the core ingredients from their initial failure, but then can use whatever else they like to reinvent it. In my case, it was pretty obvious that chocolate and mustard were the two things that I would definitely have to include. Beyond that, though, I felt I could be as free as I wanted, including ditching the dessert and instead making a savoury main course.

Despite Professor Plum’s doubts, there’s no real reason why chocolate and mustard shouldn’t work as a pairing. As I mentioned when making my mustard, chocolate, especially at the bitterer end of the spectrum, pairs well with hot and spicy flavours. You get a lot of chilli chocolate, after all. Chocolate mustard products do exist for purchase as well, Colman’s sell a mustard chocolate bar, while “chocolate chilli mustard” is also available. And let’s not forget that Professor Plum’s worst dish ever was derived from an existent recipe, not just made up by me. So, I was confident in the pairing even if she wasn’t.

It’s fair to say, though, that my past experiments in chocolate in savoury dishes have proved more successful than the use of mustard in dessert (and indeed the slow cooked, mustard coated meat dish from mustard week at least proved popular with Plum). I decided, then, that I would re-invent my ingredients as the flavours of a savoury dish instead. Looking back to our dinner at York Cocoa House last year, I was reminded of a dish that added a cocoa nib crust to lamb. By brushing the lamb with mustard and then covering it with a cocoa nib crust, I could combine my two core ingredients for something that could definitely work.

Cocoa nibs and cocoa butterFrom there it was just a case of following the same pattern as I had with the steak and chocolate dish: looking to find flavours that paired with the central ingredients (mustard, chocolate, lamb) to tie the whole dish together. So, for example, herbs like rosemary, thyme and mint go well with chocolate as well as with lamb, so had the potential for making this combination work. Based on these thoughts, I brushed a rack of lamb with dijon mustard and gave it a crust made from breadcrumbs, cocoa nibs, rosemary, thyme and garlic. This was served with a pea and mint puree (slightly less minty than the one we’d had at York Cocoa House) with shavings of dark chocolate.

I really wanted to explore the chocolate-mustard combination a little more, though, and I remembered the time that Professor Plum had been deeply dubious about white chocolate mashed potatoes. Tasting that particular dish had turned her round on the unlikely combination there, so seemed a good omen for doing something similar with mustard and chocolate. Mustard mash is a fairly normal thing to do, I just had to make that but substitute the butter for chocolate. This time, though, instead of white chocolate as the fat for the mash, I used pure cocoa butter, which gave the mustard and rosemary mash a flavour that was earthy rather than sweet and creamy. It also meant that the dish used both the cocoa nibs and cocoa butter that are raw ingredients of cocoa, as well as two different mustards.

Lamb, mustard and chocolateSo, it filled the mustard and chocolate brief admirably, but did it work as a dish? Yes, relatively well. After all, it was little more than a slightly fancy meat-potato-and-a-couple-of-veg type affair. The chocolate element did make it a little more interesting, but whether it would get me put through on Masterchef I don’t know. It did at least rescue some of my reputation after the previous failure of mustard and chocolate, though. It made me think, as well, that  revisiting the chocolate-mustard dessert might be worth a shot too, that the combination may still have dessert potential provided I thought about why it didn’t work last time.

One of the primary issues with my previous effort was that I’d been trying to create a recipe for a “dessert mustard” rather than working out what would work well as a dessert recipe using mustard. The result of that was that, however appropriate the flavours of my mustard might have been in theory, in reality they simply weren’t in balance with the rest of the chocolate fondant. This time I would start with a regular dijon mustard and work on the actual dessert recipe itself.

Essentially, there was nothing wrong with pairing mustard with chocolate, cream, raspberry and orange (as far as I was concerned, at least, Professor Plum appeared less sure), I just had to find a better way to use them. That’s why I set out to use the exact same ingredients, just in a different way. Instead of a fondant, therefore, I started out with the kind of chocolate ganache-biscuit base tart that I’ve made before. This time, though, I made a base of buttery shortbread biscuit crumbs, melted butter and mustard powder. On top of this, I put a ganache that mixed dark and milk chocolate with cream and a little of the dijon mustard. In making the fondant, I’d used a 50-50 balance of cream and mustard. This was vastly too much mustard, so this time it was a mere 1 part mustard to 25 parts cream!

Chocolate mustard dessertRather than putting the orange into the mustard, where its sweetness was overwhelmed, this time I decided to add a refreshing orange flavour to the plate by pairing the chocolate-mustard tart with an orange granita (along with some fresh raspberries). Still, this felt not quite enough, neither quite a complete dessert nor quite enough use of the chocolate-mustard combination. So, I made some tuiles filled with mustard seed, rolled them into cylinders and dipped these in dark chocolate and freeze dried raspberries, giving the whole dish more crunch and more mustard kick.

As you can see, the re-invented chocolate-mustard dessert looked a whole lot better than the first effort, but did the flavour at last work out? Kind of. The chocolate and the orange granita was a particularly nice combination and the tuiles worked well. These crunchy little biscuits combined the chocolate-mustard-raspberry flavour in a way that all individual flavours were obvious and well balanced. The actual chocolate-mustard tart, however, was perfectly OK, but the hint of mustard was only very slight and, to be honest, didn’t really improve the flavour. In future, I’d probably stick with the mustard in the tuiles instead.

Can chocolate and mustard be re-invented into a combination that works, then? Yes. Is it worth doing and does it make things better than without the mustard? Ultimately, probably not.

Plum Professor Plum in the Dining Room: I was so suspicious of revisiting this one! Making a savoury dish didn’t worry me too much – chocolate can be a very savoury flavour – but after the chocolate fondant last time, the “worst thing I’ve ever eaten” (which I’m sure I did say at the time!)… I still have a strong sensory memory of the icy mustard and the rich hot chocolate that is not one I want to dwell on.

So, how did it turn out this time? The lamb was very good, the mustard and cocoa nib crust almost fruity, and the mustard and cocoa butter mash very creamy. The chocolate, pea and mint sauce was better than the Cocoa House’s, in that it didn’t remind me of toothpaste at all! It was very well balanced, in fact. The dessert also worked, but mostly because I couldn’t really taste the mustard. It was unnoticeable in the tart (which was lovely and rich and creamy), and at first I credited the tanginess of the tuiles to the freeze dried raspberries. In fact, I think the mustard complimented the raspberries better than the chocolate, which overpowered it.

At the end of the day, I’m just not sure mustard and chocolate really go. Mustard has a different flavour heat to chilli – it’s much fruitier. The cocoa nibs shared that quality, as well as their own bitterness, which is why it worked, but with the two chocolate/mustard desserts I’ve now tried, it’s been a case of one flavour overpowering the other. Maybe there is a balanced that can be struck, but I feel like if there was we’d see as much mustard chocolate as we do chili. Mustard dipped raspberries, though, could be the next big thing!

PREVIOUSLY IN TV COOKING SHOWS:

Testing Invention” – My attempt at a classic Masterchef invention test.

A Great Blog Bakeoff” – Professor Plum and me compete our cakes against each other, inspired by Great British Bakeoff

Follow me on twitter @jackrgann

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