As a late (but just in time for the deadline) response to TGRWT #8 which was announced by Chadzilla in December last year – here is finally my write up on a recipe and a little on the background of this flavor combination which has become a classic in molecular gastronomy.
Heston Blumenthal introduced it around 2002 at The Fat Duck. It’s well worth reading what Heston wrote about this combination back then. He describes how salt can help bring out the flavor of many desserts. At one point he tried caviar and white chocolate – the effect was stunning. He then wanted to find out why this combination was so successful:
I gave some caviar and chocolate to François Benzi, who works for Firmenich, the flavourings and perfumes company based in Geneva. He was so surprised at the way that the caviar and chocolate melded together that he excused himself for half an hour while he tried to discover the reason behind the success of this union.
When he returned, the response was that both the chocolate and caviar contain high levels of amines. These are a group of proteins that have broken down from their amino acid state but not so far as to become ammonia. Amines contribute to the desirable flavours that we find in cooked meats and cheeses, among other things.
Some might object to using caviar but remember that there is no need to turn to sturgeon caviar as this species is endangered. I used caviar from Capelin which costs less than $4/€3 for a box of 50 g. As I have never tasted the “real” stuff I’m not the right person to judge about similarity or difference in aroma. And in case you also wondered about the terminology – roe is the fully ripe egg masses of fish whereas caviar refers to processed, salted roe. I decided to make a soufflé and based the recipe loosely on one of the soufflé recipes in my Larousse Gastronomique.
White chocolate soufflé with caviar
40 g white chocolate
30 g flour
1 dL milk
35 g caviar
3 eggs, separated
Melt chocolate on very low heat. Add 1/3 of the flour and stir, heating gently. Add a 1/3 of the milk and mix thoroughly. Add another 1/3 of the flour, then more milk and so on. Add finely ground nutmeg. Add 3 egg yolks and heat until right before the mixture sets (yeah – I admit – this is not very precise…). Then add the caviar. Beat egg whites stiff and fold them in. Pour into greased soufflé dish and bake at 220 °C for about 15 min.
Verdict: Aromas blend well together, but when eaten alone it’s perhaps a little bland. But I’m quite sure that it could be succesfully incorporated into a menu together with something acidic. The texture was nice, but the soufflé quickly falls together once it’s removed from the oven (I’ll have to post more on the chemistry of soufflés some other time – Hervé This has written a lot about this).
If you try to make this – note that white chocolate doesn’t behave excately like butter when you add the flour. It all got very thick, very fast – that’s why I started adding milk early. I also guess you have to be really careful when heating the whtie chocolate, but I didn’t do any stress tests here.
This is what the mix looks like before I folded in the egg whites.
For my first attempt at this recipe I used 20 g flour and 15 g caviar. The result was that the caviar sedimented before the soufflé had set, besides the fact that one could hardly taste the caviar at all. On my second attempt however, there was enough flour to keep the caviar suspended until the soufflé set. And one could actually also taste the caviar.
And now on to the chemistry behind:
I promised that I would come back with more information about the chemistry behind this pairing, but there isn’t very much information out there. There is one paper on aroma development in block-milk which used in the production of white chocolate. This paper lists a couple of volatiles, but only with their relative peak areas. Turning to caviar (or roe), there is a recent paper on flavor characterization of ripened cod roe, and this paper includes qualitative information about odor intensity.
Comparing the list of volatiles, the following volatiles which contribute substantially to the odor of ripened cod roe are also found in block milk (followed by odor thresholds in water, given in ppb, taken from this page):
2-butanone (50000 ppb)
2-methylbutanal (1 ppb)
3-methylbutanal (0.2-2 ppb)
Of these, the first has a high odor threshold, so it’s not likely to be an impact odorant in block-milk (and white chocolate). The methylbutanals however probably contribute to the overlapping aroma of roe and white chocolate. I didn’t find any threshold value for pentanal.
One group of compounds which was not mentioned in the paper on cod roe odor from 2004, but which was mentioned in a Russian paper from 1967 are amines (Golovnya: “Gas-chromatographic analysis of amines in volatile substances of salmon caviar”). Considering the fact that trimethylamine has a threshold in the range of 0.37-1.06 ppb, and that trimethylamine is found in block-milk suggests that it might contribute significantly to the odor of both white chocolate and roe. I guess the reason trimethylamine (and the whole range of other, closely related amines) is not found in the odor analysis in the 2004 paper has to do with the analytical method used.
The fact that amines are crucial is further supported by the Guardian article I quoted from in the beginning where Heston Blumenthal describes how he turned to François Benzi, a flavor chemist at Firmenich, to find out why white chocolate and caviar is such a good match. Benzi concludes that it is due to the presence of similar amines in white chocolate and caviar.