This all started with a cup of coffee. Anne and I were meeting up at Coffee Collective in Torvehallerne, the large covered market in central Copenhagen. Afterwards we wandered the booths and stopped by ASA Spice Trading to speak with the owner, her friend Julian. He gave us some fantastic star anise to play around with and the rest is history.
What to do with our star anise? Well with Anne involved a dessert was inevitable and welcome. We devised a take on carrot cake, one of our shared favourites, reinterpreted with parsnips.
I love parsnips. They smell like subtle perfume and raw nuts. And they’re a beautiful off-white. All the humble comfort of a root veg cake but with a vein of debonair charm.
The only thing better than cake is cake and ice cream. So we made a lightly tangy ice to go with our dense, earthy cake. Skyr is a wondrous cultured dairy product. It comes from Iceland, and is ridiculously low in fat and ridiculously high in protein considering its full, luscious mouthfeel. A perfect platform from which the fruity, seductive star anise to beckon.
We fried the cake on one side, spooned on some ice cream and topped it all with some bee larvae granola for crunch. We made our cake and ice cream at the boat (how I love thee, pacojet). A great place to bake, hang out, and enjoy our creation while looking out across the harbour.
We promised Julian to share our results, so we wrote up a little story with the recipes for ASA’s blog. I also wrote about it for my column at diaforlife.
Here are the recipes.
(adapted from Christian Puglisi)
200 g parsnip, about 2 medium
135 g sugar
125 g flour
1 tsp baking powder
105 g grape seed oil or other neutral oil
1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar
Steam parsnips with skins until tender, then cool in ice water. Peel skins and grate roots coarsely.
Beat eggs with sugar in a bowl. Add flour and baking powder until it is incorporated, then add the oil and vinegar. Fold in the grated parsnip.
Fill a loaf or cake tin with batter, and bake at 160˚c for about one hour, until golden and springy.
Let cool to room temperature before slicing.
star anise skyr is
1 dl cream
60 g sugar
whole star anise
400 g skyr
Warm the cream slowly on the stove. Stir in the sugar to dissolve and the star anise to infuse. Bring to just below a simmer, then remove from heat and let cool.
Once cool, remove star anise. Grate in some star anise, if you like more prominent flavour and flecks of spice. Stir in skyr until smooth. Freeze and spin in pacojet, or make in ice cream maker.
Greek yoghurt or similarly strained yoghurt could be substituted for skyr, but skyr is best.
But one dessert was not enough. We had stumbled on a good combination and we needed to test it further. So the next week, we decided to cook a dinner starting from our parsnips and star anise.
First, a broth. So many good things begin with this. We started out with kombu and a few cèpes, building the umami base, then layering on the star anise and then some chopped parsnip.
We finished it with a bit of lemon verbena for freshness and floral top notes. A complex clear broth is a beautiful thing.
Meanwhile, we halved some parsnips, roasted them, and blended them into a purée with only a bit of butter and salt.
We topped it with star anise brown butter and fried verbena. Maybe this pair is becoming a trio. How risqué.
There was a filet of pickled herring in the fridge, and it paired beautifully, providing a welcome acidity and the subtle sweetnesses coming into dialogue. It was very fitting to have preserved fish. This is Scandinavia, after all.
All the things that come of one simple constraint. I’m sure we didn’t exhaust even a fraction of the possibilities. It is a mental exercise, a design exercise, a divergent thinking exercise, even before it is a culinary one. I will have to use this technique more often.