Editor's Note: Aki Kamozawa and H. Alexander Talbot, the great minds behind the influential blog Ideas in Food, and the cookbooks Ideas in Food and Maximum Flavor, will be sharing their wisdom and clever cooking ideas here on Serious Eats, as they reinvent classic dishes with the aim of getting the most flavor out of them.
When he was a kid, Alex was occasionally served rote grütze at the home of family friends. Their version was a thick red fruit pudding, he recalls raspberry, set in the bottom of a bowl topped with rich heavy cream poured at the table so each person could take as much as they wanted. The fruit, going from childhood memory, was equal parts sugar and fruit cooked until it was thick, and then passed through a food mill to remove the horrible raspberry seeds.
Taking inspiration from this memory, we were able to research the dish and learn a little more about where it came from. Once we knew that, we worked on creating something new. Follow along with our train of thought: rote grütze means "red groats" in German, the reason being because the fruit was originally thickened with groats or semolina. Groats are members of the buckwheat family. Another member of the buckwheat family: rhubarb—which just happens to also be red, tangy, and a natural companion to berries. (Sorrel is yet another a member of the buckwheat family; we will touch on that later.)
Meanwhile, our good friends at Charcoal BYOB in Yardley, PA make a budino with cornmeal pudding that's set it in mason jars, and then layered with chocolate mousse, coffee caramel, and candied walnuts on top of it. It is a dessert from which obsessions are made. And since we've recently moved to New England and can no longer get our fix, the desire to create something similar infiltrated our thoughts on rote grütze.
To our way of thinking, rote grütze was the kind of dessert that begged to be layered. The trick was to meld these two desserts into one. We started by examining the budino's cornmeal pudding base, and after some thinking, decided we could replicate the creamy, slightly grainy texture of polenta by using both coconut flour and unsweetened shredded coconut. So we slowly toasted the two kinds of coconut in the oven. Using a low temperature let us fully brown the coconut and deepen its flavor without burning it. That fine edge just before burnt is the peak of flavor for many ingredients, but you have to be willing to pay close attention or run the risk of losing a whole batch.
With coconut in the mix, we now had a whole new playground to explore. Since we were making coconut pudding, we needed to amplify that coconut-y flavor. We picked up coconut milk and coconut water, but instead of just adding sugar, we reached for sweetened condensed milk to sweeten and enrich the coconut flavor. (We leaned away from using coconut sugar in the base because we felt it would make the pudding too dark and would compete too much with the flavor of the toasted coconut.)
For the red fruits, we wanted to cook them into a puree, but we knew we needed to find a way to bridge the flavor gap between the coconut pudding and the fruit puree. Our solution was to make coconut simple syrup out of coconut water and coconut sugar, and then strew the fruit in that. Coconut simple syrup is different from the coconut nectar that you can buy in stores, as it's thinner and more versatile.
The fruits, together with the rhubarb, darkened as they cooked, easily absorbing the color from the coconut syrup, and after straining we were left with a thick, silky puree.
After cooking the red fruits, we had additional coconut simple syrup left over. Originally, I wanted to make buckwheat shortbread to top the dessert. But as we traveled down the coconut path, the buckwheat got left behind. Instead, I came up with the idea of "cocoa-nut." I took the remaining coconut simple syrup and added black cocoa to it. We cooked the mixture to make a "cocoa-nut" syrup. Then we glazed coconut flakes with the syrup and slowly baked them until they became dry and crisp.
The cocoa and coconut flavors harmonize so well, and the large coconut shreds shatter like glass, releasing rich crunchy bites of chocolate and coconut in your mouth. They were one of the most delicious things we have made in a long time.
What about the idea of sorrel? While we were inspired by the idea of using its tangy flavor to balance the dish, we ended up reaching for buttermilk instead. Coconut buttermilk, as described in our book, Maximum Flavor, is simply coconut milk cultured with buttermilk until it thickens and develops a tang. In this case, we combined coconut milk and buttermilk with a bit of sweetened condensed milk for sweetness and gelatin for enough stability to aerate it.
When the mixture thickened, we aerated it with a whipped cream canister and nitrous oxide. The mousse is tangy and coconut-y. It was the final element that pulled everything together. In essence, it was the heavy cream that we used to pour at the table to finish the dish.
Here's a step-by-step on how we assemble each serving:
We start by adding a layer of coconut pudding, which we pureed to a pourable consistency.
Then we add the red-fruit puree.
On top of that goes the aerated coconut buttermilk.
And we finish it with those wonderful "cocoa-nuts."