With her very first cookbook, Crumb, published on 25th September, food writer Ruby Tandoh invites The Happy Foodie into her kitchen to talk innovative ingredients. As Ruby explains, new and interesting flavour combinations have shaped many of the recipes in Crumb. In an exclusive video interview for The Happy Foodie, she reveals her passion for flavour and the instinctive process in which she pairs unusual ingredients.
Flavour – not texture, appearance, grandness or style – is always my first concern when coming up with a new recipe. It usually starts with a single word – ‘coffee’, perhaps – retraced in black until its shadow bleeds through the page, then a cluster of others arranged around at compass points, from white chocolate due north, to hazelnut, and clockwise through cardamom, thick cream, blackcurrant and cherry.
There’s a lot of fine tuning to be done when I start testing, but at this stage the flavour combining is as simple as plucking pairs off my spider chart and writing them side by side – like my teen years spent pairing ‘Ruby’ with ‘Gyllenhaal’ in the margins of my exercise books – to help me imagine their fit.
There’s no great trick to making ingredients pair well in a recipe – it just takes care. The simplest approach is just to look for ingredients which share flavour notes (if we all had Heston-style kitchen chemistry knowledge, we’d be able to identify these as unique chemical compounds). This might lead you to add a drop of almond extract to the filling for a cherry pie or pair blackcurrants with a darkly fruity bitter chocolate. Affinity doesn’t always come in the guise of similarity, though: sometimes I look for counterpoints to enliven a dish. It’s the thinking behind a peppering of lemon zest through a sweet, marzipan-studded cupcake. These are flavours balancing and awakening one another – opposites attract.
There are the flavour combinations that are so familiar that when one ingredient is presented without the other, it seems to fall flat: strawberries and cream, rhubarb and custard, chocolate and vanilla. Although these are established favourites, you shouldn’t assume that there’s no fun to be had here. Try using a different sort of vanilla – maybe fruity Tahitian instead of sweet Madagascan – to give your ice cream a twist; even using slightly riper or firmer fruit can completely change the character of a dish. It’s all in the detail.