i recently had a very memorable meal at an event called ludobites in los angeles; i highly recommend it to any readers in the area, as chef ludo lefebvre's stint at breadbar ends in a mere four weeks. one of the highlights of the meal was an apple cake with mashta ice cream--a cool wedge of slowly cooked, beautifully layered apples slices served alongside a snowy white quenelle of ice cream barely flavoured with mastic, a resin from a mediterranean evergreen. i knew i couldn't go back to have this again, but needs must when the devil drives, so one way or another i had to recreate this dessert myself. [rant] because of an ongoing battle with the post office, i have yet to receive my copy of lefebvre's cookbook "crave: the feast of the five senses". i would complain louder and longer about it arriving on island not once but twice, yet never making it to my office directly across the street and instead returning to some random book returns warehouse in ohio. however, the postal workers know where i live and frankly, some of them scare me. so, i've made do with a borrowed copy whilst i await a third try. [/rant]
i suspected the apple confit cake found on soul fusion kitchen was what i wanted; it is from lefebvre's cookbook, as adapted by the la times. 8.5 pounds of granny smiths sliced on a mandoline, and five hours of cooking time. um, sure, i can do that. i followed the recipe as written, only to find that it didn't quite match up to the dessert in my experience. it was much paler, and not as compact and yielding as i recalled. the flavour was very close, but i wanted the texture--soft but not mushy--as well. it only took a little bit of tweaking to get it right--actually, all it really took was a lot more time. i kept the ingredients the same and borrowed time from both pierre herme's 24 hour apples and jean-georges vongerichten(ichtenichten)'s own apple confit recipes: after coating the pan in a sugar caramel then layering 1/8"-sliced apples with sugar and a citrus confit, i covered the 17-18 layers of apples and left it to sit in the refrigerator for 12 hours. after baking it in a bain-marie water bath at 250˚F for 12 hours, i covered it again, weighted it down with heavy dish, then refrigerated it for another 12 hours. seriously, if you think about it, there is very little work involved, considering 36+ hours go into it-- just a lot of slicing (disguising obscene gesturing) and a little crafty arrangement. the apples, despite the baking time, still manage to retain a freshness of fragrance and texture i do not expect from preserved foods; the flavour is still subtle, despite its concentration.
the mastic needed for the ice cream is native to greece, and is still an uncommon ingredient. i thought procuring it would be difficult, esp. considering my usps troubles; but no, two minutes on ebay and ten days later, i received the pale golden crystal nuggets in the mail. i could not find an ice cream recipe from chef ludo on the 'nets, but stumbled across harold mcgee's article that featured dondurma, a turkish ice cream which relies heavily on mastic, which led me to a concurrent article by mark bittman on cornstarch ice cream. bittman says that ice cream made with cornstarch as a thickener instead of eggs is lighter, and the eggs do not impede the flavours added in--exactly what i was looking for. i didn't really know how much mastic to add, so i tried a scant 1/2 teaspoonful, ground in a food processor with some sugar. perhaps it was too much; i think the mastic added some elasticity to the ice cream that wouldn't have been there otherwise, but it bordered on tasting like exterior latex paint. although i have yet to try it again, i suspect 1/4 teaspoonful of the mastic crystals (before grinding) should be enough to get a that lovely greeny taste without going overboard.
the online recipe for the confit described does not match the grapefruit one tried in the restaurant, nor does it quite match the confit in the book either. i went with the one in the book, which calls for more fruit and bigger pieces of zest, but is basically the same. it is far less "jammy" than i expected--less a jelly and more like a syrup--and not particularly sweet, yet not very bitter either. i can't imagine eating this on its own, but it makes a fine ingredient in both sweet and savoury dishes.
and the recipe makes a lot of confit. i used some of the leftover for another lefebvre recipe, this one for a citrus marmalade. again, not as congealed, bitter nor sweet as one normally expects. this is a marmalade for marmalade haters: lots of fresh grapefruit, orange, and lemon segments mixed in with the citrus confit, a spoonful of good, fruity olive oil and a sprinkling of fleur de sel and freshly cracked black pepper to taste, then served warm. the olive oil seemed an unlikely yet obvious pairing with the citrus--the fruitiness obvs complemented the citrus, and also added extra depth. seriously, you could eat spoonfuls of this stuff--i did.
you can purchase the book from the usual suspect.