Drinking in the sunshine with a bottomless thirst, tiny shoots burst forth with renewed vigor after a long winter’s slumber. Awakened by the warmth, heads still full of dreams, they blossom with intoxicating brilliance. Splashing color like splattered pant across cracked sidewalks, breaking through the earth’s crust in empty alleyways, everything is fresh and new again. Anything is possible.
Spring is the season of renewal, a shift toward forward motion that I can feel acutely in my bones. At last, I can throw off heavy knit blankets and rise with the sun again. At last, I can take deep, restorative breaths, not sharp and shallow gasps, to fill my lungs with the scents of freesia, jasmine, and lilac.
Inspiration abounds; from farmers markets to urban foraging, there’s no shortage of new, novel, inspiring ingredients. One unconventional source has haunted me for years, though, like a promise unfulfilled. Back when I aspired to a career in fine pastry, crafting fancy plated desserts in Michelin-starred kitchens, El Bulli positively captivated me. Creating dishes based upon nature but crafted with startlingly sophisticated, scientific methods, it was like nothing I had seen before. I spent all my allowance money on obscure, out of print cookbooks, trying to decode their magic. That’s where I first came across the concept of “Deshielo,” also known as “Thaw”
Deshielo was inspired by the ice melting in spring with the first shoots sprouting out of the frozen blanket. The description of the dessert itself is as daunting as it is confounding. “Coffee and licorice sponge and yogurt gelatin with concentrated lemon sorbet, rose sugar, and frozen water powder. Different herbs and flowers blooming in matcha tea sugar.”
Many years later, modified, simplified, my rendition has finally blossomed into a reality. Cake is now the feature, infused with robust coffee flavor and the licorice-y perfume of fennel. Crisp cacao nibs contrast sharply to the soft, moist crumb beneath, but that’s only the beginning. Lemon granita lends a unique chilling effect which draws out the citrus elements of the brew. Matcha sugar, a study in balance between the bitter tea leaves and pure crystalline sweetness, peeks out from this frigid topper, crowned with a glorious shoot of fresh mint, a few fallen candied rose petals at its side. Yes, it’s quite a lot of flavors all in one bite, many that would seem to conflict on paper, but they coalesce into a stunning springtime celebration on the plate.
It’s not quite molecular gastronomy, far more humble than fine patisserie, but a genuine, passionate ode to the spirit of the season.
This spring dessert inspired by El Bulli is easier than molecular gastronomy but just as impressive. Tender coffee cake, frosty lemon granita, and fresh herbs and flowers are what make this such a special grand finale.
- 1 Cup Lemon Juice
- 2/3 Cup Water
- 2/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
- 1 Teaspoon Lemon Zest
Coffee Crunch Fennel Cake:
- 1/2 Cup All-Purpose Flour
- 2 Tablespoons Chickpea Flour
- 1/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
- 1/2 Teaspoon Fennel Seeds, Ground
- 1/2 Teaspoon Baking Powder
- 1/4 Teaspoon Baking Soda
- 1/4 Teaspoon Salt
- 1/2 Cup Brewed and Cooled Coffee
- 3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
- 3/4 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
- 1 Tablespoon Cacao Nibs
Candied Rose Petals:
- 1 Organic, Unsprayed Rose
- 3 Tablespoons Aquafaba
- 1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
- 1/2 Cup Coarse Sugar (Such as Demerara or Turbinado)
- 1 Tablespoon Matcha Powder
- The granita will take the longest to complete, so it's a good idea to start there.
- In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine all the ingredients and stir well. Bring to a boil to a boil, continuing to stir until the sugar has dissolved. Transfer to an 8 x 8-inch square baking dish and thoroughly chill.
- Once cold, place on a flat surface in your freezer and let rest for 30 minutes. Use a dinner fork to scrape any ice crystals that have begun to form on the sides and bottom of the pan. Place the pan back in the freezer and repeat this procedure, scraping and mixing every 20 – 30 minutes for a total of 3 – 4 hours.
- Once mixture is thoroughly frozen, you should end up with light, fluffy flakes that look like coarse snow or hail.
- Meanwhile, for the cake, preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease an 8 x 4-inch loaf pan; set aside.
- In a large bowl, combine both flours, sugar, ground fennel seeds, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk thoroughly to distribute.
- Separately, mix the coffee, oil, and vanilla extract. Gently pour the liquid ingredients into the bowl of dry, and mix until no large lumps remain.
- Transfer the batter to your prepared pan and sprinkle evenly with cacao nibs. Bake for 16 - 20 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool completely.
- For the candied rose petals, gently separate the petals; discard the stem. Use a pastry brush or paintbrush (used only for food, please!) to carefully apply the aquafaba to each petal before tossing them with the sugar. Once fully coated, it may be easiest to retrieve them using tweezers, to prevent all the sugar from just falling back off.
- Lay them out on a baking sheet in a single layer, allowing enough space for air to circulate. Let dry at room temperature for 2 – 6 hours, depending on how humid your climate is. Use within 2 – 3 days for best results.
- Finally, to make the matcha sugar, simply mix together the matcha and sugar in a small bowl. Done.
- To bring everything together, cut away the edges of the cake before slicing into four equal rectangles. For each serving, place one rectangle on a plate and top with a few generous spoonfuls of the granita. Spoon about 1 - 2 teaspoons of the matcha sugar over the center, top with a few candied rose petals, and plant a sprig of fresh mint right in the middle of it all. Serve immediately before the snow all melts!
Wrapped tightly in plastic and kept in the fridge, the cake can be prepared up to 5 days in advance.
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Navitas Organics Cacao Nibs, 8 oz. Bag — Organic, Non-GMO, Fair Trade, Gluten-Free
Demerara Baking Sugar, 16 Oz
Jade Leaf Matcha Green Tea Powder - USDA Organic, Authentic Japanese Origin - Classic Culinary Grade (Smoothies, Lattes, Baking, Recipes) - Antioxidants, Energy [1 Ounce (30 Gram) Starter Size]
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 606Total Fat: 12gSaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 9gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 296mgCarbohydrates: 120gFiber: 2gSugar: 103gProtein: 3g
All nutritional information presented within this site are intended for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and any nutritional information on BitterSweetBlog.com should only be used as a general guideline. This information is provided as a courtesy and there is no guarantee that the information will be completely accurate. Even though I try to provide accurate nutritional information to the best of my ability, these figures should still be considered estimates.
3 thoughts on “Spring Thaw”
A little kick of coffee and matcha to get us all up and going this spring. The addition of the fennel is an interesting twist. Stay well and take care Hannah!
Wow, that looks and sounds great. That deshielo really reminds me of spring in Helsinki,,, I once participated in a molecular cooking workshop, and bought some things so that I could do at home, but after producing some molecular fruit caviar (once) I completely forgot about it. Those rose petals look so beautiful:)
I love this idea and it looks wonderful, such a fun celebration of spring. Thanks!