As a culinary novice with an essentially nonexistent knowledge of mixology (I can name a choice few cocktails and that’s about it), I arrived at Plinio Sandalio’s workshop on the morning of my first day at the ICC with little to no expectations whatsoever: I had, of course, read the title — “Bitters Sweet: Cocktail Culture Invades Pastry” — and introductory blurb, but I’d never before heard of Sandalio or his work. Until the workshop, I’m somewhat ashamed to admit, I didn’t even know what the hell bitters were or how they could be used, only that one often finds them in a good cocktail. For Plinio Sandalio, however, bitters — in particular Angostura bitters — are truly something of an obsession, and as I was soon to find out, he has big plans for this rather unassuming liquor, and uses it for much, much more than just cocktails.
Perhaps because it was the first morning of the Congress and things were still warming up, the workshop started somewhat abruptly: after being given a rather cursory introduction by a female staff member, Sandalio began by quickly introducing us to the handful of ingredients with which he would prepare our first sample, a Pisco Sour.
This consisted of Pisco (a type of Peruvian brandy), simple syrup, egg whites, a mixture of lemon and lime juice approximating the flavor of the Mexican lima, and of course, Angostura bitters. I was surprised by how quickly the Pisco Sour came together: Sandalio simply poured the ingredients into a sleek-looking soda siphon, charged everything with two small canisters of nitrous oxide (these canisters served to aerate the mixture and to minimize the need for excessive agitation), gave the siphon a couple of quick shakes, and set the whole thing aside to chill in an ice bath. With that cooling, Sandalio began work on the “pastry” portion of his presentation, a Grapefruit Sorbet with Campari Pop Rocks and Angostura Bitters Mousse. For brevity’s sake, I’ll omit an exact ingredient list for the separate portions of the dessert, as a detailed recipe for a slight variation of the dessert can be found on the Starchefs website. I will of course mention where Sandalio’s workshop-recipe differed from that listed on the site.
Campari “Pop Rocks”
I was truly fascinated to see how Sandalio created these nostalgia-inducing treats, which I hadn’t had since I was a little kid (and never with coke, of course!). I had no idea it was even possible to make such a thing at home, and yet, as Sandalio proved, it’s not only possible but downright easy granted one gets the details of time and temperature right. To prepare the flavored Pop Rocks, Sandalio mixed Campari, sugar, and corn syrup in a lightly-buttered saucepan, which he then gave to his provided assistant to heat to 135ºC. The assistant was unfamiliar with the wireless cooking thermometer, however, and slightly burned the initial batch, rendering it unusable. Thankfully, the Pop Rocks mixture was easy enough to prepare that a second batch was made and heated — this time to the proper temperature — in no time. This hot mixture was then spread onto a baking sheet and, when cooled, broken into pieces; these were subsequently added to a food processor with the neutral-flavored Pop Rocks (if I’m not mistaken, these can be bought in bulk from various online vendors, though I didn’t catch the brand Sandalio used) and ground into even pieces.
Microwave Pastry Cream
This recipe was even simpler than the Pop Rocks, and could easily be replicated at home with the correct ratios of ingredients. It is not listed on the Starchef’s website. Sandalio whisked together the three ingredients in a microwave-safe bowl, which he then placed into the microwave and heated for one-minute intervals, repeating until the whole thing reached a desirable consistency. This was not part of his original recipe. Initially, he did this to demonstrate a quick, alternative method for making the cream, but then he incorporated it into the mousse after he realized that the end product was much better as an angostura bavarois (pastry cream + mousse).
Angostura Bitters Mousse
In a variation from the recipe listed on the Starchefs site, Sandalio combined heavy cream, milk, honey, powdered sugar, and Angostura bitters in a soda siphon with a bit of the pastry cream he’d made earlier, agitated the lot of it, and charged the whole thing with a nitrous canister.
With the exception of some added sugar, Sandalio prepared this exactly as it is listed on the site. He may have used some time-saving measures, but I didn’t note them.
Plating & Impressions
The final plating pared a scoop of grapefruit sorbet with some of the mousse and a bit of solo pastry cream, all on top of a wedge of fresh grapefruit. Of course, the whole thing was liberally sprinkled with the Campari Pop Rocks! Before this was served, however, we each got a cup of the finished Pisco Sour, and while the plastic cup presentation was rather bland, I have to comment on the drink itself: over the course of my three days at the ICC, I sampled a number of Pisco Sours, including one made by the Peru booth. While pretty much all were delicious, Sandalio’s was my favorite: light but with a noticeable presence, perfectly balanced between sweet and sour, his was a cocktail I would order without hesitation, one I could imagine myself drinking in excess because it is so damned good. The dessert following it was also fantastic, with many of the same qualities of lightness, tang, and a fun mouthfeel courtesy of the Pop Rocks. Ultimately, Sandalio’s offerings proved crazily delicious, his presentation both informational and highly enjoyable.
Unless otherwise indicated, all photos are by John M. Sconzo, M.D.