Years later, he created a cheesecake and gave it that name, then a large collection of pastries made from strawberries, rhubarb and passion fruit which he baptized Céleste. I recently tried to remember when this all happened and asked Peter, who wasn’t sure, but added, “Celeste is a young woman now. I loved that he clings to the name, waiting for the moment when inspiration and reality might meet.
I’m not as patient as Peter, but there have been instances where those “what if” whispers and hastily written notes have turned into something delicious. One night in Paris, the city of dreams, I woke up imagining a cookie topped with a spoonful of jam surrounded by streusel, and I did. Another time a friend had a cocktail – a Bee’s Knees – and when she told me what was in it, I jotted down the ingredients and later made a tasty bite. It was my first time cooking with gin.
Most recently, I made a bread cake inspired by the dinner I baked the night before, salmon with maple syrup and miso frosting. It seems strange to have found a sweet inspiration in something salty, or even to think that a fish supper could turn into a cake for breakfast. But at the time, everything made sense: miso and maple syrup float in this space between sweet and savory.
For me, maple syrup, like honey, borders on sweet. It has a little side, a bit of bitterness, a bit of sharpness. I think it’s this rocking quality that makes it so perfect with foods that are definitely salty, like the miso in this cake. Miso is always described as having umami, that fifth flavor that makes you want another spoonful. It’s salty, that’s for sure, but there’s also something haunting and unknown about the flavor. It’s a powerful, must-have flavor, yet smooth enough to pair with other ingredients.
When I started playing with miso and maple, my idea was to look at their softness. But they pushed back, and I let them. I made a cake sweet enough to be called a cake but salty enough to be just as good with a slice of cheddar as it did with the lukewarm shine of jam I spread on top. I grated the orange zest in the dough for a little sparkle, but when I have a tangerine, I use it instead: Its zest is a little more fragrant, a little more distinctive. And I moisten the dough with buttermilk, for the spiciness of course, but also to make the crumb, which has a pleasant coarseness, a little more tender.