Monday, August 24, 2009

Sweet Jasmine Meets Mango

I was at the New May Wah Chinese grocery store on Clement a few weeks ago, and encountered a shelf filled with bottles of aromatic essences including jasmine and durian amongst the many. Durian's a pretty tough one to swallow for most people, since the spiky creamy fruit has a very pungent scent which evokes an immediate distinct love or hate emotion (hotels across Southeast Asia have even banned the fruit from guest rooms because the scent lingers long after the visitor is gone). I like the flavor, but not everyone does. So we'll leave that for another time.

Jasmine, however, is a whole other story. I have this enormous love for all things jasmine scented, which is probably why jasmine popped in my head when I thought of baking Rannie some cupcakes (the bottle has been sitting on my shelf for a while now and I've forgotten about it until now). The scent is so vibrant and refreshing, and like sunflowers, they just make me happy. If people can put lavender into their sweets, then I'm going to use jasmine.

The main thing was figuring out what to combine it with, since I'm not sure if you can actually eat the jasmine flower? Well, either way, I was thinking of some kind of fruit or nut. I searched around the kitchen, and was thinking of pistachios. Jasmine and pistachios, not bad. But I wanted something juicier, more moist. I found the dried mangos I had stashed in the cupboard a couple weeks ago, and behold, the perfect fruit! Tart with a sweet fragrance to compliment and balance the jasmine.

Jasmine grows in various temperatures and geographical regions. We've got lovely vine jasmine in San Francisco too (although the one I planted in our garden a couple of years back still refuses to grow). To me however, jasmine reminds me of childhood family's trips to Asia -- particularly China, Taiwan, and Thailand. The scents in those areas were strong, a mixture of industrial chemicals and sulfur, but every so often, a sweet floral scent would sprout from the dirty mix.

So what better fruit to pair with than a mango, indigenous to India, native to tropical weather and proliferate in Southeast Asia. I'm sure pineapples would work as well, but I'm not as big a fan of pineapple as I am of mango.

This turned out to be really quite good I thought. Especially if you're not opposed to floral-scented foods.

A couple tips on using jasmine essence --

1) It's extremely potent. Be sure to use it in small amounts when adding to the batter and frosting, and keep tasting so as not to over-flavor.

2) Because the scent is so strong, it actually blocked my smell from other aromas (almond, coconut). Therefore, if you're dividing up a batch of batter for different flavors, be sure to do jasmine last. Otherwise, you won't be able to taste or smell the other scents.

2) Have I mentioned that its scent is fairly potent? I'd suggest washing it off your hands if it gets on you. Not because of any toxic health risk, but because, again, of the smell. It made me a little sick after it rubbed off on my finger, I kept smelling it on everything I touched over the next hour. It's just that common nausea when you smell or eat too much of something (like too much vanilla extract)..

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