Accidentally on purpose: creating dishes

Nearly four years ago, I popped into a very old-fashioned tobacconist in my local town to buy some cigars for a friend. Two of the shelves in the shop were crammed with labelled glass jars, glistening from the shards of light coming in through the partially slatted wooden door. The jars contained what looked like tobacco, but they were labelled "Cherry", "Forest fruits", "Spice" and even "Chocolate".

Having asked one of the ladies behind the counter if I could smell some of the jars, I ascertained that they were indeed scented tobaccos - American fermented pipe tobacco, to be exact - and they smelled really pleasant, especially the chocolate one.

I then thought, why not swap the combination around - instead of chocolate-flavoured tobacco, why not make tobacco-flavoured chocolates? After a bit of trial and error, we came up with the dish that we have now been serving at the restaurant off and on for the best part of four years.

But not all new dishes are inspired that way. Some come about completely by accident. A few years back, for example, we were experimenting with vegetables, cooking them in and out of water. Some we sealed in bags, to maximise their flavour - that's because, with some vegetables, the volatile flavour molecules are best driven off during the cooking, while with others they are best retained. Anyway, on one occasion we were cooking parsnips in a sealed bag with a little milk, before making them into a purée. When I started puréeing the parsnips, I tasted the milk they'd been cooked in, simply out of curiosity, to see if it might be nice to add a little to the purée. The flavour reminded me instantly of that little puddle of milk that's left at the bottom of a bowl of cereal - slightly yeasty and sweet. Most of all, it reminded me of the end of a bowl of Frosties. And so was born the idea for our parsnip cereal.

More recently, we've been playing around with a still in an attempt to capture vapour at low temperature. The idea for this came when we were making vegetable stock. As the stock was coming up to the boil, I found that it was at its most fragrant, and it was suddenly clear that, if I could smell these wonderful aromas, they were escaping from the stock. So, if we could somehow capture that vapour and add it back, the stock would be more complex and fragrant.

This week's recipes form a dish that's on our current lunch menu at the restaurant. The idea originated from the salted butter caramels of Brittany, in particular those from a fantastic patissier, Monsieur Roux, in Quiberon. We often serve a sweet and acidic beetroot jelly, made from highly reduced beetroot juice, as one of the petits fours, and one day we were playing around with different vegetable juices, carrot among them, to see how they reacted to the same treatment. As soon as the carrot juice was boiled, however, it lost a lot of its aromatic properties. Not wanting to waste the juice, I just continued boiling it, to see how its aromatic character changed while being reduced, and found that, when the juice was all but completely reduced, it developed this wonderful aroma of treacle pudding.

I really wanted to exploit this discovery, but quickly realised that it would probably require the juice of about two kilos of carrots for a single serving of a dessert. One of my chefs then suggested making a toffee with the carrot instead, and promptly set about doing some preliminary tests. Several attempts later, something approaching the foundation for a new dessert was emerging. It now just needed developing further.

There is a compound, known as ionone, that has a violet characteristic and is found in many fruits and some vegetables, notably mango and carrot. This characteristic can be brought out a little in carrot when it is dried, and it marries brilliantly with coriander seed. In my book, coriander seeds should win a Nobel Prize for their contribution to gastronomy - these brilliant little chappies lend themselves perfectly to the theory of flavour encapsulation. Most spices cannot be eaten in their raw, or rather dried, state but coriander can be, delivering bursts of flavour and freshness.

I have written several times about the virtues of combining raw and cooked, soft and crisp, of the same ingredient in one dish, and this dessert is no exception.

Here, then, are the parameters for the dessert: exploiting the treacle/ toffee-like flavour of reduced carrot juice; combining raw, cooked and dried carrot, benefiting also from the variations in texture; and exploiting the ionone in the carrot, and its pairing with coriander.

Interestingly enough, I had originally wanted to add a little more acidity to the dish, but then I tasted it with the addition of raw carrot and realised that it needed nothing else. The pumpkin seeds and oil were natural additions to the butternut squash ice cream. Other than that, a few crystallised violets, if you can get hold of them, would make a great addition at the end.

Recipe serves six.

Carrot toffee

This can be made in larger batches than here, because it keeps well in the fridge for a couple of weeks.

225ml double cream

187g unrefined caster sugar

187g glucose

150g salted butter

112ml semi-skimmed milk

750ml carrot juice, reduced to 75ml

150g roasted pumpkin seeds

In a saucepan, bring the cream up to a boil then set to one side. Heat the sugar, glucose, butter, milk and carrot juice in another pan, and cook for about 10 minutes on a medium to high heat, stirring continuously, until you have a caramel. It is important to stir the mixture constantly, otherwise the caramel might become grainy.

Once the caramel is formed, cool it down by adding the cream a little at a time. Now stir in the pumpkin seeds and set aside for 24 hours before dividing into six portions. Lay a small piece of clingfilm on your work surface and place a dollop of the carrot toffee on top. Form into a ball, wrap, repeat with the remaining portions, and store in the fridge until needed.

Butternut ice cream

Trimoline is a commercial invert sugar used in confectionery. If you can't get hold of it, use liquid glucose instead.

8 free-range egg yolks - keep the whites for another use; also, they freeze well, so you don't need to come up with something straight away

60g Trimoline (or liquid glucose)

60g unrefined caster sugar

500ml whole milk

25g skimmed milk powder

500g butternut squash, peeled, chopped, cooked and puréed

Beat the egg yolks, Trimoline (or liquid glucose) and sugar for 10 minutes, until the mix lightens and doubles in size. Heat the milk and skimmed milk powder to 50C, stir in the egg yolk/sugar mix and heat, stirring the whole time, until it reaches 72C.

Hold the mixture at this temperature for 30 minutes. Now stir in the puréed butternut squash and pass the whole lot through a fine-mesh sieve into a container set over a bowl of ice. Once cool, store in the fridge until ready to churn.

Dried carrot

This garnish is completely optional - after all, you cook the carrots at a very low heat for a very, very long time, but I would wholeheartedly recommend that you try to make this at least once, because it works so well with the dish, adding another aspect of the carrot flavour. It is absolutely essential that you slice the carrot ultra-thin, otherwise it will not dry properly.

1 carrot

50g sugar

50ml water

Peel the carrot, then slice it lengthways as thinly as possible - a Japanese slicer is by far the best tool for doing this; failing that, a mandolin will do. You may well find it too difficult to cut the carrot thinly enough by hand.

Bring the sugar and water to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar and so making a syrup. Add the carrot, and then remove the pan from the heat and set aside for 10 minutes. Lift out the carrot, pat dry and lay on a baking tray. Bake in a 60C oven for two days.

The assembly

1 large carrot, diced

1 coffeespoon coriander seeds

1 coffeespoon caraway seeds

Pumpkin seed oil (available from big supermarkets), for drizzling

Take one ball of the toffee, place it in the middle of the plate and lightly press down with the back of a spoon dipped in hot water, until it forms a flat base just less than 1cm thick. Sprinkle some of the diced raw carrot over the top and around the plate, then lay a ball of the ice cream on top. Put a couple of coriander and caraway seeds on the caramel, then top with a strip of dried carrot and drizzle with a little pumpkin seed oil

· Heston Blumenthal is chef/proprietor of the Fat Duck in Bray, Berkshire.

Thanks to guardian.co.uk who have provided this article. View the original here.