The all-black palette that has become ubiquitous in everything from supercars to timepieces is creeping into the world of cuisine. KAREN PINCHIN introduces the most curious additions to baking this autumn – charcoal and squid ink. Recipes by MICHAEL ELLIOTT. Photography by LIAM MOGAN
In the winter of 1783, Grimod de la Reynière, a wealthy Parisian known as the "prince of gastronomes," served a black banquet staged as a funeral. In a candlelit hall adorned with black bunting, dishes were served to guests who were flanked by their own coffins. After being accused of madness, the eccentric host ordered the doors locked and guests were held hostage until almost dawn.
It is in this tradition that we are both attracted to and repelled by black breads. Not to be confused with dark Russian-style pumpernickel loaves, these breads are truly black, tinted with squid ink or powdered, food-grade charcoal. Big in Japan for years now, the trend is finally hitting North American menus.
For Ottawa chef Antonio Vacchio of Zolas Restaurant, the initial allure of black pizza crust was aesthetic. Using Indonesian coconut charcoal powder he orders online, Vacchio flavours his black dough with fennel pollen and rosemary, pinching it with white dough for a two-toned pizza. "It's a cool conversation piece," he says. "When it comes out of the oven, when you brush it with a bit of olive oil, it really pops."
One challenge for bakers is that it's nearly impossible to see when these breads are ready, as the tint obscures the rich chestnut-brown of a perfect crust. "When you're dealing with black bread, you never get to see that. So you have to be on it," says Vancouver baker and Tartine alum Annabelle Choi, who uses fine charcoal sourced from bamboo. "Even in the smallest amounts, you're changing the structure of your dough to make it more billowy, softer," she says.
And while the hue is striking, she says diners are often uncomfortable with it. "Visually, things that have gone black, we associate with carbon or mould. In nature we're attracted to things that are bright and full of colour," she says. "It jolts us because it's going against what we know. But if your foundation is black and then you have a garnish that's the exact opposite, it's jarring – and quite stunning."
Food styling and recipe creation by Michael Elliott for Judy Inc. Prop styling by Stephanie Saunders for Judy Inc.
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