Black Beauty

isn't she a beauty?, originally uploaded by serni.

Yesterday morning, I woke up with a spark of inspiration. The night before I felt so drained and discouraged I didn't think I would make any truffles at all... But that morning, I woke up bright and early, and we already had early breakfast plans with my brother Noam (who offered to take us out - how sweet of him, and so perfect for a full weekend market).

So I wake up, and I had the chocolate all ready and my ingredients all lined up. I've been in love with black cardamom every since I read about it in Vij's at Home cookbook. I always dismissed black cardamom as a spice because all I read about it was that it's inferior to the green cardamom. And since I love green cardamom so much, I thought there was no point searching for something inferior to it... After cooking an amazing black chickpeas, date and black cardamom curry from the book, I was so moved by black cardamom's beauty, that I was determined to explore this spice in every way possible - including truffles. I just was not sure how.

2 Varieties of Black Cardamom, originally uploaded by norecipes.

Black cardamom is usually much larger and coarser looking than green cardamom. In both cases though, the shells from these pods are removed before grinding. However, they can be cooked whole (much like cloves), which is how they are used when cooking chai. The outer shell of black cardamom has a distinctively smoky and earthy aroma. The glossy seeds, once exposed and pounded with a mortar and pestle, have an aroma that is camphoreous yet earthy still. It lends a very unusual flavour to curries - giving them intense depth. And apparently, that's what gives the food at the renowned Vij's Restaurant its characteristic, as it is used in many of their recipes, and is a main ingredient in their signature garam masala.

I haven't dined at Vij's much (only once, actually), because the lineup there is 2 hours long (and there is always a lineup) - by which time I would have been able to cook up a recipe from either of their fabulous books and feel really proud of myself (not to mention feed a whole flock of starving teenagers, students and/or artists for a fraction of the cost).

So, I can actually attest to the magic of black cardamom and I'm so glad that I added yet another unlabeled jar of mystery onto my spice rack (the only thing that is more elaborate than my spice rack is my perfumer's organ...).

At 7am, I infused my cream with a generous heap of black lapsang suchong tea, crushed cardamoms (with pods included) and simmered them for a while. Meanwhile, my dark chocolate was melting on the bain-marie, to which I later added a dash of finely ground black smoked salt, some of my favourite type of gin, and even more finely ground black cardamom seeds (in my marble mortar and pestle). Whisking the two mixtures together, I had a ganache ready, a shallow pan ready (these were going to be cut up into squares, rather than formed into balls like I usually do). I let them chill and headed down the street for breakfast with the family.

A few hours later, I was at my table at Portobello West, putting the final touches to my table, such as putting little tags and signs for little items that require explanations, as there is more to them than meets the eye. It was time to tell the world about my new truffles... I started writing down what's in them, and I realized it would be really hard to convince people to eat them based on a list of ingredients only. They had to have a name. As I was printing the ingredients on the little card -

Black cardamom

Black smoked salt

(Black) Lapsang Suchong Tea

I realized that everything in these truffles was black and beautiful and the name just announced itself on the tag:


Bvlgari Black

Crushed violets, originally uploaded by oksidor.

“Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.” (Mark Twain)

In the summertime, Bvlgari Black wears like a molten asphalt and roof tar, underlined by purring black cat’s fur. Intense and linear, it grows on the skin until it becomes unbearable. In the cooler fall weather, it wears like a woolen sweater contaminated by the smoke escaping from the fireside. And a cup of Lapsang Suchong comes to mind. But this is only temporary: soon violets take over. Violent violets of the candid kind that you can find in the two Lolita Lempicka and the Au Masculin (both are also by Annick Menardo). It also is quite similar to two other masculines that played florals in a cheeky way: Joop! (Michel Almairac) and Le Male (Francis Kurkdjian) - a trend that most likely began with Geoffrey Beene's Grey Flannel (André Fromentin).

Lapsang Suchong, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

Bvlgari Black is intriguing and quirky and reminds me of both the smoky tea of Dzing! And Tea for Two (both created by Olivia Giacobetti for l’Artisan Parfumeur). I’m still not decided which one of the three I like the best. The dry down of Bvlgari Black is a rich though not smouldering vanilla, reminiscent of Shalimar's counterpoint between sweets and smokes, confection and leather.

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