Thursday, January 3, 2013

A Party for Clarimonde, and Magic Ambergris Cakes

Port with Chocolate and ambergris at Clarimonde’s party at MIN Perfumes in NYC

Lost Past Remembered was begun a little over 3 years ago. The blog gave me an excuse (as if I needed one) to try things that I had always wanted to try –– things I’d read about in literature or in history books or had heard about or seen in a film.  I made Shakespeare’s hippocras, Jane Austen’s ratafia, 17th century Wassail, tasted real marshmallows made with marshmallow root and cooked with ancient madeira thanks to Mannie Berk at The Rare Wine Company  

Because of the blog, I tried ambergris . The idea of this scent has haunted me since I first learned of it. Then, miracle of miracles, I found I could actually experience the mythic substance thanks to Adrienne at Ambergris Co. NZ .  The first time I opened the small velvet pouch and withdrew the small gray rock that smelled like the pure soul of the ocean –– I was in love and had to learn more about it.

Enter perfume blogger, Elena at Perfume Shrine who wrote brilliantly about Ambergris (in that amazing style that only perfume writers have).  It was on her blog that I read:

Natural ambergris has a wonderful tinge of saltiness, almost brine-y, encompassing elements of skin-like musky tones, and even a subtly sweetish accent. Its greatest attribute is its capacity for rendering a composition rounder, especially in oriental perfumes or in floral compositions where it melds the notes into one and brings out their best qualities. It clings on to fabric too, through repeated washings even, becoming ever sweeter with time. Therefore it is prized for its fixative power: the ability to anchor more volatile notes and make them last. “

Elena was kind enough to expand my world exponentially by introducing me to Mandy Aftel of Aftelier  –– a maker of superlative artisanal perfumes and chefs essences that have added so much to my cooking, I cannot say enough about them.  Through her, I met a group of New York perfumers and perfume writers and that’s where this story begins.

One of the perfume writers was Lucy Raubertas of Indieperfumes.  We met and hit it off and I have been a fan of her site ever since.  The cultures of food and scent are related in so many ways.  The more I know, the more fervently I believe this is true.

Around Halloween time in 2011, Lucy invited a group of perfumers (Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, Maria McElroy, Alexis, Karl, Mandy Aftel, Monica Miller, Ayala Moriel and me to write and create something inspired by Theophile Gautier’s French Vampire story, Clarimonde ( click to read parts 1, 234, 5 ,6, 7 and Surrender to Beauty –– you can read my original HERE).  I wrote about Vampires and made a blood-warm drink with port, chocolate and ambergris inspired by the story –– I was the only non-perfumer in the mix.  My inspiration was not wearable –– it was terribly drinkable though!  The writing and the perfumes were striking and fun to read and inhale.

Antique chocolate pot with chocolate and a piece of ambergris in the spoon

This story and the group that had come together were not meant to fade away.  Our fearless leader, Lucy Raubertus resurrected Clarimonde last October in 2011 for an amazing evening at an elegant perfume store in NYC called MIN New York.  The invitation read:

“This evening is held in honor of our secret lives, loves lost, and the beauty of five very limited edition hand-made perfumes created in the spirit of the beautiful Clarimonde. She has died many times yet continues to live among us through these perfumes and the legends about her.”

Here are some photos of the perfumes and people from the evening:

Lucy on the right during the Clarimonde reading

Lucy in the middle left with a crown of candles

Maria McElroy

The owner and manager of MIN


For it, I brought my warm ambergris port drink back from the grave of old posts and I believe it was enjoyed by all.  I am sorry it was so dark that I could not share my photos of the revelers (who looked marvelous in masks and many in jewels and costumes) –– they were mostly a blur which is a pity.

I had just started a movie so was unable to write about it as it happened 2 months ago –– a lapse I am correcting now.  I was also unable to make the ambergris cakes that I had wanted to make for the festivities made from a 17th century recipe in Robert May’s Accomplisht Cook. They are more like wafers, made only with egg and no flour so they are light as a feather ––really–– and perfumed terribly delicately with ambergris.

Over the holidays,  those cakes were crying to be made –– when I received an invite to a Hungarian photographer’s bohemian party with a friend of mine over the holidays, I had an excuse to whip them up for an appropriate crowd (my friend, a wonderful baritone,  sang 20's and 30's songs in German and French, very cool).    These are incredible with old port, or madeira or a great sauterne.  You could do them just with anise but you shouldn’t.  They are a miracle just as they are.

Many thanks to Adrienne at Ambergris Co. NZ for the ambergris for the drink and the cakes and to Mannie Berk at Rare Wine Company for his 1983 Gould Campbell Port that made the drink so rich and delicious.  A lesser port would have been sacrilege.

Liqueur de Clarimonde serves 2

1 cup of vintage port (1983 Gould Campbell Port from The Rare Wine Company)
2 t honey (depending on your taste, the port and the chocolate you may want more
2 drops Aftelier Rose essence or 2 t rosewater
pinch of nutmeg
2 T chocolate, chopped fine

1 pea size piece of ambergris from Ambergris Co. NZ, grated (optional)

Warm the port and honey and add the rose and nutmeg.  Stir till chocolate is dissolved.  Allow it to sit for a few hours in a covered container or until the following day.  Heat before serving (medium hot... do not boil), pour into glasses and sprinkle each glass with the grated/powdery ambergris.  Best to inhale a bit before drinking for the full effect.

 Ambergris Cakes (makes 3 to 4 dozen) from The Accomplisht Cook (1656)

3 eggs, separated
1 cup of sugar
¼ t anise, ground in a spice mill
½ t ambergris from Ambergris Co. NZ, grated on fine microplane
butter to grease cookie sheets

Preheat oven to 325º butter 3 to 4 cookie sheets depending on size (I had 2 large and 2 small)

Beat the egg whites till firm, slowly add 2/3 c of sugar into the whites.—it will have a meringue consistency)  Beat the egg yolks with the remaining 1/3 c of sugar until pale yellow and add the anise and ambergris to the mixture.  Fold the yolk into the whites.  Drop teaspoon size drops of batter onto cookie sheet (it will spread so give it some room). I needed to do 2 batches in the oven. 

Cook for 12-15 minutes.  They are ready when they are easy to take off the cookie sheet and have browned very lightly.  When cool they are terribly light and crisp.  

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pam said...

Your writing takes me to places and events and foods and now perfumes that I can only dream about.

Sarah said...

One day when I decide to go to NYC, I hope we can meet. You have such a repetoire. And I just remembered that I have a cousin in NZ. I wonder if he knows about ambergris. I am sure he does since he is a 'knows something about everything' kind of nerd.

La Table De Nana said...

Looks like a GORGEOUS place..and the atmosphere looks surreal.
How lovely.
Perfect for you:)

LaDomna said...

O_o Wow! Just, wow! I´d love to eb able to say, been there done that! Sadly I cannot... My life is boring... *sad*

ArchitectDesign™ said...

what lovely parties! I have never heard of ambergris but now am dying to smell and taste it. I always learn something new and thrilling here -thank you for that. Happy New Year!

SavoringTime in the Kitchen said...

The fact that you've introduced us to so many things that we would never think to make is also a bonus for your readers :) The photo of the vintage chocolate pot with the block of chocolate and ambergris should be a painting. That wounds like a wonderful drink. Anything made with port is delicious! I must try adding some chocolate - even if there won't be any ambergris in it :)

Marjie said...

The event looks old fashioned and just lovely! Happy New Year, Deanna and Petunia.

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

What a fabulous party that must have been. We often forget how much taste and aroma are linked. I can almost sense the seduction in your words and photos.

Barbara said...

That party, Deana! Wow. Very mysterious and dark. I love it.
I confess I know nothing about ambergris...the name yes, and I've certainly seen it referenced in books, but its particular qualities, no. Had no idea you could grate it and your description of its aroma is fascinating.
Wonderful post.

Diane said...

I love the sound of the liqueur, have made a not of that :) Happy New Year Diane

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

Deana, whenever I think of ambergris, I think of you! :) And thank you for this wonderfully evocative look into your life. It sounds like it is populated with intriguing and talented people!

Needful Things said...

Happy New Year, Deana. I love coming here and finding out about things I would otherwise never have known existed.
Wishing you a creative & wonderful 2013!