Marx Foods sent me a sample of dried candy cap mushrooms to use in another recipe contest, and man, these things are something else. Judging from Wikipedia's entry, I believe these are Lactarius rubidus mushrooms - there are three kinds of candy cap mushrooms found in North America, two of which have strong maple-like scents.
This is certainly one of those two. To be honest, I assumed the description of candy cap mushrooms as "tasting like maple syrup" was exaggerated, like when red wine tastes like haystacks and boysenberries. I expected something that would taste predominantly of mushroom, with a faint maple flavor that you might miss if you weren't paying attention.
I was so, so wrong.
Even before the sample bag was opened, the package smelled like pancake syrup. I mean, it actually smells more like artificially flavored maple syrup - a stronger smell than the real thing - than like real maple syrup, despite obviously being purely natural. It's a strong, sweet smell, with a sort of cereal element to it - "pancakes with maple syrup" captures it more than just "maple syrup" does, you know?
So all of a sudden this became much more interesting.
There's still a mushroom element, an earthiness and pungency. My goal was to make something that wouldn't cover the mushroom flavor up in favor of that maple scent. I thought about a cocktail, because of Caitlin's experience with mushroom-infused gin, and I think that's an avenue to explore in the future.
I brainstormed, jotting down flavors I thought would work - carrot cake - pineapple - persimmon - squash - and was on the verge of making a root beer float with mushroom ice cream. But I decided because of the time of year, I wanted something warm instead of cold.
I stayed with what drew me to the root beer float, though - the earthiness of the sassafras, working with the earthiness of the mushroom. What I ended up doing was making donuts with "forest floor curd" - a filling inspired by the smell of walking in the woods in the fall. Pine needles. Mushrooms. Mulch. Dying leaves. Chimney smoke.
These are spruce tips - the young buds of spruce trees when they're nice and tender. I froze a bunch in the spring. I used three of them in making the curd, and blended a couple more with granulated sugar in order to make a spruce sugar to coat the donuts in - it smells and tastes like Christmas trees. To make spruce sugar, just blitz spruce tips with sugar in a food processor, let dry uncovered overnight, and blitz again.
To make the forest floor curd, you're basically cooking egg yolks, infused cream, and sugar over simmering water until nice and thick.
First infuse the cream: simmer 1/4 cup cream
with a sample bag's worth of dried candy cap mushrooms (I don't know how much was in the sample bag - an ounce?)
and three spruce tips;
remove from heat, let cool, and strain.
Combine infused cream with
2 egg yolks,
1/4 cup sugar,
and 1 Tablespoon birch syrup,
in a double boiler and stir over simmering water until thick enough to coat a spoon. Thicken with a little slurry of cornstarch and cold water if necessary.
Add a pinch of tea from a Luzianne tea bag - yeah, tea bag tea, because you want the fine little particles, like flecks of vanilla bean adding that tannic dead leaf flavor.
The curd is incredibly tasty - kind of caramel-like, earthy, mushroomy.
Make 4-6 doughnuts:
Combine 1/3 cup warm water,
1 1/2 teaspoons yeast,
1 1/2 cups flour,
a dash of baking powder,
2 Tablespoons of sugar,
2 teaspoons of birch syrup,
a dash of vegetable oil,
1 beaten egg,
and a pinch of salt,
Let double in size, divide into 4-6 rounds, let rest for 20 minutes, and deep-fry, cooking about a minute on each side.
Let cool slightly, fill with curd using a pastry bag, and dust with spruce sugar.
My donuts were still pretty warm! You can see the curd became a bit runny.