Recreating Martin Benn's Toffee Apple

A reflection on re-creating Martin Benn's spectacular toffee apple and leaves.

Recreating Martin Benn's Toffee Apple
Truer colour of the leaves. I liked the lighting of the apple in the first picture more, as the lighting is behind the apple in this picture, hence I chose it for featured image.

Martin Benn appeared on the semifinal of MasterChef Australia, Season 12, and the final three contestants of the Back To Win season were to recreate his Toffee Apple dish.

The dish is complete with a scroll of a continuous strip of lathed apple, lathered in bitter red toffee, filled with savoury miso caramel, topped with a little raspberry sauce and a chocolate caramel stem that is dusted with cocoa.

It is nestled against a cluster of shimmering leaves — copper-tinged, sour raspberry maltose leaves; glittering, gold, salty pumpkin and persimmon leaves; and bronze, sweet muscavado sugar leaves. They conceal a rocher of salted white chocolate chantilly that has a sprinkling of tiny sour apple jelly cubes.

Martin Benn's visually-arresting original dish

Benn wanted to play around with the five flavours of sweetness, sourness, umami, bitterness and saltiness.

Toffee Apple
Become the ultimate MasterChef by recreating this mind-blowing Toffee Apple by one of Australia’s best chefs, Martin Benn

The episode is available here (but I believe it will be georestricted to allow viewing from within Australia only):

MasterChef - S12 Ep. 60
In today’s Semi-Final challenge, our top three contestants compete for a place in the Grand Final. At the end of today’s challenge, three become two.

I made a slightly-modified version of the recipe, to accomodate for dietary preferences (I am currently a vegetarian), and to use equipment and ingredients that I was able to access.

Tips on cooking vegetarian.

(Overall — on the vegetarian note — in baking, this means omitting or substituting gelatin. Gelatin can also appear in thickened cream, but it can be made without gelatin. The cream will have on the label whether it is suitable for vegetarians or not.


When working with savoury meals, the thing to look out for is rennet in cheese, but some cheeses use non-animal rennet.)

This post is mostly a reflection, and attempts to diagnose issues.

Toffee Apple

Apple

Katsuramuki 桂剥き

Benn and the contestants used a lathe to cut up the apple into one continuous spiral. I did not have one, and the price was a little out of what I could set out to buy. But I did come across a seller of a lathe that mentioned katsura-muki (katsura peeling) is the art of slicing a daikon radish into a thin, long continuous strip, and requires a lot of technique and practice with using a knife.

I searched to see some videos on katsura-muki. This video was immensely helpful:

It included the movements of each hand separately, along with the tip of using a bamboo skewer to help with aligning the knife, while practising.

I also searched katsura-muki along with apple (ringo りんご). (I learnt Japanese at one of my schools, which I attended for a year, and I can recognise Hiragana and Katakana.) I did not come upon this video until after I had finished, but this section of the video includes someone slicing an apple:

It made me realise that I needed a sharper knife, if I would like to practise again in future. My knife was not sharp enough, thus I could not do a shinmying up-and-down movement with my dominant hand, and found myself doing a rocking movement instead.

The knife not being sharp enough meant also that sometimes, the knife would not slice through the apple easily and needed force to yank it through a bit more. This led to a few minor lacerations. (You have to already be careful while doing katsura-muki, as the knife is pointed towards one of your hands.)

Here is someone slicing a different, smaller fruit:

And here are two videos of someone lathing an apple on a katsuramuki machine. (The first video made me realise why Reynold's apples were a little less spherical and more cylindrical — it was because he had chopped the end off both of his apple strips.)

Rolling up the apple strip into a scroll

My apple had been split up into several strips, some I did manage to get very thin. When rolling up my apple, the brushed toffee was enough to help them stick together. I had a mould with spherical 70mm-diameter slots, and it was slightly small for the apple, which was much larger than the 145g-150g range mentioned in the recipe, but it was enough to help hold the apple together.

I did not have a two piece mould — it was one sheet, but I folded the rest of the mould over the apple to partially cover it in the oven.

Toffee

I used apple juice instead of apple sake, for a few reasons. Even though alcohol does evaporate during cooking, I was not as keen on risking using alcohol. Besides, we already had a huge bottle of extra apple juice at home, and I wanted to try and use the remainder.

I had used a smaller saucepan (because all of the medium saucepans at home were black-bottomed, and I wanted a saucepan which would let me see the colour of the caramel better). Thus when I added some apple juice to stop my toffee, it bubbled aggressively and risked overflowing. So I had to wait until it subsided a bit, before transferring to a larger saucepan. By then, the mixture had cooled a little, and less apple juice evaporated when I added the remaining apple juice.

This meant my toffee, I suspect, was looser than Benn's, as Benn mentions that you could use a heat gun to heat the toffee if it was too thick, but my toffee never became too thick to brush on, at room temperature. I think that this affected mostly only the glazed effect.

On an extra note, apple juice, I imagine, has a different water content compared to apple sake, since the latter has more alcohol content. Both water and alcohol have different boiling points. But since the temperature of the caramel is quite above each of their boiling points when it is to be stopped, — at a stage where it has been taken to a bitter flavour, just before smoking point, — the water in the apple juice would also evaporate as the alcohol would have. So the main factor affecting the consistency of my toffee was more likely to be the factor of waiting for the bubbling in the small saucepan to subside a little, before transferring it into the cooler larger saucepan to fit the rest of the apple juice, which meant the toffee was much cooler.

Miso Toffee filling

I did not have issues with making this.

Chocolate Caramel Stem

I did not have issues with making this.

Raspberry Sauce

As mentioned in an upcoming section, I did not have enough raspberry powder so I decided to use some lemon zest. I know it would have added a touch of zestiness rather than sourness, but I liked it.

Leaves

I did not have a leaf mould that was large enough. I ordered a set online, but they were incredibly small. So I used a technique of imprinting a mould several times along the shape of a larger leaf.

Pumpkin and Persimmon Leaves

We had homegrown persimmons, so I used those. I did not have a Thermomix, but I could see that the aim was to cook off the pumpkin in the first set of steps. So I heated the mixture in a saucepan, after the step of processing the persimmon with the pumpkin. I continued for over 10 minutes. And then I put the mixture back in the food processor, after letting it cool a little, to make sure it was smooth.

There was an incredible amount of steam while I was hearing the purée in the saucepan. So that led me to understand, then, that drying the sheets in the oven was to help further dehydrate the purée. (Persimmon is relatively watery.)

When frying, some leaves were slightly overcooked, and they had darker edges. But I liked the visual effect, and I thought that this gave a degree of realism. (I had many leaves, but I just chose these ones for show.)

Maltose Leaves

I tried to make my own freeze-dried raspberry powder. Here is a recipe that I looked at.

How to Dehydrate Raspberries and Make Raspberry Powder
Have raspberries but don’t want to let the mold monster get them all? Learn how to dehydrate them and powder them for extended pantry life and make your food taste great all year long!

But I think the dehydrate setting on our air fryer was not low enough to be at 52ºC. (Another option would have been to preheat the oven and turn it off, but I admit that I did not have the patience.)

For various reasons, I did not have enough raspberry powder. The various reasons include

  • using a sieve with too large holes while rinsing raspberries, and I lost some product for drying,
  • not letting some frozen raspberries defrost long enough and thus some raspberries were still too wet to be dried and finely ground into a powder,
  • raspberries shrivelling too fast and partially overcooking in the airfryer because the heat was too high (thus I had less dried raspberry to use)

So I had a number of gold maltose leaves. But they were beautiful. I actually suspect that Benn and head pastry chef Jo Ward also used maltose leaves without raspberry powder in a later iteration of the recipe, called "Maple", according to an interview with the Good Weekend magazine, since they look very similar to the maltose leaves that I had:

Image source: KRISTOFFER PAULSEN, Good Weekend magazine
Image source: Chris Lucas, Martin Benn and Jo Ward on Instagram

I think the gold leaves in "Maple" are more likely to be a form of maltose leaves, or similar, rather than pumpkin and persimmon leaves, because of the translucent quality.

Muscavado Sugar Leaves

I used dark brown sugar as I could not find muscavado sugar at the shops. And I added a bit too much salt to the egg whites, as I have scales that have a precision of about ±0.5 g, and at around 1g, it seems to not register well.

So the leaves were saltier than I imagined Benn's were.

Condiments

Apple Jellies

I used a cheesecloth rather than a superbag, for the apples, but it still worked well. The apples were the ones that I had been practising katsura-muki with, prior to the apple I used for the toffee apple.

I also used citric acid rather than malic acid and ascorbic acid (Vitamin C), since citric acid was available in the supermarket.

I did cook off the raspberries for too long, and the liquid became a little too thick to sieve. So I had to re-add some hot water to make it looser.

Chantilly

I experimented with using agar agar rather than gelatin. Unfortunately I did not know where my extra packet of white chocolate chips went, so I used more cream to make up for some of the missing white chocolate. So I am unsure how the agar agar influenced the consistency compared to gelatin (from what I observed on television).

Summary

I really enjoyed the process of making this recipe.