The Incompatible Food Triad Cookoff - Gastro Obscura
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The Incompatible Food Triad Cookoff

To solve a tasty philosophical problem, we whipped up strawberry-mushroom-balsamic tarts and beef-orange-cream pot pies.

Chocolate, strawberry, and ... garlic?
Chocolate, strawberry, and … garlic? Unsplash

Recent visitors to the kitchen of the Atlas Obscura offices had a good chance of stumbling on a familiar holiday scene: a group of people huddled around a table, about to enjoy a shared treat.

If they stuck around a little longer, though, things went a bit off-script. Placid chewing gave way to expressions of curiosity or shock. Commentary flew—surprised utterances included, “You can taste it in your entire face,” “This has a flavor profile that I can only describe as ‘incorrect,’” and “Oh man, I have to brush my teeth.”

If this happened to you, don’t be alarmed. No one has been poisoned. You simply witnessed this season’s hottest competition: the Incompatible Food Triad Cookoff.

A plate of lemon-chocolate-curry cookies, one of the more popular food triad experiments.
A plate of lemon-chocolate-curry cookies, one of the more popular food triad experiments. Alex Mayyasi

The challenge was based on the Incompatible Food Triad, a dinner-party question that has bedeviled philosophers and mathematicians for decades. The prompt is simple: Can you think of a set of three foods where any two of those foods taste good together, but all three combined taste disgusting?

Finding a solution, though, is more complex. “Is there a theorem that says if a and b are good, and b and c are good, and a and c are good, then a and b and c must be good? That’s something that, on the face of it, seems reasonable,” George Hart, who once ran a webpage about the problem, put it to us last year. “But then when you look for an argument, a truth, you don’t find one.”

Take, for example, the oft-suggested triad of espresso, milk, and lemon. Espresso and milk make a latte. Milk and lemon juice, when combined in a certain way, become paneer cheese. Espresso and lemon juice is currently enjoying a cultural moment. You’d think the three together wouldn’t work—but delicious lemon affogatos would prove you wrong, as well as demonstrate how difficult it is to find three foods that truly solve the challenge.

Brave tasters get ready to try some pumpkin bread with garlic streusel.
Brave tasters get ready to try some pumpkin bread with garlic streusel. Lex Berko

After we wrote about the problem, readers flooded us with potential triads. Because we like to take mental exercises as far as possible, we decided to put the strangest-sounding suggestions to the test. Ten brave chefs stepped up to the plate and whipped up recipes incorporating supposedly incompatible ingredients.

Innumerable others then made their own sacrifice, tasting—for the good of the project—strawberry-mushroom-balsamic tarts, beef-orange-cream turnovers, and many other counterintuitive combinations. Unlike a standard cookoff, the goal was to find a truly irredeemable dish.

Which were the worst? Which were the best? And were any truly incompatible? Tuck your napkin firmly into your shirt and read on to find out.

Ginger-Nutmeg Pumpkin Bread with Garlic Streusel

Chef: Lex Berko (Associate Editor)
Recipe: adapted from Veganomicon

For the garlic-ginger-nutmeg triad, our chef added garlic to pumpkin bread with streusel.
For the garlic-ginger-nutmeg triad, our chef added garlic to pumpkin bread with streusel. Lex Berko

A reader suggested nutmeg, ginger, and garlic as an Incompatible Triad—she told us about a pumpkin pie gone wrong where garlic snuck into the spice mix. Berko took this as a challenge. “We were going to make a pie,” she says. “But then we thought it would be easier to make this pumpkin cake and put the garlic in the streusel, so if and when it was disgusting, we could just knock it off.”

For the bread:

  • 2 cups pumpkin puree
  • 3/4 cups soy milk
  • 3/4 cup canola oil
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 3 tablespoons light molasses
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cinammon
  • 3/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

For the streusel:

  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 tablespoon sunflower oil
  • 1 cup pecans, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F and grease a 9 x 13 inch baking pan.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the first six cake ingredients, pumpkin through vanilla.
  3. Fold in half of the flour, as well as the baking powder, salt, and spices.
  4. Add the rest of the flour and hand-mix until combined.
  5. Get another bowl to make the streusel. Mix together the flour, sugar, and spices.
  6. Drizzle in the oil and mix with fingertips until crumbs begin to form.
  7. Mix in the chopped pecans and garlic. (Don’t forget the garlic.)
  8. Pour the batter into the pan and sprinkle the streusel on top. Bake for 45-50 minutes.
An engrossed taster takes one more bite of incompatible pumpkin bread.
An engrossed taster takes one more bite of incompatible pumpkin bread. Lex Berko

Reactions: While the bread looked like a normal sweet, it smelled and tasted more savory: It was repeatedly compared to curry, stuffing, and pumpkin ravioli. Testers tended to offer one opinion as they initially chewed, and then another after “the garlic hit.” “It is so confusing,” one anonymous taster offered. “At first you think, is this good? And then, all of a sudden, it’s awful. It’s like hearing a car alarm on a pretty day.” This was the earliest triad tested, and weeks later, people were still talking about it.

Consensus: Until proven otherwise, garlic, ginger, and nutmeg is an Incompatible Food Triad! If you want your office baked goods to be truly unforgettable—but don’t care why people remember it—definitely try this pumpkin bread.

Strawberry-Mushroom-Balsamic Tarts

Chef: Samantha Chong (Associate Audience Development Manager)
Recipe: adapted from Tasty Yummies and Chef Savvy

Fruits and fungus living together.
Fruits and fungus living together. Samantha Chong

Chong chose her triad—strawberries, mushrooms, and balsamic vinegar—because she loves mushrooms. But she quickly turned to the challenge of allowing both the sweet and savory ingredients to shine. “I was trying to think of what went well with both mushrooms and strawberries,” says Chong. “There are mushroom-stuffed pastries and also strawberry tarts, so it made the most sense to make a tart that incorporated both.”

For the tart shells:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons butter

For the filling:

  • 2 pints of strawberries, hulled and sliced
  • half a container of sliced baby bella mushrooms (2-3 cups)
  • 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons maple sugar (or other non-white sugar of choice)

For the cream:

  • 1 cup light cream, chilled
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup or sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Prepare a muffin tin.
  2. In a large bowl, add all of the crust ingredients and mix very well.
  3. Add the crust mixture to the muffin cups or tart trays, and press it down firmly into the cup using your knuckles.
  4. Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden brown.
  5. Allow to cool in the pan for about 10 minutes, then place the pan in the refrigerator.
  6. While the shells are cooling, make the filling. Turn the oven up to 400°F.
  7. Toss the strawberries and mushrooms with the balsamic vinegar and sugar. Allow the mixture to sit for a few minutes.
  8. Pour the mixture and its juices onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet, dish, or pan.
  9. Roast for 10 to 12 minutes.
  10. While it’s roasting, make the cream by whipping the ingredients together.
  11. Once you’ve got all three parts, it’s time to assemble the tarts. Remove the tart shells from the pan.
  12. Top each shell with a spoonful of cream, followed by a generous spoonful or two of the strawberry-mushroom-balsamic mixture.
  13. Top off with another drizzle of cream. Serve right away, or refrigerate for later.

Reactions: Visually, this triad was beautiful and strange, like something the Mad Hatter would serve at tea. In terms of flavor, it was slightly more divisive. “It was nice to have the earthy taste and squishy texture of the mushroom bits,” says editorial fellow Michael Inscoe. “They took the edge off the sweetness of the strawberry.” Others disliked the mouthfeel—or, in some cases, considered the mushrooms interlopers in an otherwise straightforward dessert.

Consensus: Strawberry, balsamic, and mushroom might be an Incompatible Food Triad. This half-fungus, half-fruit tart engendered opinions that were equally split.

Beef-Orange-Cream Pot Pie Bites

Chef: Anne Ewbank (Gastro Obscura Fellow)
Recipe: adapted from recipes by Alton Brown and Tastemade

These pot pie bites are filled with orange, beef, and cream.
These pot pie bites are filled with orange, beef, and cream. Samir Patel

“For the beef/orange/cream triad, I decided to go with a kind of steak au poivre—beef filets covered in pepper and served with a cream and cognac sauce,” says Ewbank. To ensure maximum portability, she chopped the steak and put it in miniature pot pies. After some experiments, she thought better of the cognac, and left the three triad flavors to do most of the work.

Ingredients:

  • 1 package tenderloin steak, cut into bite-sized cubes
  • 2 oranges
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 round of pie dough

Directions:

  1. Zest and squeeze the oranges. Set the zest aside for later.
  2. Marinate the beef chunks in the orange juice for one hour.
  3. Dry the beef cubes with paper towels. Cover them with salt and pepper, and use the butter and oil to cook them in a pan until browned.
  4. Set the beef aside. Pour the cream and orange zest into the pan, so that it mixes with the drippings.
  5. Bring the cream sauce mixture to a boil and cook it down for about five minutes, whisking throughout.
  6. Finely chop the beef. In a bowl, mix it with the cream sauce.
  7. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  8. Set one circle of pie dough over an empty ice cube tray. Press the dough down into each cube compartment (like in this video).
  9. Spoon the beef mixture into the pockets of dough, and cover with the second dough round. Carefully join the sides of each pot pie together.
  10. Flip the ice cube tray over to release the pies. Trim the outer edges, and cut the mini-pot-pies apart.
  11. Brush each pie with egg yolk and orange juice.
  12. Bake until golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes.

Reactions: A rare attempt at a savory dish, these pot pie bites garnered an overwhelmingly positive response from the tester team, even served cold the next day. “I would have eaten a lot more of those,” said one admirer. Some sort of cream dipping sauce would also have been welcome.

Consensus: It’s safe to say that beef, orange, and cream is not an Incompatible Food Triad. We should all consider adding cream to our beef dishes, beef to our cream dishes, and orange to both.

Fudge Brownies with Strawberry-Garlic Compote

Chef: Jessica Leigh Hester (Staff Writer)
Recipe: partially adapted from The Minimalist Baker

Gooey, garlicky brownies.
Gooey, garlicky brownies. Jessica Leigh Hester

For her triad, Hester chose garlic, strawberries, and chocolate, which was suggested by a reader who once saw chocolate-covered garlic cloves served at a film screening. “I thought maybe the key to this triad was harnessing both savory and sweet,” says Hester. “If the chocolate and strawberries are both super sweet, for instance, raw garlic would be appalling. But if everything straddled that line—thanks to fermentation and a splash of balsamic—maybe it wouldn’t feel so discordant.”

Ingredients:

  • your favorite store-bought or homemade brownie mix (Hester uses The Minimalist Baker)
  • 2 cloves black garlic
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped strawberries
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven and prepare mix according to recipe or package instructions. Set aside while you make the compote.
  2. Combine strawberries, garlic, and balsamic in a saucepan over high heat. Reduce to a simmer for about 10 minutes, or until it starts to soften and caramelize.
  3. Pour mix into an 8” by 8” glass pan, then swirl strawberry mixture on top.
  4. Bake for about 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out fairly clean. (Note: the strawberries will add some extra cooking time—don’t be surprised if you need a few more minutes).
  5. Let cool completely before cutting, or these things will ooze everywhere.
Strawberries and garlic cook down together.
Strawberries and garlic cook down together. Jessica Leigh Hester

Reactions: Garlic is a popular triad ingredient: Its pungency makes it divisive, and mixing it with sweet food is always a challenge. For these brownies, the chef elected to use black garlic, a form of the aromatic that has been heated and fermented for weeks. The resulting cloves have “some of raw garlic’s heat, but little of its punch,” she says. It worked: The brownies got rave reviews. One tester even put them in their “top five brownies of all time.”

Consensus: Garlic, strawberries, and chocolate is not an Incompatible Food Triad. These brownies were a hit.

Lemon-Chocolate-Curry Cookies

Chef: Samir Patel (Deputy Editor)
Recipe: adapted from Serious Eats

This plate of lemon-chocolate-curry cookies disappeared quickly.
This plate of lemon-chocolate-curry cookies disappeared quickly. Alex Mayyasi

For Patel, a combination of lemon, chocolate, and curry sounded more appealing than a pair of any two of them. “It was one where I could imagine the flavors coming together right away,” he says. Starting off with a bright lemon cookie recipe, Patel then concocted a strong curry-chocolate frosting to encourage the triad ingredients to play off of each other.

Ingredients:

  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons buttermilk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • half a bag of Ghirardelli milk chocolate chips
  • 2 teaspoons curry powder

Directions:

  1. Beat together butter and sugar in a large bowl until it gets fluffy.
  2. Beat in the egg yolk and vanilla.
  3. Add flour and beat until dough forms.
  4. Add buttermilk, zest, and salt. Beat until dough comes together.
  5. Divide the dough in two, roll it into logs, and wrap it in plastic wrap. Let it chill for half an hour in the refrigerator.
  6. Preheat the oven to 350°F, and prep two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  7. When they’re cool, slice the logs into discs a quarter inch thick and put them on the baking sheets. Bake the cookies about 15 minutes, until dry and golden.
  8. While you’re waiting, make the toppings. First, melt the chocolate chips over a double boiler, and stir in the curry powder. That’s your chocolate frosting.
  9. Next, whisk together confectioner’s sugar and lemon juice. That’s your lemon glaze.
  10. After the cookies have baked and cooled, smear each with a generous dollop of frosting, followed by the glaze.
Alex Mayyasi, editor of Gastro Obscura, tries a lemon-chocolate-curry cookie.
Alex Mayyasi, editor of Gastro Obscura, tries a lemon-chocolate-curry cookie. Lex Berko

Reactions: Unlike other triad recipes, which revealed their intricacies slowly, these cookies showcased all their flavors up front: burning curry, robust chocolate, and a lemony bite. Although this made for some good first-taste faces, they quickly won people over. “By bite three, I was enjoying the cookies, which challenged my conception of what a sweet should taste like,” says Gastro Obscura editor Alex Mayyasi. Chef Patel agrees: “I was definitely hiding things with sugar,” he says. “But all the flavors did come through, and were weirdly pleasing.”

Consensus: Curry, lemon, and chocolate is not an Incompatible Food Triad. Unafraid of their own potential contradictions, these cookies were a three-pronged crowdpleaser.

Blue Cheese Ice Cream with Raspberry Wine Swirl and Tarragon-White-Chocolate Chunks

Chef: Larissa Hayden (Deputy Director of Events)
Recipe: inspired by the Springboard Collective’s 2015 Good Humor exhibition

Is that ... blue cheese ice cream with raspberry swirl and tarragon-white-chocolate chips!?
Is that … blue cheese ice cream with raspberry swirl and tarragon-white-chocolate chips!? Larissa Hayden

Hayden decided to use the blue cheese, raspberry, and tarragon triad to challenge herself. “I picked this triad because I hate blue cheese,” she says. “The only time that I ever liked it was when I had it in ice cream form.” She also leaned into the strength of her ingredients: “Since two-thirds of the flavors are very potent, I didn’t want our readers to think I would skimp. I used a whole lot of tarragon. And as you might have heard from tasters, I also used a whole lot of blue cheese.”

For the blue cheese ice cream:

  • 1 pint vanilla ice cream (store-bought or homemade)
  • 1/2 hunk of blue cheese

For the raspberry wine swirl:

  • 8 tablespoons raspberry preserves
  • 2 tablespoons red wine

For the tarragon-white chocolate chunks:

  • 1 packet tarragon
  • 2 bars white chocolate

Directions:

  1. Soften the vanilla ice cream.
  2. Break the blue cheese up into very, very small chunks.
  3. Mix the tiny bits of blue cheese into the ice cream. (For a more even result, do this in batches.) Put the ice cream back in the freezer.
  4. Mix the raspberry preserves and the red wine to make the swirl.
  5. Wash the tarragon and chop it as small as you can.
  6. Melt the white chocolate in the microwave, stirring every 15 seconds until it’s goop.
  7. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper, and spread the white chocolate mixture on top as thinly as you can.
  8. Sprinkle the tarragon on the white chocolate, and put it in the refrigerator overnight to harden.
  9. The next day, re-soften the blue cheese ice cream.
  10. Break the tarragon white chocolate into chunks, and mix them into the ice cream.
  11. Swirl the raspberry wine sauce into the ice cream as well—or, if you prefer, serve it on top, sundae-style.
Tarragon-white chocolate, ready to cool.
Tarragon-white chocolate, ready to cool. Larissa Hayden

Reactions: Some people called this experiment their favorite. Others held it at arm’s length. “It has a flavor profile that I can only describe as ‘incorrect,’” said taster Ella Morton. Another, Natasha Frost, called it “complex, tasty, and not very more-ish.” Hayden herself was happy with the result, but suggested tasters not think too hard about it, “because then you realize you’re just eating cold, sweet salad dressing.”

Consensus: Blue cheese, raspberry, and tarragon might be an Incompatible Food Triad. A tongue-twister in name and deed, this ice cream gained some die-hard fans, but is perhaps best in small doses.

Chocolate-Chicken Mole Tacos with Garlic and Pickled Ginger

Chef: Rose Annis (Director of Sales Strategy & Marketing)
Recipe: self-created

Chicken ties together the garlic-ginger-chocolate triad.
Chicken ties together the garlic-ginger-chocolate triad. Rose Annis

Annis decided to use the reader-suggested triad of chicken, cocoa, and ginger to inspire a cozy dinner at home. As a fan of mole sauce, she figured she would be able to “use the ginger in a way that stood in for the traditional chili-based heat.”

For the chicken:

  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
  • 1 knob ginger, chopped
  • 1 package chicken thighs
  • 3 large tomatoes
  • 1 poblano pepper
  • 1 jalapeno
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic, chopped
  • chicken stock
  • 2 squares unsweetened dark chocolate
  • 1 handful crushed almonds

For the pickled ginger:

  • 1 knob ginger, thinly sliced
  • 2 jalapenos, sliced
  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sugar

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together the spices, cocoa powder, salt, pepper, and half of the sliced ginger. Coat the chicken thighs in the spice mix.
  3. Once the oven is hot, put the chicken thighs in there to brown for about 15 minutes. Also throw in the whole tomatoes, the poblano pepper, and the seedless jalapeno.
  4. Once the vegetables are blistered and black, throw them into a blender to make a thick paste.
  5. In a deep pot, heat the olive oil and cook the onions, garlic, and the rest of the ginger until fragrant.
  6. Add the vegetable paste and cook until it reaches the consistency of loose tomato sauce. If necessary, thin out with chicken stock.
  7. Add the dark chocolate and the crushed almonds.
  8. Put the browned chicken thighs into the pot and spoon the sauce over them.
  9. Cover the pot and let everything stew, adding chicken broth, salt, and pepper as needed.
  10. While the chicken is stewing, make the pickled ginger. Put the white vinegar and the sugar into a pot to boil.
  11. Once it is boiling, transfer it to a small jar with the sliced ginger and jalapenos. Close the jar tightly and let it sit for 30 minutes.
  12. When the meat is fully cooked, shred it off the bone with a fork, and mix it back into the sauce.
  13. Serve on warmed tortillas, with queso blanco and pickles on top.

Reaction: Annis’s gamble paid off; the dish was tasty. “It still had heat,” she says, “but also a surprising aromatic brightness.”

Consensus: While our tasters didn’t get to sample this one, the enthusiastic response from the chef suggests that chicken, cocoa, and ginger is not an Incompatible Food Triad. But you could always try it yourself just to make sure.

Cherry-Chocolate-Tabasco Cupcakes

Chefs: Cara Giaimo (Staff Writer) and Blake Olmstead (Head of Design)
Recipe: adapted from Baked By an Introvert

A spicy surprise is hiding in these cupcakes.
A spicy surprise is hiding in these cupcakes. Cara Giaimo

For the cherry, chocolate, and Tabasco triad, the chefs decided to take a classic food—the cherry-chocolate cupcake—and inject as much heat as they could into both the cake and the frosting. “The baking process included a lot of tasting, adding Tabasco, and then tasting again,” says Giaimo. “We wanted the flavor to be instantly recognizable.”

For the cupcakes:

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 3/4 cup cherry preserves
  • 3 teaspoons Tabasco sauce

For the frosting:

  • 1 cup unsalted butter softened
  • 3 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 1/3 cup black cherry preserves or regular cherry preserves
  • 2 teaspoons Tabasco sauce
Chef Olmstead dollops the batter into a well-assembled muffin tin.
Chef Olmstead dollops the batter into a well-assembled muffin tin. Cara Giaimo

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Get your muffin tray ready.
  2. Beat together oil, butter, and sugar in a large bowl until it gets fluffy.
  3. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Then beat in the vanilla.
  4. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Stir with a whisk.
  5. Gradually add the dry, floury mixture to the wet buttery mixture. Pour in the milk, and beat until well blended.
  6. Add the Tabasco to taste.
  7. Spoon 2 tablespoons of batter into each muffin tray. (You may want to line them with paper inserts.)
  8. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until they pass the toothpick test.
  9. While they’re baking, make the frosting! Start by beating the softened butter until it, too, is fluffy.
  10. Beat in the powdered sugar, then the cream, then the preserves.
  11. Add your Tabasco, again to taste.
  12. When the cupcakes are done, remove them from their pans, and cool them on a wire rack.
  13. When they’re cool, it’s time to fill and frost. First, cut a small divot out of the top of each cupcake. Fill the divot with cherry preserves, and put the cut-out portion back on top.
  14. Frost the cupcakes.
  15. Bring the cupcakes to your coworkers, and see if they can tell what’s unusual about them.

Reactions: Cherry and chocolate is a classic combination, and everyone likes cupcakes, so most people bit into these with initial enthusiasm. When the Tabasco hit—in the form of a slow burn, followed by a slight, acidic aftertaste—opinion split. Some called them “well-balanced” and “a great, surprising, weird cupcake.” A few enthusiasts said they would eat “a thousand, given the chance.” But some tasters failed to finish theirs.

Consensus: Cherry, chocolate, and Tabasco is not an Incompatible Food Triad. While the cupcakes’ aftertaste was slightly divisive, many people appreciated its spicy kick.

Chocolate Beer Cheesecake

Chef: Kerry Wolfe (Places Fellow)
Recipe: Adapted from The Beeroness

Have your cake and drink it too with chocolate beer cheesecake.
Have your cake and drink it too with chocolate beer cheesecake. Kerry Wolfe

The chocolate, cheese, and beer triad inspires thoughts of bar snacks and heavy stouts. But thanks to the wisdom of the crowd, Wolfe decided to go in a different, sweeter direction. “I’ve never been a cheesecake fan,” she says. “But when I googled ‘cheese beer chocolate,’ all the results were cheesecakes. I knew then I would be making some sort of cheesecake.”

Ingredients:

  • 4 standard sized graham crackers
  • 1 cup pretzel rods
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons melted butter, unsalted
  • 7 oz 60% dark chocolate
  • 1 cup and 2 tablespoons chocolate stout
  • 24 oz of cream cheese, softened
  • 1 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 tbs flour
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/2 salt
  • 1 tbs espresso powder
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350. Coat the inside of a 9 inch springform pan with butter.
  2. Blend the graham crackers, brown sugar, and pretzels in a food processor until they reach the consistency of crumbs.
  3. While blending, slowly add the butter until the mixture resembles wet sand.
  4. Pour the crust into the pan, and press it down with a glass until well-compacted.
  5. In a pot over medium high heat, stir the chocolate and one cup of the beer together until melted. Remove from heat to cool.
  6. Combine the cream cheese and sugar in a stand mixer until smooth.
  7. Add eggs one at a time.
  8. Pour the cooled chocolate into the mixer and beat until well combined.
  9. Sprinkle the flour, cocoa powder, espresso powder, and salt over the batter, and mix on low speed until just combined.
  10. Pour the batter into the pan over the crust.
  11. Place the pan in the oven, on the middle rack. Put a baking dish on the rack below and fill with water.
  12. Bake the cheesecake about 45-50 minutes, until the center sets.
  13. While it’s baking, make the sour cream topping by adding the sour cream, powdered sugar, and remaining stout to a bowl and whisking until well combined.
  14. Top the cheesecake with the sour cream topping and return to the oven for eight minutes.
  15. Remove the cheesecake from the oven and chill in the pan for at least three hours.

Reactions: “As soon as I added the beer to both the mixture and the sour cream topping, I thought I was in for something disgusting,” says Wolfe. “But, surprisingly, the cake was a winner. Even I couldn’t stop eating it.” It has since been added to the family recipe book, she adds: “I wouldn’t be surprised if I wind up making it again next year for Thanksgiving.”

Consensus: Beer, cheese, and chocolate is not an Incompatible Food Triad. Although often eaten separately, this recipe proves the three can be successfully brought together.

Conclusions

Pumpkin bread with garlic streusel, finished to varying degrees.
Pumpkin bread with garlic streusel, finished to varying degrees.

After we daubed the sauce from our lips and brushed the crumbs from the table, what did we learn?

First of all, the Incompatible Food Triad Cookoff presents a win/win scenario. If you find a successful triad—three foods that pair well but, when combined all together, truly taste bad no matter what you do with them—then you’ve solved the problem.

If you instead prove a triad unsuccessful by making something certifiably delicious … Well, then you have a great snack.

Of all the triads we tried, the only one that cleared the bar for incompatibility was ginger, nutmeg, and garlic. Two other triads—strawberry, mushroom, and balsamic vinegar, and blue cheese, raspberry, and tarragon—were divisive enough that they require further testing.

But all of these will lose their claim to incompatibility if someone, somewhere, can combine them in a delicious dish. When you get down to it—after accounting for taste and cooking skill—it’s difficult to imagine any trio of foods that invariably fit the problem’s criteria.

As one chef put it, “It seems like there’s really no such thing as an Incompatible Food Triad.” But like all dreamers of impossible dreams, we won’t be deterred from trying to find one. And in the meantime, we did manage to conclusively prove one thing: It’s enjoyable to watch your coworkers eat garlic-filled desserts.

Think you’ve got an Incompatible Food Triad that can stump our chefs? Send suggestions to cara@atlasobscura.com, and we may take on your challenge in an upcoming roundup.

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