Little packets of silica gel - those things which one always finds apparently uselessly loitering inside the packaging for new computers, and phones, and associated kit. And sounding as though really they ought to be fruit-flavoured, and generally more interesting than they appear to be.
I've always inderstood that their purpose is to absorb moisture and thereby to prevent the sensitive equipment from becoming damaged while it sits inside its airtight packaging, at risk of sweating its way into rusty decrepitude. But I've never really thought the silica gel was actually doing anything very much. Well....Ha! In fact, these things are quite incredible.
Several weeks ago, Technical Dept thought to put a couple of them into a plastic box, in which were stored some chocolate 'crisps' - circles of chocolate tuile, which were leftover from a napoleon-style dessert. As is their wont, these things were starting to become soggy, in our humid summer atmosphere (in which bowls of salt or sugar always turn claggy, after exposure to the air for only a short while...I presume it's from being so close to the sea) and TD thought to halt the process while it was still possible. Except that when I went to use them, several days later, I found them not only not to have got any worse in their descent into sogginess, but in fact to have become completely bone-dry crisp, and if anything, more so than they had been when they started out.
So, I thought I'd try with some meringues, which - if I'm lucky - might stay 'dry' here if kept in an airtight box for a day or so. And, lo and behold, after several weeks, out they emerged in perfect state.
But, there's more. Yesterday evening, dessert was to be vacherins with vanilla ice cream, creme chantilly, and raspberries from the garden (the crop this year is excellent). The (italian) meringue nests were piped in the morning, and although left to dry in the oven for four or five hours, they were still not entirely as I would have wished when I took them out of the oven an hour or so before dinner. Foolishly, I left them on a rack, thinking they might dry properly if left there - and, of course, when I came back to them half an hour later, they had kept their shape perfectly, but on touching them I realised that the texture had denatured to something akin to marshmallow. Necessity being the mother of invention, half of them were placed in a plastic box along with half a dozen little packets of silica gel, and a certain amount of hope, while the other half went back in the oven to continue drying in the traditional way. Well, in practice, I didn't even bother to check on the meringue nests in the oven, as I discovered that after only half an hour with the silica gel, those meringues were dry as dry, and exactly as the doctor ordered. After half an hour! I knew from experience that the process worked, but I'd had no idea it was quite so effective quite so quickly...an amazing discovery!
The packets of gel are readily available for twice-nothing online (ebay, for sure, if nowhere else) and the only maintenance they require is to be dried out for a few minutes in the microwave after they've been used a few times.
Fennel sformato, with basil sauce.
Curry of Gamberi, with Basmati rice.
Tarte aux Pommes; Vanilla ice cream.