Sunday, February 21, 2010
Clone of Taco Bell Baja Sauce
My Venture into Cloning
As I've written before, I really enjoy creating new recipes. I also love the challenge of reproducing the secret recipes of foods from some of America's most popular restaurants. I normally do not share my clone recipes because, invariably, there are people out there who will complain that the food doesn't taste exactly the same as the original or is lacking the same texture. Unless you are a food chemist, you will not have access to the enzymes, acids, emulsifiers, and additives that are commonplace in processed foods. Those additives are put in to give foods their unique flavors or textural profiles that most of us would not be able to reproduce with the ingredients available to us at home. I, personally, have no problem if my clone recipes have a slightly imperfect texture or flavor if I can add more natural ingredients that I can actually pronounce.
When developing a clone recipe, I always try to use most, if not all, of the major ingredients in the original recipe (except for the artificial additives, chemicals, and preservatives, of course). Before I ever step foot in the kitchen, I always research the ingredients in the food I'm trying to reproduce. In this case, I went to Taco Bell's website to get the ingredient list for, what most of us call, Baja Sauce. At Taco Bell, Baja Sauce is actually officially called Pepper Jack Sauce. Yes – Pepper Jack Sauce! If you've ever had a Chalupa or Gordita at Taco Bell, this is the tasty sauce that they drizzle on top. Very yummy. The following is the list of ingredients in their sauce as published on their website:
Sauce, Pepper Jack
Soybean Oil, Buttermilk, Water, Distilled Vinegar, Egg Yolk, Jalapeno Peppers, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Granular Monterey Jack, Parmesan, and Semisoft Cheeses (Milk, Cheese Cultures, Salt, Enzymes), Salt, Buttermilk*, Bell Pepper*, Xanthan Gum, Whey, Mustard Seed, Garlic*, Onion*, Natural Flavor, Potassium Sorbate and Sodium Benzoate Added as Preservatives, Lactic Acid, Citric Acid, Disodium Inosinate, Disodium Guanylate, Spice, Proplene Glycol Alginate, Calcium Disodium EDTA Added To Protect Flavor. *Dehydrated
Note the following:
1) Many of the first ingredients are used in the making of mayonnaise.
2) Monterrey Jack cheese is used as well as bell pepper and jalapenos . It goes without saying that pepper jack cheese is nothing but Monterrey Jack with bell peppers and jalapenos mixed in.
3) If you taste Baja Sauce, you will notice that is fairly acidic/tart with a hint of sweetness. That acidity is reproduced with buttermilk and vinegar (and, to some degree, with lactic and citric acids). I completely agree with Taco Bell in making the sauce acidic. You need an acidic condiment to help break up the heavy flavor of fried or oily foods. That's why ketchup goes great with french fries and why steak sauce has such an acidic kick to it. Acidity is critical here.
4) They use a lot of dehydrated stuff (such as the buttermilk, garlic, onion, etc.).
5) If you tasted the sauce by itself, you'll definitely notice that it has a spicy kick to it. I like that.
6) The sauce is not too thick (like some mayonnaise-based sauces can be). In addition, the sauce is exceedingly smooth with no shreds of cheese in it.
I also found several clones of this sauce on the web. Annoyingly, many of the clones did not contain many of the same major ingredients as the original recipe. Several of the recipes contained sour cream which is not in the original recipe in any way. In addition, those recipes have no cheese in them – in a condiment officially named Pepper Jack Sauce!
Although I try to use the same ingredients as the original when possible, sometimes I have to compromise since I'm not using chemical emulsifiers at home. Since their sauce is so smooth, they have to melt the cheese in some way before mixing the sauce. After a LOT of experimenting, I decided to go with a technique used in making fondue. With fondue, wine ( an acidic liquid) is added to milk or cream and heated to boiling. Cheese, which has been coated in a little cornstarch, is added to the hot liquid off the burner. This makes an exceptionally smooth fondue sauce when finished. To make my clone, I use evaporated milk, vinegar, and dried buttermilk to form the acidic base for the cheese. This acidity assures that the cheese does not get stringy when melted. Early on, I tried using fresh buttermilk but it broke so easily when heated that I gave up using it. I compromised and used dried buttermilk instead. Dried buttermilk has the same flavor profile but provides the stability I needed. I tried making this recipe several times with Miracle Whip and it was just too sweet. It's far sweeter than the original recipe so I opted to use regular mayo instead (I always use light mayo).
After experimenting with this recipe no less than 25 times, I finally got it fairly close to the original. At first, I tried using LOTS of cheese. Cheese tastes good so the more cheese, the better – right? Not in this case. I could not reproduce the same flavors with lots of cheese. I played with the amount of dried buttermilk and vinegar. I added and subtracted jalapeno. I added and subtracted corn syrup. You name it, I played with it to get it just right. Over a period of several months, I regularly went to Taco Bell and ordered a Gordita with baja sauce on the side just so I could have the original sauce for a taste comparison. If you saw my big patootie, you'd exhibit no surprise. Each time, I tasted my sauce and the Taco Bell Baja Sauce side-by-side. It's now as close to the original as I can get. I'm happy with the result. Hopefully, you will be too.
I wish Sonic Drive-in was still selling their Spicy Southwest Burgers or Southwest Breakfast Burritos. They were served with a chipotle sauce that was really good that I'd really like to reproduce. Oh, well! If you would like me to post a clone recipe of one your favorite foods, leave a comment and let me know what you'd like. I can't promise I will make it but I might surprise you someday. Enjoy – and happy saucing!
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Clone of Taco Bell® Baja Sauce
1/3 c pepper jack cheese, freshly grated
2 tbsp parmesan cheese, freshly grated very finely
1/2 tsp cornstarch
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp kosher salt (1/8 tsp table salt)
2 tsp corn syrup
1 tsp dijon mustard
1 jalapeno (seeds and ribs removed), finely diced
1 TBSP dry buttermilk (sold in the baking aisle)
1/2 c evaporated milk
4 TBSP vinegar, divided use
1 TBSP drained pimentos
1/16 tsp (just a small pinch) cayenne (optional)
3/4 cup mayonnaise
Combine the cheeses and cornstarch in a small bowl and mix well. Set aside. Sargento® Limited Edition Pepper Jack Cheese (in slices) works exceptionally well in this recipe. If you use that brand, you will need two slices (cut finely) to equal 1/3 cup.
In a small saucepan, whisk together the onion powder, garlic powder, salt, corn syrup, mustard, jalapeno, dry buttermilk, evaporated milk, and only 3 tablespoons of the vinegar. Whisk the mixture until the buttermilk powder has dissolved. Turn on the heat to medium and whisk often while the mixture is heating. Bring the mixture to a good simmer and, VERY IMPORTANTLY, remove the sauce pan completely from the heat and slowly whisk in the cheeses. Briskly whisk for at least 1 minute – making sure the cheeses have completely melted. I cannot stress the importance of not adding the cheeses when the pan is on the burner. If you did, you will cause the proteins in the cheeses to form small gritty balls that will ruin the texture of the finished product.
Add the cheese mixture to a blender with the pimentos. Whiz the mixture until the jalapenos and pimentos are very finely chopped and the mixture is smooth. Scope the mixture into a sealable bowl and allow it to come to room temperature on your kitchen counter.
When the cheese mixture has cooled completely, add the remaining tablespoon of vinegar, the cayenne pepper(if using), and the mayonnaise then stir to combine. Seal and put the mixture in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours to allow the flavors to meld.