Coming up with a dessert from scratch
So as someone had requested me a while back through Instagram, I’m going to talk here about how to compose a dessert. I’m going to address this as per my opinion of course. Depending on which pastry chef you speak to you will probably find slightly different views, and that is what makes our industry so interesting! So let’s dive in and discuss what in my opinion makes for a tasty dessert!
This is where it all starts; you can go and make the technically most incredible dessert; if it doesn’t taste right, all the effort will have been in vain. We need to work with excellent quality ingredients. You can’t make an excellent dessert with cheap stuff. I will go as far as saying that if you’re worried about your bottom line, it’s wiser to keep the quality but make the desserts more simple so that they require less labour. (your most significant cost in the kitchen, by far!) For me, a simple chocolate tart using good chocolate, vanilla, dairy and hazelnuts from Piedmont will please me much more satisfaction than a half baked attempt at a plated dessert with 15 textures of some fruit nobody ever heard about. Guess which one takes longest to produce, now calculate your actual costs and then ask yourself which type of dessert your customer is most likely to appreciate.
The ability to combine flavours comes mainly intuitive to me. Often through memories of tastes discovered during my travels. The more experience we build up, the more we build up a databank in our head, which allows us to play with this. There are however some tried and tested philosophies that work:
Think of hazelnuts and chocolate, or chocolate and coffee; both share a lot of the taste components of the other. Take Coffee: I would describe coffee as “warm, comforting and pleasantly bitter.” (Assuming we are working with good coffee!). Now let’s look at Cacao Barry’s 64% Extra Bitter chocolate: I would describe it as “rich, chocolatey with notes of coffee and a gentle bitterness.” These two ingredients would complement each other. They have so many aromatic components in common you couldn’t call them contrasting; In this case but rather complementing to each other.
Working with Contrasting flavours
Let’s stick to the coffee for a minute. Perhaps, for the dish we are going to make, we do not only want to compliment it with chocolate, but we want to add something contrasting as well. Our dish now has bitterness and sweetness (through the chocolate), I usually include a little bit of salt in my desserts too, so we now hit 3 of the 5 tastes our tastebuds can perceive. To bring that element of contrast, we lack the sour component. One of my favourite sour ingredients that go well with both chocolate and coffee is passion fruit! Now our taste buds will be having a feast! Is it always necessary to bring that contrasting flavour? I would say no. Sometimes just having those 2 complementing flavours is all you need. Think Paris-Brest! One of my all-time favourite desserts. In restaurants, it makes sense to be bolder in the combinations as that’s what people are there for; a flavour experience! For a pastry shop, keeping it simple and offering comforting flavours is the way to go from my experience.
So now we’ve established the flavours we are going to work with, we need to decide how we are going to turn it into a cake, or plated dessert and what textures we are going to be using. The texture of the components is just as important as the taste. Imagine a ganache made with the best chocolate money can buy, but poorly balanced and not correctly emulsified: The ganache will appear grainy in our mouth, which we will perceive as unpleasant, and making things worse, our taste buds would not be able to appreciate the flavours and aromas fully. So, making sure your textures are correct is just as important as choosing the right ingredients and flavour combinations! Now, to start building our dessert, for the sake of this article, I’m going to imagine we are making a plated dessert. So to refresh: our main flavours are coffee, chocolate and passion fruit.
People love crunchy textures, think crisps, biscuits, … the crunchy feeling is possibly more rewarding than the actual taste! So we will need a crunch in our dessert! In this case, I would probably go for a chocolate/hazelnut crumble. So that’s one crucial texture component decided on!
A nice creamy texture belongs to pretty much every dessert; I would propose in this case a coffee/caramel cremeux. Our crucial second texture and flavour component decided on!
I’m going for a chocolate mousse here, we could make it a chocolate pannacotta just as well or whatever gets you excited. It’s all down to your preference in the end. Our crucial third texture and flavour component sorted!
Passion fruit/mango sorbet This will bring both a contrast in flavour and temperature. Now we have all the main flavours covered while also having a variety of textures to keep the customer entertained. Now you have a solid base. This is probably all you need, but if you have the human resources and time, you can add more textures from the flavours we picked. You could add a coffee tuile, passion fruit meringues, chocolate garnishes, etc. As long as you respect the main flavours of the dish and don’t start adding elements for the sake of just adding details. If you liked this post, I recommend you to also see my previous post about how to choose the right chocolate for your creations here!