BOOZY BONBONS Blending booze into baked goods is a time-honored gastronomic go-to. Today, however, desserts inspired by cocktails and--more specifically--cocktail trends offer a contemporary culinary twist.
“Gastropubs and the beer-pairing experience are becoming increasingly popular, and we have created desserts to complement this trend,” says executive pastry chef Marilyne Mitani of Emeryville, Calif.-based Paula LeDuc Fine Catering, offering chocolate-dipped, bacon-toffee pretzel bites, oatmeal stout ice cream and porter caramel sundaes, and Guinness "Mallomars" as examples. Additionally, the rise of artisanal spirits within the cocktail culture has influenced her dessert menus. For a local gin distillery, Mitani created gin gimlet teacakes baked with a touch of ground juniper berry and filled with citrusy-sweet lime curd.
Sometimes the cocktail component is more obvious, offered in the form of a spiked sip with a sweet sidekick. At Tarrytown, N.Y.-based Abigail Kirsch, partner and chef Alison Awerbuch couples cocktails with confections for both plated and butlered desserts, such as a plated warm chocolate soufflé baked in a dark cocoa pastry tart with a sip of a salted caramel Kahlua-and-cream shake with espresso nougatine, and a tray-passed "butter Scotch” sipper topped with vanilla praline foam, served with a warm caramel beignet drizzled with cranberry syrup (see photo above).
The pastry team at Culinary Capers Catering and Special Events of Vancouver, British Columbia, gives the ever-popular French macaron an adults-only twist by pairing cocktail-flavored cookies with pipettes of accompanying spirits, notes president and CEO Debra Lykkemark. For example, the B-52 features a chocolate macaron filled with coffee Kahlua buttercream served alongside a Baileys and Kahlua pipette, while the Pina Colada pairs a coconut macaron filled with pineapple buttercream with a coconut and rum pipette.
Bite-sized and butlered, desserts are going the way of the tray-passed hors d’oeuvre. At Abigail Kirsch, Awerbuch plays off the appetizer riff with her crispy apple pie fries: crinkle-cut, fried apples served warm with strawberry-caramel "ketchup" and vanilla bean crème anglaise "mayo," and sips of strawberry cheesecake shakes with caramel popcorn crunch.
“Guests want to get up and mingle after a served meal,” Awerbuch says. “Rather than offering a plated dessert or traditional dessert buffet, we offer one or two unique stationary dessert presentations, and some creative butlered sweets. We see that more guests are eating desserts when offered this way.”
Charlotte Noble, marketing assistant at London-based Rhubarb, agrees, adding that the caterer’s popular dessert canapes--specifically its gin and tonic jelly, passion fruit panna cotta, and the British standby "Eton mess" (a strawberry, cream and meringue confection)--are best served on the go as shots. (A Rhubarb dessert station, above.)
“Petite desserts will continue to be the biggest trend in event desserts,” says Lykkemark, adding that assorted liqueur glasses, tiny ramekins, espresso cups and spoons remain popular serving vessels.
Warren Dietel, president of Orlando, Fla.-based Puff 'n Stuff Catering, adds classic petits fours to the petite-sweet hit list. “We do a sweet peanut butter and salty pretzel version as part of our new Classic American petits fours collection,” he says.
Just as the small plate dominates the appetizer realm, mini confections take the cake, so to speak, when it comes to plated desserts. Awerbuch combines tasting-sized portions of desserts to create plated dessert trios. “Guests love the variety and the uniqueness of the presentation,” she says. Plus, "They don’t feel guilty because each dessert is only a few bites.” Favorites include the Harvest Trio (ginger-cinnamon ice cream and cranberry sorbet/pumpkin cake sandwich, warm apple cranberry streusel crisp, and bite-sized chocolate caramel apple) and the Breakfast Dessert Trio (French toast with a passion fruit “yolk” in a hole with maple praline anglaise, mochaccino pudding with vanilla bean foam on a chocolate demi spoon, and cornflake-crunch fried banana ice cream with strawberry banana compote).
Interactive action stations—whether manned by a chef creating custom confections akin to performance art or the more hands-on DIY dessert bars—are, bar none, the preferred mode of serious dessert delivery. “We are always coming up with innovative ideas to pair with our dessert action stations,” says Dietel, citing corporate pastry chef Michele Pompei’s chocolate terrarium as example. “It is an interpretation of the French verrine concept.” As the complex dessert begins to take shape, Pompei explains each layer to the guest—chocolate pudding, "beet" red velvet cake, chocolate mousse, chocolate soil, "grass" pistachio streusel, spiced pecans and chocolate bark. Less highbrow, though no less delicious, is Puff 'n Stuff’s Blazing Doughnut Station, where homemade doughnuts are glazed to order and served hot.
Indeed doughnuts, or on Awerbuch’s menus, cronuts, make for an ideal interactive dessert station. At Abigail Kirsch, they’re served crispy with an assortment of "dunks": spiced chocolate, salted caramel, vanilla bean, peanut butter and mocha glazes; "drizzles": banana Nutella, coconut pistachio, caramel rum, raspberry ginger, apricot-amaretto and port balsamic; and "dusts": coconut flakes, chocolate nibs, butterscotch chips, crumbled pralines, dried strawberries, candied bacon and cookie crumbs. Another comforting favorite: the dessert fondue cart, which features warm chocolate Nutella fondue served with fresh fruit, pound cake and brownie bites, coconut macaroons and biscotti.
The pie’s the limit at Culinary Capers’ "build-your-own" rustic pie stations, where guests fill mini pastry pie shells with a variety of seasonal fillings and toppings—wild blueberry, local strawberry-rhubarb, and chocolate cream, to name a few (in photo/courtesy Culinary Capers).
Paula LeDuc Fine Catering puts a sweet spin on the “whole beast” cooking trend with shaved-to-order granita chiseled from a large ice block, as well as a full wheel of melting raclette cheese served with assorted macerated fruits at a crepe station.
Beyond Salted Caramel and Bacon: Caterers share savory ingredients that shine in desserts
The ingredients: Lemon grass, lime leaves, water chestnuts and white miso
The desserts: Warm chocolate-sesame beggar's purses filled with rum-caramelized bananas and water chestnuts; pineapple-lemon grass sorbet; Thai basil ice cream sandwich with white miso-mango coulis
Paula LeDuc Fine Catering:
The ingredients: Olive oil, Kalamata olives, corn nuts, and pickled and preserved fruit
The desserts: Olive oil ganache-filled macarons; Italian nut candies spiked with preserved orange peel-stuffed candied Kalamata olives; corn gelato sandwiches rolled in corn nut toffee; tomato lollipops—dried tomato chips embedded in sweet Bergamot-spiced candy
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