NOT YOUR MOTHER'S APPLE PIE
While molecular gastronomy remains the “It girl” of the culinary world, Kensington Caterers president Richard Mooney says that desserts “should be more about indulgence than intellect,” adding that “comfort food” desserts are still his most-requested.
“Guests continue to love basic homemade desserts — like your Mama used to make but in reality, rarely did,” Mooney says. And even if she did, it's doubtful she made them like this: the Kensington Caterers' twist on classic pie and ice cream combines pie crust cones with vanilla bean ice cream topped with warm caramel apple walnut salsa, while its cheesecakes and panna cottas are often made with goat cheese.
“The trend continues toward a preference for miniature versions of old-fashioned desserts,” adds Mooney, noting the staying power of cake lollipops, tiny sundaes and house-made Ding Dongs and Oreos. Miniature bites also lend themselves well to another dessert trend — tray-passed treats. “Tray-passing can be a really good way to present desserts that don't sit well on a buffet, such as freshly made mini doughnuts or churros with shots of hot chocolate, or just-out-of-the-oven cookies or baby pies with shots of chilled milk,” he says.
OFF THE WALL
Why settle for doughnuts on a table when you can put them on … a wall! Jodi Moraru, head of event design and production company EVOKE of Silver Spring, Md., dreamed up the “Wall of Doughnuts” as a creative way to present the humble-yet-beloved pastry as an inexpensive dessert station. The doughnuts, attached with golf tees by Design Cuisine, spelled out the client's initials as the focal point, but they can be arranged in myriad designs or patterns.
“It's all about giving old favorites a new twist,” says Design CEO Kathy Valentine. “We are definitely seeing more retro desserts, but the presentation has a twist of molecular gastronomy.”
To that end, Design Cuisine tends to substitute powders and pearls for sauces, which give a cleaner, more modern look to the plate without compromising flavor. “Our ‘deconstructed carrot cake’ is made with candied carrots, walnut powder and cream cheese ice cream,” she says. “It's all the same ingredients as the original, but presented in a different way.”
Puff 'n Stuff
“Chocolate desserts are still the king of all requests,” says executive pastry chef Greg Smitka. “We use only Belgian chocolate, and our own touch is incorporating either a unique mouth feel, texture or spice.” Add-ins such as ginger, chiles, citrus or roasted coffee, he says, enhance chocolate's natural flavor profile in traditional desserts such as terrines, cakes and mousses. “My goal is to create a perfect ending to a great meal,” he says. “Chocolate makes that simple.”
Indeed, unexpected, contrasting and savory flavors, such as chiles, white pepper, bacon and even peas, Smitka explains, are fast finding their way into the pastry chef's pantry. “I look for a subtle pairing element that will accentuate a key component of the secret ingredient,” he says. “For example, to enhance the natural sweetness of fresh green peas, I'd begin with a dry caramel to quickly cook the peas, and then add it to a mousseline for a dessert.”
ALWAYS LEAVE 'EM WANTING S'MORE!
Few desserts evoke childhood memories better than the s'more, which explains its continued popularity in all its manifestations. Feastivities' latest incarnation — “Please Sir, May I Have S'more?” — takes the chocolate-marshmallow-graham cracker confection to a whole new level. To create it, graham crackers are dipped in melted chocolate and sprinkled with condiments such as coconut, sprinkles, nuts, etc. Once dry, they are attached to wooden clothespins. The clothespins are then clipped upright onto wooden dish racks, which are placed on a Lazy Susan in the center of the dessert station. Finally, the chocolaty graham crackers can be dipped in a bowl of meringue, then blowtorched. The result: A perfectly portable, hot — and haute — gourmet s'more.
Feastivities senior event producer Dan Hoch is quick to give credit where credit is due, citing Sarasota, Fla.-based pastry chef James Plocharsky as the originator of the idea. “I was inspired to take his original idea and put my own spin on it — literally,” he says.
STICKS AND CONES
Bold American Events
According to director of sales Sandy Zeigler, small, portable desserts — especially those in a cone or on a stick, such as caramel apples, cheesecakes, chocolate truffle cones and Popsicles — have taken the place of plated desserts. “Plated desserts are very rare,” Zeigler says. “Even if guests choose a plated dinner, the dessert course is a buffet. Our clients want their guests up and dancing at that point.” That said, it's not unusual for lighter, “to-go” desserts to be presented as a late-night parting treat. “We'll pass homemade Popsicles made of fresh fruits and herbs such as strawberry basil or mango mint to guests as they exit for the evening,” Zeigler says.