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Food for Fetes: Both Sugar and Spice in Desserts

Food for Fetes: Both Sugar and Spice in Desserts

Desserts aren't simply sweet anymore. The meal's finale is considerably more complex — and no longer ruled by chocolate. Desserts now are often lighter, smaller and faintly savory. Here, dessert details are broken down into small bites — much like desserts themselves these days.


Everybody has a preference when it comes to dessert: fruity, creamy or chocolatey, to name a few. These sweets specialists are no exception.

Light Bites

Shane Bruns, executive chef and food and beverage director of Emily Morgan Hotel in San Antonio, prefers desserts to be fresh and light, like his poached pear and fig Napoleon, which he sometimes pairs with buttermilk ice cream. “Mascarpone whipped cream melds the flavors together, and you don't feel overwhelmed by the final course,” he notes. And while he says it could end any meal, it's a particularly fitting finale to a four-course meal of pancetta-wrapped prawn accented with Sambuca foam, shrimp bisque and a halibut entree.

Taste Task

Executive chefs Gayle Pirie and John Clark of Foreign Cinema in San Francisco had the challenging task of impressing a roomful of bakers for a special luncheon. They accomplished this with an airy and crisp cannoli, which they sometimes pair with a trio of apricot, huckleberry and nectarine granitas. Because “cannoli are usually tired, stale and uninspired,” according to Pirie and Clark, executing them well can be especially impressive. The pair credits a crisp ultra-thin shell and high-quality American ricotta that's “airy light in texture” to their success with this Italian favorite. Candied citrus, vanilla and a little sugar boost flavor.

Dessert On the Go

Wendy Pashman, president of the Entertaining Co. in Chicago, often breaks desserts down into small, portable portions. She cites her mango mousse tower as an excellent ending to one wedding's Southeast Asian-flavored meal. In this case, she and her clients wanted the dessert “to be reminiscent of a tiered wedding cake but not be a wedding cake.” She notes desserts in con-tainers allow guests to stroll during the final course, which is especially nice after being seated for a multi-course meal.

Pashman's mango mousse is an example of another movement gaining momentum — alternatives to traditional wedding cakes. Pashman, who specializes in international cuisine, notes the growing popularity of the croquembouche cream puff tower — a French favorite — and an Australian sponge cake called lamington.


Caterers have their share of hurdles when serving dessert to large groups. Ice cream, for example, can turn into a drippy nightmare for big events, but immediate melting can be prevented with the right approach. Pashman serves ice cream packed in dry ice to keep temperature constant. Bruns prefers to scoop ice cream onto a sheet pan and then freeze each scoop. “This allows the ice cream or sorbet to be more firm, and it will make it to the guest intact and not in a puddle,” he says.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, maintaining crunchiness for crisp dessert components also is difficult. Sadly, there's little a caterer can do for this problem. Pashman simply doesn't put tuiles, spun sugar or crisp meringue-based Pavlovas on the menu during humid summer months.


Many trends will continue — savory flavors will still spice up desserts, according to Bruns, such as his Tellicherry-black-peppercorn port fig sorbet, while retro-style desserts, such as a “doughnut bar,” both sate and comfort, Pashman says. But new trends are on the horizon. Pirie and Clark say desserts with flower infusions are gaining in popularity. They like candied rose petals for custard and rose geranium flavor for ice cream. Pashman cites a whole list of sweet expectations:

  • Buffets will specialize in artisanal chocolate and vanilla desserts — the latter because, according to Pashman, “There are non-chocolate lovers out there!” Pashman's contribution to such a buffet includes chocolate-covered cheesecake on a stick and merlot-steeped straw-berries in small sake cups with vanilla ice cream.

  • Dessert “flights” will take off, such as a miniature chocolate bread pudding accompanied by a miniature citrus fruit tart and a tropical fruit mini egg roll with guava sauce.

  • Passed candy will join the party, such as Pashman's truffles with hints of ginger, served after dessert.

  • “Midnight fuel,” or desserts passed on the dance floor later in the evening, will grow in popularity. Miniature root beer floats with vodka shooters or hot chocolate with freshly made marshmallows are ideal candidates for late-night sugar fixes — and sure to give event-goers sweet dreams.

Kitchen Aid

While Wendy Pashman says old-fashioned elbow grease is the best kitchen tool of all when preparing dessert, extra help never hurts. Here Pashman, Shane Bruns and pastry chef Sarah Ballard of San Francisco's Perbacco — who crafts such delicacies as a warm hazelnut cake with roasted grape compote — list the kitchen equipment they couldn't live without:

  • SaniServ ice cream freezer
  • KitchenAid immersion blender
  • Spatulas
  • Champion juicer
  • Microblade zester
  • Exopat baking mat
  • A kadai or karai — an Indian vessel similar to a wok
  • Chimta — long flat tongs, good for flipping hot items such as naan


Emily Morgan Hotel

Entertaining Co.
312/829-2800 and

Foreign Cinema


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