Once upon a time, I was ambitious enough to teach a 3 part series on plated desserts to a group of enthusiastic amateur cooks. After all, it’s the heart of what I do, I should certainly be able to translate that into a class.
I believe I gave it a good go, discussing plating styles, trends, contrasts and compliments of texture and flavor, pastry chefs to know. I taught the recipes as building blocks, breaking the recipes into 3 categories; main components; secondary components like sauces and compotes; and garnishes. For the last hour of the last class, we laid everything out, and the students took plates constructed plated desserts from the building blocks we created.
During one lecture, we touched on the creative process by which a dish is brought to life. Every dish has to have a starting point. It can be a fruit in season, a particular flavor you want to work with. But often, the dish is being worked within some kind of loose format. There are many. You can set your boundaries within classic dishes, a season, a holiday, a culture. We focused on the format of nostalgia, discussing traditional desserts that have been turned into plated desserts in fancy restaurants.
The students each chose a dessert they craved as children, begged their grandma for, hoarded pocket change to purchase at the corner shop. We discussed the rules of this dessert, physical and emotional, then broke each dessert down into little pieces. Then with their new found knowledge of how to construct a plated dessert as if the components were lego’s, they build imaginary plated desserts from their favorite childhood treats.
The example I used to walk the students through the process was T.K’s coffee and donuts. Today in the New York Times food section, this iconic dessert was used again as an example. This time, however, the format it exemplified was that of turning breakfast into dessert, a trend seen on dessert menus of late.
Within this format, there is only one rule; you must create a dish that the diner will recognize in some manner as breakfast. Depending on the cultural ties, this can vary. At The Fat Duck, a dessert mimicked a plate of full English, a breakfast of tomatoes, eggs, bacon, baked beans, and toast. Using the locked format of breakfast, Heston was able to stretch elements in very creative directions, introducing the diner to bacon and egg ice cream.
Most desserts are either built to appear like a breakfast, with flavor and ingredients swapped, or build to look like familiar desserts, with ingredients most commonly found in breakfast. An example given of the former, a toad-in-the-hole made with caramelized brioche, a ring of white pannacotta, and a spherical yellow mango center. Where as the latter may be exemplified by a pannacotta infused with the flavor of a breakfast cereal, an oatmeal creme brulee, or one of my favorite textural components, caramelized rice crispies.
I believe that tightening your boundries often forces you to be more creative. In order to keep the dish recognizable with in a format, you don’t have as many directions to take it. You end up inverting in a way, finding the depth of the integral parts, focusing rather than expanding, pulling and pushing at the same time.
What part of your breakfast would you translate into a dessert? And before you say “bacon” read the last part of the article calling bacon out as the skinny jean of the dessert world, super trendy, sexy when right, but oft ill applied.