I love sweets. Obviously. As a pastry chef, I fully understand giving the people what they want. But I also believe in challenging the diner to try something new, expanding their taste buds and minds.
I recently took a friend to dinner. I ordered the whole dessert menu, as is the norm at our dinner table, and at the end of it, I asked her favorite.
"The vanilla bean gelato."
What? The dessert menu at this restaurant is my perfect menu. It has one safe dessert for the likes of my friend who is happy eating the everyday. The rest are an abundance of fabulous, creative desserts that utilize seasonal ingredients while presenting the depth of imagination that the pastry chef brings to the menu.
A dessert menu should be as thoughtful as the dinner menu. The final impression of a restaurant is your sweet treat. Personally, I get bored with the same options all the time. I have been known to leave a restaurant without a dessert (shock and horror!), due to the lack of inspiration or absence of care when executing the dessert menu.
These are five desserts that I am over seeing on every dessert menu.
Molten Chocolate Cake Why do people swoon for this dessert? Maybe I'm bitter because I've baked these to order thousands of times, but I hate this dessert. It's cake that's not baked all the way through. You can do it at home and eat it in your sweatpants.
Cheesecake I love cheesecake. However, every time I order it, a one-ton brick of cream cheese arrives on my plate. Often overbaked, the crust is made of garbage boxed graham crackers and butter. Slop on some canned cherries and we have ourselves an old-school steakhouse sweet. Until we can learn to bake a light fluffy cheesecake and garnish with more inventive goodies, let's park this option. Crème brulée I remember the movie Amelie, when the title character says one of her favorite things is to crack the top of the crème brulée. Assaulting your dessert is great fun, but why do you always want the same vanilla custard with crunchy sugar shell? Don't your buds yearn for more interesting flavors and perhaps another texture aside from sharp sugar shards?
Tiramisu Tiramisu custard in its boozy fluffy dollops is fabulous, in my opinion. What I cannot understand are the soggy ladyfingers dipped in weak espresso. It does nothing for me. Bye-bye, soggy store-bought ladyfingers.
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Brownie anything Brownies are for the coffeehouse, bakeries, and eating at picnics. Throwing a scoop of ice cream and some hot fudge on is what I expect to get at Dairy Queen for $4, not in a restaurant for $7.
As diners, let's open ourselves up to more! We need to embrace and allow our pastry chefs to be creative with their menus. The more receptive we are as diners, the better our dessert options will be. Don't cry; I'm sure there always will be a little vanilla gelato on the menu.
Rachel Miller is a pastry chef and food writer in Phoenix, where she bakes, eats, and single-handedly keeps her local cheese shop in business. You can get more information about her pastry at www.pistolwhippedpastry.com, or on her blog at www.croissantinthecity.com.