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As Michael Schneider, editor-in-chief of Pastry Art & Design and Chocolatier magazines, and creator of the book observes, "The concept of the plated dessert is best understood if you visualize the plate as the canvas and the components as the medium with which the chefs 'paint.' Although beautiful presentation is integral to the concept, a plated dessert is created not so much as to be exhibited as to be eaten."
In this enticing new book, each master pastry chef offers a delectable recipe, accompanied by an elegant four-color photograph of the transcendent work. We are also given a privileged look behind the scenes where chefs share their most guarded secrets. To all pastry lovers and aesthetes alike, the authors of Grand Finales: The Art of The Plated Dessert assure ultimate satisfaction or they will eat their hat -- Eric Girerd's creation of Humphrey Bogart's hat -- that is.
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Hubert Keller’s father was a pastry chef, and Keller spent most of his boyhood in his father’s pastry shop in Ribeauville, France. Keller recalls with fondness his father’s baba au rhum. After the cake was baked and poached in syrup, Keller’s father would set one aside for young Hubert. "He would put a scoop of ice cream inside while it was still cooling," says Keller. "It was delicious. But that was not something that the customer could experience--the warmth of the pastry just as it had been made."
Keller, a chef who also makes desserts, is pleased to be able to serve plated desserts to the customers at Fleur de Lys, his San Francisco restaurant; plated desserts are designed, in part, to capture the experience Keller enjoyed as a boy. "That’s what we’re able to do in a restaurant," says Keller. "Desserts are baked to order, and we are able to present them on china that we select."
This book presents masterpieces of the relatively new art of plated desserts. Fifty of the finest pastry chefs and executive chefs in the country--men and women who work in some of the finest restaurants, hotels, bakeries, wholesale operations and culinary schools--have contributed their recipes and visual designs. Their goal when presenting these desserts is the same as that of any chef who works in a refined setting with the finest possible ingredients: to offer an incomparable, exquisite taste experience coupled with intricate, visually pleasing presentation. Flavor is always the primary goal, and the recipes presented here deliver that; however, in this book, the emphasis will be on how well chefs achieve the second goal, presentation. As you will see, many of the chefs disagree on the style and flavor combinations in desserts, not to mention the degree to which presentation should be emphasized. But all would agree that presentation is important. Art may exist for its own sake, but presentation sells. "As long as people are aware of what they’re doing and why, it’s fine," says Ruben Foster, pastry chef at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix. "We’re in a business. We’re about selling things and about people coming back. If you stay in business, you keep your job."
The concept of plated desserts (Chris Northmore calls them "composition desserts"; his opinion matters, as we will see) is best understood if we visualize the plate as a frame and the components as the medium with which the chefs "paint." "We teach that there are four components to a plated dessert," says Meridith Ford, a food writer, pastry chef and instructor in the International Baking and Pastry Institute of Johnson & Wales University. "Ideally, there is the main item, the star of the show, whatever you would name the dessert. Other components will complement or contrast with this item. The second component is sauce or sauces. Most complicated is the third component--the garnish. This encompasses everything from scoops of sorbet to sugar work to a mint leaf. The final essential component is crunch. If the main item doesn’t contain flour, you should include some crunch elsewhere. Of course the rules are stretched," she adds. "Some people use a cookie whether the main component has crunch or not. There are many objectives and concerns to consider. But that's where the fun is."
Ford admits that, under the definition she outlined, a slice of cake with a drizzle of sauce and a mint leaf qualifies as a plated dessert. But let's step outside of the dictionary definition and into the fine print: Most plated desserts include at least one component of perishable ingredients. Although beautiful presentation is integral to the concept, a plated dessert is created to be eaten, not exhibited. Some components of a plated dessert may be prepared beforehand, but the plate itself is assembled à la minute. Because plated desserts are labor-intensive and demand fresh, sometimes exotic ingredients, they can only be achieved in fine restaurants and hotels. "Every single plate you do should look like the only one you did," says Meridith Ford.
Plated desserts are a far cry from the desserts of yesterday, meaning ten years ago; the classic American desserts such as fruit pies, cream pies, chiffon pies, custards, and bread puddings. A slice, a crumble, a bowl, a sundae. In fine European-style restaurants, it was a tart or a slice of cake, served with a flourish. They were fine and delicious, they still are, our memories reside there and we can visit anytime we like, but change was inevitable. "We have evolved from a slice on a plate to more composition and depth," says Mary Cech, an instructor in the pastry program of the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone, St. Helena, California. "A combination and a composition on a plate."
Why this evolution? Certainly, economics plays a part: as the price of entrées and appetizers rose during the upscale, up-and-at-'em eighties, desserts had to keep pace; it wouldn't do to have a $24 entree and a $4 dessert on the menu. Complexity is one way to enhance a dessert's appeal and value. And it is justified: if you apply meticulous plating, distinct forms and over-the-top presentation to the savory food, it feels like a gimmick; you do the same with dessert, it feels...right.
But in the opinion of Ferdinand Metz, President of the Culinary Institute of America, the reason for the emergence of plated dessert presentations is two-fold: "Being able to control what comes before the customer, and the lack of skill of servers," says Metz.
According to Metz, there was a quiet movement in restaurants in France in the 1980s toward à la minute presentation of plated desserts. "Desserts, by and large, do not lend themselves to presentation of ten or more," Metz explains, "unless you're talking about cakes. For example, if you serve soufflés for ten or more, you spoon each portion out and plop it on a plate; it loses its eye appeal, its fluffiness. If you serve crème caramel for ten people, the moment you cut it into pieces it doesn't look so good.
"And, during the 1980s, chefs began to observe that the waitstaff, in general, had become less and less knowledgeable," Metz continues. "They are now more carriers than servers. Chefs wanted to finish a plate in the kitchen rather than relying on someone else to present it. They wanted to know what the plate would look like once it reached the customer. Of course, desserts traditionally lend themselves better to individual presentation than food does. Desserts are cold, and much intricate work can be done beforehand. That gave the trend more of a purpose."
The event which ignited interest among American pastry chefs in à la minute, artful dessert presentations was the Culinary Olympics of 1988, which was the first year that desserts were included in competition. Up until 1988, each team had prepared a soup, appetizer, and entrée. Pastry chefs had been welcome at the Olympics, but only to provide desserts and breads for the meals before and after the events. Ferdinand Metz and Tim Ryan, also of the Culinary Institute of America, were instrumental in bringing about a change. "I proposed to the Frankfurt committee that a pastry chef be included on each team," says Metz. "The idea being that a meal is not complete without dessert. But dessert for 120--their first reaction was, oh no, it can't be done." Eventually, the Olympic Committee agreed to include desserts as part of the cold competition. The pastry chef selected for the team was Chris Northmore, now of the Cherokee Town and Country Club in Atlanta.
The challenge for Northmore was the conditions set by the committee: the 100 to 120 dessert portions had to be completed in three hours and had to be made in the limited space and equipment conditions of the Culinary Olympics. "And it had to taste great and have good presentation," notes Northmore. He began to work with Stacy Radin on concepts and procedures.
"It was an attempt to highlight dessert presentations so that multiple skills could be demonstrated," says Noble Masi, Senior Chef Instructor in pastry at the Culinary Institute of America. "If you were to present a savarin by itself, it represents the skill of making the dough, the flavoring of the rum syrup and the sauce. But if you enhance it with three or four different textures, a sauce, a cookie and so on, you begin to balance the delicate characteristics with more robust characteristics. It moves it from a singular presentation to more like a dessert entrée.
"But it was more than creating desserts, it was a whole system," Masi continues. "When Chris used his skill and his speed, he demonstrated that it could be done. Until then, people thought it would take 30 minutes for each plate. He demonstrated that it could be done efficiently." The dessert that Northmore, Radin and other members of the team agreed on was originally Northmore's: "We wanted to do 'a new twist on apple pie,'" Northmore says. "We wanted to take the elements of apple pie and give it presentation. We called it The Big Apple."
The first chronicled American plated dessert was created by first piping an outline of a large apple in cinnamon-flavored white chocolate on a plate. Northmore then filled in the outline with dried cherry sauce. He placed a timbale of apple-flavored Bavarian cream set on a walnut cinnamon cookie in the center, and warm sautéed Parisian apples alongside. At the top of the apple he placed a hippen leaf and a stem made of chocolate; the stem came vertically off the plate. "It's one of my favorite desserts because it is simple and elegant," says Northmore.
But what really amazed people at the time was the volume. "It was a very dramatic presentation, and we devised a method of production so that it could be done in quantity," says Northmore. "Most piping you think of as being done free-hand. But I came up with a template for the apple shape. I cut a stencil out of hard carboard and set it on the rim of the plate. We then piped the outline. It was awkward, but once I got used to it I could just go with it."
The American team won the gold in 1988, and pictures of the Big Apple were seen in magazines such as Art Culinaire. "It flourished after that," says Lars Johansson, Director of the pastry curriculum at Johnson & Wales University. "Once the pastry chefs saw it through the books and magazines that were published with it, it flourished in hotels, country clubs, fine dining restaurants." By 1990, estimates Noble Masi, the trend was fully established.
"I'd love to say I invented it," Northmore says, "but that's not the case. Plated desserts were in their evolution at the time. The industry was getting away from dessert carts and more toward à la carte desserts. It was an opportunity for more creativity by moving it back into the kitchen."
Now the question becomes: Is this a fad (which will suddenly one day be gone, and the next day ridiculed), a trend (which will linger and metamorphose), or a permanent facet of dessert presentation? "I see it receding," says Noble Masi. "Maybe they have gotten a little over-creative. They are not meeting what the customers want at the end of the meal. Some of them have gotten too complex. Too much presentation, not enough flavor."
Meridith Ford says no. "This is not a fad. All fine dining establishments will have some level of plating. Once something this impactful is introduced, it's hard to dismiss. It will never disappear. Maidda Heatter said, 'Good flavor never goes out of style.'"
As with any sudden, dramatic change, there have been excesses. "You only have to taste some of the desserts that are out there to know there is too much emphasis on the visual," says Marshall Rosenthal, pastry chef at the Renaissance Harborplace Hotel in Baltimore. "I believe in being on the cutting edge, but you can fall off too."
"I have been guilty of over-complicating things. Cutting edge is very important to me," admits Mary Cech. Cech is a seasoned chef and innovator of impeccable reputation, but many of the chefs blame Those Damn Kids for the excesses that everyone concedes are rife--kids, and pesky books like the one you hold in your hands. "Less-trained or less-skilled chefs often emphasize presentation over flavor," observes David Pantone, Director of the Florida Culinary Institute. "Kids just out of school tend to be more interested in presentation. But if you don't know how to cook, it doesn't matter what it looks like."
Dan Budd, an instructor at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, agrees. "Students see these presentations in the press, and they think that's what they have to do. And maybe they get a pastry chef job too soon and they feel compelled to make everything flamboyant. But it's so delicate. I value simplicity," Budd adds, "but I would never relinquish the belief that a pastry chef should be able to express him- or herself."
"I like what other chefs do with their fun presentations," says Andrew MacLauchlan, author and pastry chef at several Coyote Cafe restaurants in the Southwest. "Chocolate is formless. Once it's liquid, heck, you might as well have fun with it. We want to astound people. This is not what people will do at home. That's why they go out."
"If the customer can go home and reproduce one of our desserts, or if it reminds them of something they had at home, then we have missed our opportunity," agrees Hubert Keller.
"What's good about this is that there are different styles emerging, and nothing is right or wrong," says Emily Luchetti, pastry chef and cookbook author. "When the Architectural style emerged, it was like, this is right and everything else is wrong. But now we see that nothing is right and nothing is wrong. It's great that we can fight and argue."
If it is arguments about style, visual emphasis and flavor balance that you seek, you will find them in the pages of this book. The fifty contributing chefs represent a variety of backgrounds, training, sensibilities and venues: each one's style is a synthesis of his or her own aesthetic and the theme of the restaurant, hotel or bakery in which he or she works. They are not shy about expressing their opinions.
We have divided the desserts into nine schools, using schools and disciplines from the visual and theatrical arts as touchstones. We did this partially because we thought it would be fun--it's all about dessert, folks--but primarily because the Impressionist, Minimalist and other movements provide a useful frame of reference with which to analyze the visual presentation of these desserts. Only one, the Fusionist school, uses flavor as a standard of definition.
It was never our intention to identify a particular chef with a particular school of visual presentation. Some chefs' plates appear in more than one chapter, but many are included in only one school. The fact is, all of these chefs present a variety of visual presentations and ingredients in their individual restaurants, running the spectrum from dense flourless chocolate cakes to light sorbets and fruit. Even Dan Rundell of Aureole in New York is not, we insist, an Architectural pastry chef, even though he is closely identified with that mode; for our purposes, he is a pastry chef who presents in the Architectural school, among others.
The desserts pictured in this book will strike some as needlessly ornate, even decadent. It is important to remember that pastry kitchens are becoming major profit centers for restaurants and hotels; the customers who flock to their dining rooms order desserts at a 60 percent, 70 percent clip and higher. When all is said and done, the bald fact remains: Presentation Sells. "Recently I costed out my desserts and discovered that my sauce painting and garnishes-tuiles, berries, mints and so on- are two thirds of the cost," says Thomas Worhach, Executive Pastry Chef at the Four Seasons Ocean Grand in Palm Beach. "But I am within my budget. That's how important presentation is. I didn't realize it myself. But my management is very happy. See, a lot of companies are coming out with pre-done mixes, mousses and sauces, but they're expensive. I make everthing from scratch, and that's less expensive. It gives me money to do these extra garnishes."
We all know how it works. An exquisite dessert is placed at the next table, and we want it. So we order it, and we anticipate it, and then it is placed before us: a sophisticated chocolate ring in a shimmering pool of sauce and crowned with creme fraiche, cookies and pulled sugar. We take a moment to appreciate the colors, the forms, the artistry of the presentation- to acknowledge the work that went into this creation. That is part of it, but hardly at all. "We taste with our eyes," says Alain Roby, pastry chef of the Hyatt Regency Chicago. And perhaps it is literally true: perhaps in the hot-wiring of our brains, in the secret, elusive realm we call The Mind, the wickedness we feel as our spoon hovers over this food sculpture are tied into our memories, which now kick into gear: we see chocolate and whipped cream and Bosco; Mom and Dad beaming down at us and Little Brother, who can't wait, never could, already a dervish with his spoon; the people at the next table are stealing glances, delight and envy flickering, tasting it with their eyes. We conjure the chocolate and cherry-on-top of yesterday, tasting this plated dessert in our minds. Our sophistication and seen-it-all urban chic fall away, and as we scramble for our spoon and Mom tucks a napkin under our chin, we are already tasting it.
BANANA AND CHOCOLATE GRATIN
DAVID BLOM, CHEF ALLEN'S, NORTH MIAMI BEACH, FLORIDA
The simple presentation conceals the multiplicity of flavors, textures and temperatures that contribute to this harmonious taste experience. Chocolate and banana stand out, with caramel in the wings.
YIELD: 8 SERVINGS
Special Equipment: Eight 3" (7.6 cm) ring molds
2 oz/57 g milk chocolate, finely chopped
2 oz/57 g semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
3 liq oz/89 ml heavy cream
1 tsp/4 g vanilla extract
1. Place the chocolates in a stainless steel bowl.
2. In a saucepan, bring the cream to a gentle boil. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and let the mixture stand for 30 seconds. Whisk until smooth; whisk in vanilla. Cover and freeze until ready to use.
1.5 tsp/6 g powdered gelatin
3.75 liq oz/111 ml water, divided 1 medium overripe banana
4.25 liq oz/126 ml milk
3.65 oz/103 g egg yolks
4.4 oz/124 g granulated sugar, divided
1 Tbs/12 g all-purpose flour
1 oz/28 g semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
.5 tsp/2 g cream of tartar
3.15 oz/89 g egg whites
1. Soften gelatin in 2 liq oz (59 ml) of the water. Heat gelatin and water in water bath until gelatin is dissolved; leave in water bath until ready to use.
2. In a food processor, purée banana and milk until smooth. Transfer mixture to saucepan.
3. In a bowl, whisk together egg yolks and 2 Tbs (24 g) sugar until smooth. Whisk in flour to make a smooth paste.
4. Over medium-high heat, bring banana/milk mixture to boil, whisking constantly. Gradually mix half of the hot banana purée into the yolk mixture. Return this mixture to the saucepan.
5. Continue cooking over medium-high heat, whisking occasionally, until the mixture comes to a boil. Whisk in the gelatin and chopped chocolate until smooth. Set aside, covered, at room temperature.
6. Line a sheet pan with parchment. Arrange eight 3" ring molds on the sheet. Remove the ganache from the freezer; form eight 3/4" balls out of the ganache and place one in the center of each ring mold. Place the sheet pan in the freezer.
7. In a saucepan, cook the remaining 3.5 oz (99 g) sugar and remaining 1.75 liq oz (52 ml) water to 240°F (117°C). Meanwhile, in a mixer with whisk attachment, beat egg whites with cream of tartar to soft peaks. While continuing to beat at medium speed, slowly add sugar syrup in a steady stream. Beat until cool.
8. Fold 1/3 of the whites into banana mixture to lighten it. Fold in the remaining whites.
9. Spoon the chiboust into the prepared ring molds, covering the ganache balls and filling the molds completely. Use an offset metal spatula to level the tops of the molds. Freeze the chiboust molds for at least 2 hours.
4 oz/113 g unsalted butter, chilled
3.5 oz/99 g granulated sugar
.12 tsp/.61 g baking powder
.5 tsp /2 ml vanilla extract
.65 oz/18 g egg yolk
2.1 oz/60 g slivered almonds, finely ground
5 oz/142 g all-purpose flour
1. Preheat oven to 350°F (175°C).
2. In a mixer with paddle attachment, mix butter, sugar, baking powder and vanilla until smooth. Add yolk and beat to combine. At low speed, add the almonds and flour and mix until crumbly. Turn the dough out and press into a 5" (12.37 cm) disk. Wrap and chill 30 minutes.
3. Roll the dough out to 1/8" (.32 cm) thickness. Using a fluted 3 1/2" (8.8 cm) round cookie cutter, cut out 8 rounds of dough and place them on ungreased sheet pan. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until lightly browned. Cool on rack.
7 oz /198 g granulated sugar
1 liq oz/30 ml water
8 liq oz/237 ml heavy cream
.5 tsp/2 g vanilla extract
In a saucepan, cook sugar and water to medium caramel. Remove from heat and slowly add cream. When mixture stops bubbling, stir until smooth. Stir in vanilla; strain the sauce.
Vanilla ice cream
1. Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C). Remove chibousts from freezer. Unmold and place 1 chiboust on each linzer round. Bake on sheet pan 4-6 minutes until slight-ly brown.
2. Dust the hot gratins with confectioners' sugar. Using a propane torch, light-ly caramelize the tops of the gratins.
3. Place one gratin on a dessert plate. Spoon some of the caramel sauce around the dessert and serve with a scoop of the ice cream. Garnish with banana slices.
PEANUT BUTTER AND JELLY BRIOCHE PUDDING
BRUNO FELDEISEN, FOUR SEASONS HOTEL, NEW YORK, NEW YORK
Much like a bread pudding, but with brioche, this dessert sings with the American flavors of peanut butter and raspberry jelly.
YIELD: 12 SERVINGS
32 oz/907 g brioche
8 oz/227 g granulated sugar
5.8 oz/166 g egg yolks
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
32 liq oz/946 ml heavy cream
14 oz/397g peanut butter
12 oz/340 g raspberry jelly
1. Trim the crust off of the brioche loaf. Cut the loaf into slices 1/2" (1.25 cm) thick. Lightly toast brioche slices in an oven until golden.
2. Preheat oven to 400°F ( 205°C).
3. In a bowl, whisk together sugar, egg yolks, and vanilla bean. Gradually whisk in cold cream.
4. Spread each slice of brioche liberally with peanut butter, then raspberry jelly. Soak each slice in the egg mixture and then arrange brioche slices in layers in a half hotel pan. Pour in remaining egg mixture.
5. Bake in a water bath for 35-40 minutes. Cool slightly and cut pudding into
3" (7.6 cm) squares.
1. To serve, place 1 brioche pudding square on a soup plate. Place the plate in the oven until the pudding is warm.
2. Spoon some chocolate sauce around the pudding before serving.