Dessert Tastings!


This week, my school hosted the Fourth Annual Worlds of Flavor Baking & Pastry Arts Invitational Retreat. The theme for this year was “Flavor Design & the Experimental Pastry Kitchen: In Pursuit of Pleasure, Health, and Well-Being.” So, for four days, about 30 or so of America’s top pastry chef’s participated in lectures, forums, demonstrations, and tastings focused on healthy desserts. They came from such establishments as Spago, Le Bernadin, the Ritz-Carlton SF, Citizen Cake, Starbucks, Cafe Gray, Disney, Canyon Ranch, Farallon, Guittard, and others.

There is an eternal debate about what healthy means, but here, it meant thinking about desserts with whole grains, fruits, plant oils, nuts, low-fat dairy, less refined sugar, and dark chocolate/tea/wine/spirits. The idea is that dessert doesn’t have to be a sinful indulgence, but an opportunity to provide nourishment with creative sweet flavors and textures. For instance, moderation is perfectly healthy and the body needs some degree of good fat to function, so one might try reversing the usual proportions of a plated dessert so that the fruit takes center stage and is garnished by an indulgence like a small cake.

On Saturday, the chefs, with the students’ help, prepared tastings of their ideas for healthy desserts, which were mostly designed before the retreat, but were perhaps amended based on new info. Below are some pictures from the Saturday morning group in no particular order– a second group went later in the day. Some are pic’s of the presentation dishes, and some are of the tastings dishes. You may want to keep in mind that these are all designed as healthy desserts as you look at them, but I know that once I start looking at them, I forget the theme and simply appreciate them as gorgeous, flavorful desserts.

Note: Apologies for occasionally showing off my skill for capturing slightly out of focus pic’s, but some desserts were just so great, that I didn’t want to leave them out here just b/c my hand got shaky. After all, I’m an eater, not a photographer. I also wasn’t able to take pic’s of everything, so believe it or not, there was even more.

Raspberry Summer Pudding with Port Wine Figs and Vanilla Bean Yogurt Panna Cotta by Erich Herbitschek. I liked that the wrapping of chocolate around the berry/cake summer pudding was just enough–if not more–than what you needed to satisfy the rich chocolate quotient. The port wine figs and panna cotta were perfectly flavored, too.

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Pineapple Pillow and Burnt Orange Yogurt Ice Cream by Stephane Weber. I think that the finished plate had sorbet and a cookie placed in the hole in the pillow, but I like the surreal window effect here.

Retreat Pillow

Passion Fruit Panna Cotta with Lemon Grass Consomme by Lincoln Carson. This was packed with flavor and described as a dessert designed to please people who would look to order a fruit salad for dessert.

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Oven Roasted Banana, Roasted Hazelnut Madeleine, & Meyer Lemon Cream by Laurent Branlard. The creaminess and flavor of the meyer lemon cream was amazing, and an interesting pairing with the tender, roasted banana. I also love the loop fixture.

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Croustade with Huckleberry Sauce and Milk Mousse by Chris Broberg. Crispy on the outside and lushly fruity on the inside.

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Apple Marmalade Cake with Rhubarb and Vanilla Yogurt by Emily Luchetti. I like the curved trail of rhubarb leading into the yogurt, something like a scarf for the cake.

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Grilled Pineapple with Young Coconut Granita and Poivre Long Pepper Caramel by Bud Teasley. The young coconut added a nice further granular dimension to the granita.

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Creamy Praline Fritter (not yet added to these) with Carrot Tangerine Gelee and Carrot Ice Cream by En-Ming Hsu. This was probably my favorite. Such strong, pleasant flavors orchestrated to dessert perfection with great play in texture and sweetness.

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“Alsatian” Plum Tart by Heather Norkin. I liked how the sauce is in the bottom of the tart, and how the plum falls apart as you eat it.

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Norkin also made Canyon Ranch Cookies. Amazing. Slightly crispy on the outside and chewy/melty on the inside. Must find recipe.

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Buckwheat Crepes with Rhubarb and Walnut Oil by Stephen Durfee. It may take a minute to figure it out after it’s tasted, but that white “cream” is cottage cheese blended in a food processor with some walnut oil. It was a good match for the tart rhubarb.

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Blueberry Souffle by Sherry Yard. Blueberry compote was on the top and bottom of the blueberry souffle. Cool.

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Mango Deception by Surbhi Sahni. This was fantastic, too. A mango panna cotta topped by mango sorbet and mango–each with its own distinct attitude. I believe that the touch of brilliance is that the tuile on top is merely a baked mixture of mango and egg whites.

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Warm Zinfandel Soup, Fresh Fruits with Coconut Sorbet & Tasmanian Black Pepper by Alexander Espiritu. Dessert soups can often be one-note, but this one was done right. It had so much going on (while still being controlled) and so much flavor, it was irresistible.

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There were also demonstrations and product tastings. Marshall Farms had this long line of honeys.

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I was also able to try honeycomb for the first time. It was fresh and creamy, until it got chewy, and then waxy.

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They also have fruit-flavored honey sticks.

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At another table, I couldn’t resist the Danish Viking-Smoked Sea Salt, because I love the image that it conjures up in my head of vikings smoking salt (although the image gets a bit surreal if you have ever encountered these vikings). A small spoonful on its own tasted like biting a bbq grill, but only a few grains sprinkled over a dish would do the vikings justice.

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There was then more honey to try. I was a fan of this Manuka Honey, which had an even flavor that would make for a pleasant candy all its own.

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I also liked the Wild Oak Honey, which I will distinguish as the Chardonnay of Honeys.

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So, yes… Culinary school has its perks.

3 Responses to “Dessert Tastings!”

  1. shuna fish lydon Says:

    This was quite fun to travel through. Although I do take issue with the fact that some of the desserts used ingredients completely out of season, which is never the healthful choice, on a myriad of levels. Also, gramatically, food is healthful, people are healthy. It’s like the word “decadence” which is often times used incorrectly, as it is far from a compliment.

    I’m glad Stephen is one of your instructors. He is a true gem in our industry.

  2. Taylor Says:

    Yo, Nina I thought you were gonna “BLOG” about me? Come on, you know I’m worth a line or two. Maybe I’ll have to snap a towel at you in the kitchen or drop blue food coloring into your genoise cake for the practical (and we both know how much Chef Brown likes blue food!!).

  3. Nina Says:

    Shuna – Thank you. And yes, I wish that they did discuss and focus on seasonality and local foods more… I have a feeling that some chefs heard the healthy theme and went to their stock “healthy dessert,’ regardless of season.

    Taylor – I’m working on a “Taylor” Series. How do you like it so far? http://sweetnapa.blogspot.com/2006/02/meet-taylor.html

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