here’s certainly nothing wrong with generous portions of pastry and pudding plated solo,
but put them together and a world of possibilities opens up.
At the recent James Beard awards in Chicago, Gale Gand, pastry chef/restaurateur/cookbook
author/television personality/teacher/entrepreneur, served Banana Nutella Cream Pie Spoonfuls,
transforming a concept she’d applied earlier for savory purees. She pipes Nutella on cream pie
filling and adds a slice of banana, a shard of crispy chocolate opaline and whipped cream. “Just
one little bite of four elements on a spoon so you don’t need a plate in hand,” Gand says.
She also offers Butterscotch Pudding Spoonfuls, studded with salt-and-pepper peanuts, and
for a recent Charlie Trotter fundraiser in Chicago, she created a rice pudding/creme brulee hybrid
spoonful with candied orange rind. “I coat it with sugar and caramelize it with the torch, so there’s
a hard coating of sugar with soft rice pudding beneath,” she says.
Pies, notably lemon meringue, are appearing on menus as individual mini pies, cut pieces
or built on a spoon. “But cutting 500 pieces of pie is impossible,” Gand says. “So how to deliver
that same experience is the challenge.”
Enticing guests to order dessert when they’re cutting calories could be achieved by offering
mini versions, but few can resist the lure of the whoopie pie. “I see a resurgence of whoopie pies,
especially red velvet or confetti cake, plus different fillings,” Gand says. She envisions a chocolate
whoopie pie with peanut butter filling, or “peanut butter with a jelly heart, then add the top layer
so it looks like a hamburger.”
When executive pastry chef Eric Dale walks through the dining room at Rioja in Denver and
sees seated guests doing what he calls “the happy feet dance” while eating dessert, he’s happy,
too. “It reminds me of why I do what I do,” he says.
Dale oversees a staff of six in producing pastries for three of the four Denver-based restaurants
owned by chef Jennifer Jasinski and business partner Beth Gruitch—Rioja, Bistro Vendôme and
Euclid Hall Bar & Kitchen (the fourth is Stoic & Genuine). Continually aiming to balance elegance
with approachability, he menus multifaceted desserts, that is, a menu of main desserts, each plated
with several accompaniments.
He finds that pies are big and puddings are consistently among guests’ favorite picks. “We’re doing
a peanut butter semifreddo,” Dale says. “We glaze it in a white caramelized chocolate and pair it with
sweet creme fraiche, candied apples, apple gastrique and apple mille feuille, like layers of puff pastry.”
He chooses Granny Smith apples for the apple mille feuille for their tartness, as well as for
the slightly lighter pectin content, and bakes overnight for 12 hours at about 200ºF. Dale credits
Jasinski with having prompted this confection. She enjoys a snack of apple slices dipped in peanut
butter, and requested that he create a dessert with those components.
At Bistro Vendôme, where “classic” and “simple” are the pivotal words, Dale presents complex
flavors in a simple presentation. For example, his French macarons are popular no matter the seasonal
iteration, and guests enjoy cherry/tarragon macarons with cherry compote and pastry creme.
“My personal favorite at Bistro Vendôme is a rhubarb linzertorte that resembles a cherry pie,”
Dale says. The full tart shell brims with rhubarb jam crisscrossed with hazelnut pastry dough. The
tart is plated with pickled rhubarb that is peeled and sliced paper-thin. “We serve it with honey ice
cream and arugula—my newest obsession is arugula.” Dale believes the bitter/spicy tang of greens
brings a crisp freshness to a dessert. Several tiny arugula sprigs are placed atop each tart.
Everybody’s favorite dessert at Euclid Hall Bar & Kitchen is the comforting S’mores Pot de
Crème, baked chocolate custard served in a bouillon cup and topped with housemade graham
cracker crumbs and marshmallow fluff.