By Anna Dantoni –
With the current craze for small-plate dining where a variety of savory dishes are served up for sharing, many diners end up too full and too palate-sated to order dessert. A shame. Pastry chefs take the same pride in creativity and high standards that the executive chef in the kitchen does.
The restaurant pastry chef wants to be noticed and wants patrons to experience that wonderful “ah ha” moment when that creamy panna cotta, seductive dark chocolate mousse, sorbet trio, or berry crumble comes to the table. Dessert, by the way, comes from the French word desservier meaning to clear the table or take away what has been served. In ancient times dessert was cheese or fruit. As the culinary arts developed and the pastry chef became important, desserts evolved in flavor, complexity and beauty. Eventually dessert found chocolate. Then the fun really began.
Consider this bit of research in the book Life is Meals by James and Kay Salter: “Human beings have an average of 10,000 taste buds, mainly on the tongue… Our taste buds are a kind of modified skin cell and in their general arrangement register sweet on the tip of the tongue. Sour registers along the sides of the tongue and salty on the surface of the tongue. Bitter is tasted is at the back of the tongue. Some individuals have a more acute sense of taste than others, but all humans seem to be born with an inherent liking for sweetness.” That means we’re wired to want dessert.
Too often, diners are willing to look at the dessert menu and after praising the offerings will say to the server, “not tonight, I’m just too full.” To my mind, a fully realized meal includes something sweet for a grand finale. So here are some strategies to help to get to the finish line in a restaurant and still have room for dessert: when the bread basket appears, have it taken away. Split an appetizer with your companion. Don’t feel like you must finish every bite of your entree. (take home a doggie bag). When it comes time to consider dessert, order one to share or order one heavy dessert (cake or pie) and one lighter one (fruit compote, sorbet). Support your local pastry chef!
This dessert recipe is from Patina, the restaurant in the Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles. The chef is Joachim Splichal. The recipe is included in the book Los Angeles Classic Desserts by Grace Bauer. It’s rich and lovely.
Chocolate Marcona Gateau
1 ½ cups marcona almonds
1 cup granulated sugar, divided
7 ounces dark chocolate
¾ cup, plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
5 large eggs
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
half of 1/8 teaspoon almond extract
garnish: fresh strawberries, blueberries and blackberries
Preheat over to 400-degrees. Butter an 11-inch round cake mold. Medium chop the almonds. Place almonds in small mixing bowl and mix with ½ cup of the sugar. In a double boiler, melt the chocolate and butter. Stir until well blended. Place the eggs in a mixing bowl with the remaining ½ cup of sugar, vanilla extract and almond extract. Whisk the egg mixture for 5 minutes until it thickens. Fold the almonds into the mixture, then fold in the blended chocolate and butter. Pour the resulting mixture into the cake mold. Cook for 10 minutes at 400-degrees, then lower the temperature to 335-degrees and bake until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Let the mixture cool completely, the remove it from the pan. For serving, place a dollop of creme fraiche on the top of each gateau slice along with fresh berries.