Business and Operations
By Karly O'Brien
Remember that sprig of mint that you’d commonly find as garnish on every dessert?
Remember that sprig of mint that you’d commonly find as garnish on every dessert? Well, that won’t do the trick for today’s consumers who want to be dazzled with presentation.
Christophe Measson, coordinator and professor at George Brown’s baking and pastry arts program in Toronto, says the garnishing world is turning into a more time-consuming process with chefs asking two important questions: What is on the plate, and what will make the most sense on the plate in terms of flavour and the end result?
The garnish is more like a continuation of the shape and idea rather than just adding something for the sake of it, says Measson, a native of France who recently went back on a trip with a group of students receiving training in plated desserts.
“You still have to keep in mind that you want some elevation or a wow factor in your dish, but it’s now completely unified with the garnish,” he stresses. “Previously, you would say OK I’m going to make a cake with this sauce, this chocolate, and maybe some strawberries. It is no longer this simple. It is much more complicated [than 20 years ago].”
Pulled sugar and caramel
Want to jazz up an ordinary looking dish, and make it glamorous with a sense of class? Add some pulled sugar or caramel. This elegant garnish is a little tricky to make, but will pique people’s interest.
“Pulled sugar is made very thin, and in some cases look like it’s shredded,” describes Measson. “When the sugar is pulled it gets a very nice satin look, and it’s easy to add any colour you want and then just make it into an interesting shape.”
Tip: Keep a thermometer nearby at all times. Your chin is also a good resource to test out how hot or cold the pulled sugar or caramel is. Note: Caramel doesn’t get as hard as sugar.
Reinventing classic dishes
Taking a new look at older items isn’t a new concept. Old Victorian homes are always updated to meet new standards, and the latest trends in home decorating. However, one thing does remain the same: the original charm. Like homes, traditional desserts are getting a bit of a makeover with setup and garnishing.
“Many new generation chefs are taking many classic desserts and re-interpreting them,” he says. “So they keep the same classic flavour of the dessert, but they re-create it on the plate with a different look to it.”
One French dessert from the 1950s called Ile Flottante (Floating Island) is getting just that. One wonders how much this already delicious dessert can be changed when it’s already blessed with poached meringues sitting in a bowl of custard, and topped off with drizzled caramel.
“Chefs are saying OK, let’s take the meringue and make it into the shape of a sphere, and cut out a piece of the meringue and have pools [of caramel] inside of it,” explains Measson. “Now, we are going to decorate this meringue with [pulled] caramel.”
Tip: Don’t change the dish fundamentally.
By modifying a dessert into a circular shape, it adds a modern, trendy look with clean lines.
“Instead of rectangles or squares, anything circular and streamlined is really taking off in the bakery world,” says Measson.
Tip: The Cylinder, a form of a sphere, is very popular for chocolate bars and more.
Back to the basics
Things such as fruit puree, dehydrated fruit, and edible flowers have been used to attract more customers with the higher demand for “fresh” and “natural.”
There’s always a focus on fresh, natural ingredients like mint and lemon balm, says Erica Trabulsi, chef instructor and events manager for The Culinary Arts School of Ontario. Before it was just something chefs did, but now you see consumers get really excited about more natural items used as a garnish.
Chicago-based French Pastry School instructor Joel Reno says restaurants are using edible flowers to give their plated meals a more natural feel.
“Edible flowers are booming, the downside is that soon after buying them they need to be used,” says Reno. Make sure to put any unused flowers in a cooler to extend their shelf life, or use a moist paper towel. He adds that dehydrated fruit, and spreading fruit puree is very popular, especially on cakes.
Chantal Zimmer, owner of Calgary-based Purple Pastry Chef, says adding flowers into the ingredient list is a real conversation starter with customers since it is natural, and can reduce your sugar intake.
“The flower-based sauce can be used in cakes as a layer, which also [locks] the moisture in,” explains Zimmer. “It is also useful for frosting on cupcakes, and gives an excellent flavour.” She mentions that is common to pair floral with a spice.
Tip: Use elder or lavender flowers for a summer-fresh taste, and avoid heavy sauces. Do your research on edible flowers to find ones that are tasty such as violet or Johnny Jump Up.
New colours for fruits and veggies
Exotic, bright, and stand out colours in garnishing is always popular to get people oohing and awing at your shop windows, but farmers have taken it to a new level this year.
“[They] are producing vegetables and fruits of different colours such as golden raspberries or white strawberries,” says Trabulsi with excitement. “It is based on a special way that farmers grow it, kind of modified, but it’s not done with chemicals or anything like that. It’s the way that the farmers are applying the sunlight that prevents the [fruits and vegetables] from turning to its natural colour.”
Tip: Add some of these inventively coloured fruits to make your dish pop, particularly if the dish is majority chocolate or sugar focused (as opposed to fruit or sauce focused) and is without much colour.
If you are looking to reduce sugar in your desserts, fruit caramels help do the trick since most of the sugar is naturally occurring.
“The fruit in the caramel is used to balance the sweetness while also reducing sugar,” says Measson. “You do this by adding a fruit puree while boiling the caramel to make a sauce, filling, or a soft caramel.”
Tip: Match the fruit of the puree with the feel of the dish (exotic, local, etc.).
Mix and match
People are pushing the envelope for an unorthodox menu items full of creatively paired up ingredients to make a surprisingly delicious dish.
“Chefs are pairing up different temperatures, textures, and flavours,” says Julie Montgomery, cake decorating and baking chef at Bonnie Gordon College of Confectionery Arts. The dishes look more simplified, but since they incorporate ingredients that are usually never paired up it takes plenty of innovation and testing.
Montgomery provides an example: While at a Toronto-based restaurant she received an organic plating of soft meringue in free form shapes all around the plate, lightly torched. To accompany this, were deliciously crisp duck fat sable cookies, drops of Yuzu curd around the plate, and cold, wild Ontario blueberry coulis.
“I enjoyed the mixing of the saltiness and earthiness of the cookie with the sour freshness of the Yuzu, and coolness of Ontario blueberry coulis with the slightly warm chewiness of the torched marshmallow,” she complimented.
Tip: Be wary of what flavours, textures, and flavours you choose to use on a dish as it can be very good, but also very bad. Perfect your items several times before actually serving.
Modern meets rustic
An antique plate with a modern presentation is thriving in the baking world, as people seek a mix between the old and the new.
Chefs around the world are taking dishes and making them look modern, but placing them on rustic, artisan, local-made plates, dishes, and bowls, says Reno. Small bowls in particular seem to be trending as well.
Tip: The local trend is expanding beyond food, so buy it locally, and look for earthy designs.
Gold leaves are making a comeback. It was a trend from the 1980s, but you see it making its way back into several different restaurants and bakeries adding that extra needed pizzazz.
This is a very useful garnish, especially if the chef uses more chocolate and sugar in their desserts, comments Dominique Ansel, owner of New York-based Dominique Ansel Bakery, via e-mail. The golden leaves will help make it pop that much more.
Tip: Don’t use in excess, and focus this garnish on special event catering or special occasion cakes.
As a general rule this year, keep it natural and fresh.
“I’m finding consumers are branching off from an uninformed and casual feeling about what’s in their food to limiting their diets to more organic and healthy ingredients,” says Montgomery.