What are some simple desserts I can have my cooks make in house without needing to hire a pastry chef?
– Neil Klein, Owner, Avenue Plaza Dining
A pastry chef and pastry cooks are considerable expenses, especially if you are a small-to-medium volume operation or if you don’t emphasize the culinary side of your concept for competitive advantage.
First, there are many high quality ready-to-serve desserts that come fresh from wholesale bakeries or frozen from your distributor. It’s easy to have your cooks heat (if necessary) and plate with fruit purees, chocolate sauce, crème anglaise, chocolate or cookie shapes and/or whipped cream to provide a look that’s one step up from the usual.
But making some dessert items in house has benefits as well. Dessert ingredients tend to be low-cost (flour, eggs, milk, sugar) so if you have the labor, space and equipment available, signature desserts can be profitable menu additions. To be sure, pastry is a specialized skill that takes years to master. But here are some guidelines to make it easy enough for cooks like me:
- Think Custard.Pots du crème, flan, crème brulee, panna cotta, bread pudding and other custard-based desserts are easy to put together, easy to vary for a signature approach (add purees, diced fruit, or unique toppings), and popular.
- Put the Effort Where it Counts. While a dessert offering like an ice cream sandwich made entirely from scratch may please guests, it may not be worth the labor cost and necessary equipment involved. Determine the key element—a rich homemade ice cream or warm soft cookies?—and focus on making that key feature.
- Skip the Pastry. The dough is where so much pastry expertise is required—and where frustration sets in for a typical cook. So many high quality puff pastry sheets, tart shells, pie crusts and choux shapes are available that using these items as a base and then giving them your unique treatment in house may be the right balance between scratch cooking and ready-to-serve.
Robynne Maii, a pastry chef-instructor at Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn, NY, says that not enough cooks bring their great culinary sensibilities to desserts. “A key consideration is something you can make in a large quantity and leave in the freezer. So make twenty quarts of crumb topping at once and offer a seasonal fruit crisp each day.” Maii adds, “Cheesecakes are also really easy to bang out in large batches and they freeze beautifully. Another thing that’s super easy is to make a layered ice cream cake based on flavors that you think work together well. You can build it in a spring form pan. So you can do a riff on black forest or a mocha java using prepared ice cream. Or use the same idea to create sundaes based on a favorite cookie like brownie, chocolate chip or snicker doodle.”