Some global desserts, such as tiramisu, crêpes suzette or gelato, have been so assimilated into American menus that it’s easy to forget they were once considered foreign. More recent imports may need some translating, but in the hands of talented pastry chefs, all global desserts can pass the taste test for deliciousness.
For successful dessert translations, pastry chefs can go fully authentic, mostly authentic with familiar touches, or they can add ethnic extras to otherwise all-American desserts.
Lynnette Mosher, pastry chef at Tyqa, a pan-Mediterranean restaurant in Portland, Maine, takes the fully authentic approach to the region’s version of cheesecake. “Knafeh is a traditional Palestinian dessert made with sweet cheese, but it’s not as sweet as the cream cheese we are used to,” explains Mosher. “It’s more like mozzarella or firm ricotta, which I do in a sweet brine. It’s wrapped in phyllo dough and fried. I make it more recognizable by adding cherry cheesecake elements: spiced cherries and crème fraiche.”
Mosher is similarly inspired by the spice blends of Lebanon, Turkey and the Eastern Mediterranean as well as the region’s less sweet desserts. “The region has very distinct desserts, because it’s a mostly arid part of the world where they don’t use eggs or dairy as much,” she says. “Often desserts are finished with sugar and served dry.”
Mosher’s chocolate tart is an example of starting with a classic European pastry and balancing it with authentic extras. She fills hazelnut-chocolate pastry with coffee-chocolate ganache. Eastern Mediterranean flavors come from the tahini-sesame cookies and halva, a sweet Turkish paste, nestled on the side.
In fact, the European side of the Mediterranean has already brought many dessert influences to the states, and pastry chefs continue to find more authentic influences from the region. The rustic Rome cooking at Amis Trattoria in Philadelphia includes an olive oil cake with blueberries and black pepper whipped cream a salted butter semifreddo and “tartufo al bacio,” a chocolate and hazelnut semifreddo with amarena cherries.
Although desserts vary widely from cuisine to cuisine, some things, such as doughnuts, are found almost everywhere. Zeppoli, or Italian donuts, are served at many Italian restaurants, such as Olive Garden, where they are served with chocolate sauce for dipping.
In the same way, loukoumades, or Greek donuts, are an American-ready treat that Mosher adapts only slightly. The yeasted dough is made traditionally with scalded milk; Mosher uses almond milk, creating a vegan option for diners. The dessert is finished with simple syrup with orange blossom and toasted walnuts.
With donuts on-trend, more operators are adding global versions to dessert lists. At Margarita’s, a New England chain of full-service Mexican restaurants, sopapillas have taken off.
“Sopapillas are becoming more mainstream, but we did have a challenge to get our guests to try them. We added some new dessert menus and table tents to help feature the desserts with pictures and descriptions,” explains Dan Lederer, who wears many hats for the chain. “Our best method has been getting our team to try them and become fans.”
Getting the buy in
For operators who want to add global influences to their dessert menus, Mosher offers a few best practices. First, consider expanding the number of desserts you offer. Her dessert menu lists seven very different options and is designed with something for everyone in mind.
Mosher also recommends starting small with a subtle spice or flavor reference. This strategy works at Tempo Dulu, a fine dining Southeast Asian restaurant tucked inside the luxury Danforth Inn in Portland, Maine. A recent tasting menu featured a classic French pavlova infused with Thai peppers. Other desserts include tamarind custard, passion fruit and saffron panna cotta and green coconut crêpes.
For Lederer, servers help put the proof in the pudding (or the flan). “Once our team buys in, they are the ones that can suggest these desserts with confidence,” Lederer says. “That’s been our best tactic.”
This post is sponsored by Sweet Street Desserts