Always room for dessert

Inspired, satisfying indulgences are filling dessert menus and beyond—they’re also appearing for breakfast, as snacks and in cocktails. Think artisanal doughnuts, hand pies, frozen yogurt in global flavors and boozy drinkable desserts. Here’s what customers are craving and how chefs and dessert makers are delivering the goods.

Meet me at the pie bar

Pie baking is entrenched in the Southern culinary tradition, so when Sway, a contemporary Southern restaurant opened in the newly renovated Hyatt Regency Atlanta, the Pie Bar became a focal point of the dessert program. Every day, six different pies and several mini-pies are baked from scratch, available for dessert after a meal or as a splurge on their own. “Some guests come in only for dessert,” says Martin Pfefferkorn, the hotel’s executive chef. “For $9, they can try as many pies as they want.”

Choices include Southern and seasonal favorites: Caramelized pecan pie, coconut cream, roasted apple, Georgia peach, buttermilk pie and more—some served in slices and some in glass jars. Pastry chef James Gallo has perfected the piecrust, made with that Southern staple—White Lily Flour—and 100 percent butter. High Road, a local creamery, supplies the ice cream for a la mode fans.

Aside from pies, Sway offers other “simple, good tasting desserts” like cobblers, red velvet cake and flourless chocolate cake. Pfefferkorn sources local, seasonal dessert ingredients as much as possible and has cut down on refined sugar, using agave, maple syrup and honey more often. “We’re also getting more requests from diabetics and celiacs,” he reports, “so we developed items such as sugar-free pies and gluten-free brownies made with rice flour.”

The sweeter side of vegetables

In dessert development as a whole, there’s been a gradual movement away from sugary, overly sweet creations and toward incorporating savory, more complex elements. Jill Montinola, regional pastry chef for SushiSamba Restaurant Group in Florida, enjoys integrating savory ingredients into desserts “so the palate doesn’t get tired of eating just chocolate and sugar,” she states. Besides, she’s from the Philippines—a country that’s not heavy into sweets. So Montinola plays around with avocado, beets, sweet potatoes, carrots and other veggies on the dessert list.

Avocado Mousse with crispy rice and black sesame sponge showcases her style. Creamy, mashed Hass avocados are slightly sweetened and lightened with whipped egg whites, then contrasted with the nutty crunch of black sesame seeds and the acidic punch of kumquats, fresh grapefruit and oranges. Montinola cooks julienne strips of carrot into a rich confit to accompany her carrot cake; Sweet Corn Panna Cotta features a side of crisp, dehydrated fruits; and beets are the base for the colorful Beet Martini Sorbet.

Of course, at least one chocolate dessert is essential, so she created a S’Mores Pie. But Montinola added savory notes by topping it with a cayenne-dusted marshmallow and salted caramel. Tropical fruits and rum—two important regional ingredients—also figure into her recipes. Montinola’s ultimate goal is to train guests’ palates to crave less-sweet desserts with a savory approach that “pushes the edge.”

Sweet talk

Chocolate and ice cream will always be must-haves on a dessert menu. Dessert pros in those two categories give us the lowdown on trends, menuing strategies, and more.

Sarah Kosikowski, East Coast Corporate Pastry Chef for Valrhona Chocolate
Jillian Hillard, Marketing Manager, PreGel America

What dessert trends are you seeing?
SK: American comfort desserts endure, but chefs are putting their own spin on them. We’re seeing lighter, less rich desserts, fresher, brighter flavors and more market-driven choices. There’s also a mini-movement in desserts with an historical reference.

JH: Dessert tapas and ethnic flavors. Green tea and cardamom are two recently incorporated into frozen dessert bases. DIY bars are a big trend—especially in catering. Tabletop soft-serve machines dispensing a variety of flavors with assorted toppings allow guests to create their own verrines or parfaits.

SK: Textural elements that add crunch are important to balance a creamy dessert. Chocolate covered pearls or nuts, for example, can easily add flavor and crunch to a simple dessert like a pot de crème.

What else can operators turn to for help in menuing on-trend desserts?
JH: Ice cream sandwiches filled with gelato take this popular item up a notch or two. They’re now available ready-made.

SK: White chocolate has been reformulated to be less milky with more distinctive vanilla accents. It can be used as a base to add creaminess and flavor to mousses, fillings and more.

JH: For restaurants without a pastry chef, there are reliable powdered mixes to instantly create classics like molten chocolate cake, tiramisu, panna cotta and crème brulee. These desserts never seem to go out of style.

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