Sweet + Savory

“Waiter, what are these peas doing in my pan cotta?” That’s a response risk you take when you add vegetables (or pork rinds, fish skin or garlic) to dessert.

But it’s a risk many pastry chefs are undertaking, evidenced by the fact that savory desserts are among the top 20 hottest food trends, according to the National Restaurant Association’s “What’s Hot 2017 Culinary Forecast.” It may be one of the most chef-driven trends on the list, as customers surely aren’t clamoring for parsnip cake or jalapeño cornbread doughnuts.

Times are changing, for sure. Classical desserts and preparations can be overwhelming, and not the way people like to eat or the way they were raised, says Kaley Laird, executive pastry chef at Asheville, North Carolina’s Rhubarb and the Rhu cafe/bakery/pantry. She believes guests want o walk away from a meal, including the dessert, feeling as if they had a balanced meal, and not feeling they just ate something bad for them.

Thus, combining vegetables with common dessert ingredients appeals to a broader spectrum of guests—many who may not want something too sweet, Laird says.

Before launching into sweet and savory deserts, consider four mental approaches for inspiration and a way to explain unlikely ingredient parings to guests.

Kim Rodgers, executive pastry chef at Hugo’s in Portland, Maine, sought to re-envision Waldorf salad for a dessert application. With lemon olive oil cake and cucumber ice cream as the foundation, she considered how she could work in the common Waldorf salad ingredients. Her conclusion was to add torn pieces of red butter lettuce, candied walnuts, shaved apple slices twisted into a cone, almost like a flower, and local green grapes juiced and turned into a foam. She also added Earl Grey mousse line, cucumber blossoms, lemon balm and Ruby Moon bean blossoms.

Reimagining the familiar in a savory way could be as simple as changing the cooking method. For strawberry shortcake, consider roasting or grilling the strawberries, instead. “Adding char and smoke makes you think of savoriness more than sweet,” Rodgers says.

Arielle Walrath

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