Module 3: Plated Perfection
The third module had a very practical and important focus that of producing plated deserts.
It’s not as simple as it may sound.
Baking a cake or making a tart is taken to another level of difficulty when aiming to produce a well-balanced and beautiful plate for presentation to a customer.
Many of the choices where classics, millefeuille, ice-cream and chocolate mousse but each had a twist when teamed with plating that may have caused more than a little trouble for many of us.
We started with the puff pastry which luckily we are getting a lot of practice with… It is both useful and simple once you have mastered it’s intricacies.
We then tackled the mousse.
Chilled elements were a star with varied ice-creams, parfaits, gelatos and granitas being used to add flavour texture and contrast to the dishes.
On day two we were working very efficiently and our overall progress was impressive enough for a challenge to be set by the chef.
Over lunch we were to think about the perfect accompaniment to some left over Drambuie parfait.
My mind went racing. Over lunch I began to develop a system of comparing and contrasting elements in order to best take advantage of both the individual elements, whilst also balancing the theoretical dessert dish.
I was thinking about fruits, nuts, chocolate, dairy products, vegetables and flowers whilst matching them with a texture, temperature, and part of the taste spectrum of sweet to sour, tart to acid, subtle to strong.
I came up with construction ideas and methods… my training had begun to catch up with my imagination.
What eventuated was much more than one dish but five verrines to test our metal in the kitchen – each of us was tasked with elements and development of the dishes.
I was to produce an orange and crème gelée and vanilla tapioca pearls and confit lemon rind in the construction of an angled verrine. It was certainly different and a new way of presenting a dessert and in a way that I really like.
The big table cloth covered the marble and the day’s work was laid out for all of us to marvel.
Back to Day 3 and we began the final composition of multiple dishes ready for completion.
The disadvantage of finalising so many desserts was that we had to eat them all and there is no way of saying no to another mouthful because they taste so good. By the end of our massive consumption we were all feeling a little queasy from eating such huge amounts of sugar but satisfied by our hard work.
Lets do a psychological test this time – we all know that we eat with our eyes and noses before our tongues. It is scientifically true – remember how it is never as much fun to eat when you have a blocked nose from your cold – it is because your sense of smell is far more powerful than that of taste which relies heavily on your sense of smell. Your eyes will almost decide whether you want to eat something or will enjoy it before it is even ordered. Taste also has a sentimental aspect – we each have taste memories from our lives and associate every sugary snack or fried food with our childhood memories and so it has a strongly emotive component that plays a huge part in our total experience of a dish.
As such as I describe our dishes you should be able to imagine the textures, the flavours, the sensations and emotions you would personally experience as you ate our dishes and then how you would share this experience with your loved ones.
First off, a delightful bouquet of red fruits in all their glory – Crystalline Strawberries – who could honestly say no to mounds of sun-ripened red fruits picked from the fields with their sweet satisfaction and taste of summer. Raspberries, Blackberries, Blueberries and of course French Strawberries were the stars of this martini glass of glory. The fruits were paired with a hazelnut meringue, strawberry jelly and coconut set mouse.
Our little challenge – the assorted verrines were varied and delicious – small flavourful bites that would be great if they were served for a dinner party.
From left to right: a) rum-baba with diced banana, chantilly cream, mango puree and a pipette of rum; b) baba with malibu, diced pinapple, sliced fresh almonds and lime zest; c) vanilla set cream with red fruits; and together d) and e) were my responsibility and were drambuie parfait, orange and cream jelly and vanilla tapioca pearls served with a quenelle of vanilla ice-cream and confit lemon rind
May people will excitedly exclaim that Rum-Baba is their favourite dessert, well after a lecture about its history and development, the original Ali-Baba dessert has come along way from a brioche dough with raisins, to a dry baba dough soaked in a flavoured syrup. These were so moist, full of flavour with the intensity of cognac, glazed with a sweet nappage and served with a vanilla ice-cream. They were also adapted for two of the verrines above.
The Coffee and Chocolate Contrast Verrine was an interesting sensation, contrasting unexpected temperatures and textures, the flavours were classics, coffee and chocolate, but the composition of the dish was not. The first layer a cooked chocolate mousse tha is thicker than expected, has more dense substance and is warmer than the other elements. The granite has an intence coffee flavour, melts in the mouth and is neither bitter nor sweet, but well rounded and cold. The coffee emulsion is very smooth, light anddissolves in the warmth of your mouth with warm tones of coffee and the richness of cream and vanilla. The three layers are so adaptable to any favourite flavour suite – imagine the possibilities of a rhubarb and raspberry contrast verrine, or a chocolate and fresh strawberry contrast verrine.
This may look a little complicated but the elements were all there for something really special – each of the techniques have so many appilcations – making a cigarette or tuille batter and rolling it still searingly hot out of the over, filling it with a parfait or icecream, topped with an emulsion of rich nuts, served with a candied chestnut and sugar sail our first foray into sugar pieces for desert decoration. In this incarnation of a Frozen Drambuie parfait with a chocolate cigarette, chesnut emulsion on a plate decorated with a caramel design and a candied chesnut the plate was well balanced and looked spectacular. The dessert was also light and not to filling whilst being full of subtle flavours. The batter was crisp and basically made the assembly of the dessert work!
With yet another parfait on the books it is hard to imagine how it could actually be new and interesting – parfait c’est parfait … Parfait is just parfait, or you could say perfect in this dessert. The vanilla parfait was coated in a milk chocolate and roasted almond crisp coating reminiscent of the best ice-creams bars you used to buy as a kid and marvel at – I always wondered just how they did it! Now I know, and it was worth the wait, given it was made with freshly toasted almonds, and jivara couverture milk chocolate from Valrhona which set crisp and crunchy around the frozen core of smooth vanilla parfait. It was paired with a tart pineapple sorbet set in tubes to form a perfect cylinder to accompany the rich creamy vanilla. It was then topped with julienne sticks of apple and pineapple for crunch. It was dusted with icing sugar and the plate brushed with a rich caramel. This melted quite quickly so by the time I was ready to take photos my construction on top had sadly lost its footings and already partially collapsed requiring restoration work which didn’t meet my exacting standards – The chef’s (below) was however beautiful!
The vanilla millefeuille was our second chance to redeem our piping technique for this classic dessert, it was also our opportunity to try and get our caramel and chocolate design work up to par. Everyone had difficulty making their leaves look as natural as these two, they of course belong to the chef, mine sadly didn’t quite desserve a photo in this case. Let’s just say my piping on this occasion was especially poor, but with a little instruction my second attempt turned out quite nice, only I didn’t get to plate it up. So here is what it was meant to look like… and mine? It was pushed onto it’s side and enjoyed for its consumption only! (although I was proud of my quenelle of ice-cream)
The raspberry soufflé was not on anyones avourite list by a long way… you could see by our plates – they had been left mostly in their cups. Based solely on egg whites they had risen to great heights but had quickly collapsed and were overwhlemingly sweet given the sugar and kirsch. The raspberry reduction which flavoured the dish permeated every mouthful but somehow it still wasn’t right and we all were coming up with ways of trying to fix this for next time… but the students who had completed their first course at the Ritz were all reflecting on just how incredible the Grand Marnier Soufflé was that they had previously made and I couldn’t wait to try it!
Croustillant Passion Noisette Chocolat sounds much better than Passionfruit, Mango and Hazelnut Chocolate Crispy dessert but neither can compare to just how good this actually tasted.
Each component was incredible in its own right – a passionfruit set cream, a dark chocolate mousse based on Caraïbe couverture, runny mango spheres, a praline wafer and white chocolate base, a hazelnut praline chantilly cream and sprayed with chocolate glaze all in tempered chocolate box. As you cut into the dessert the runny mango and vanilla filling oozed out from in between the passiofruit set cream and chocolate mousse. The praline base was so clever – a mixture of praline and feuillantine with white chocolate and set with a thin layer of dark chocolate it makes the most incredible base to a dessert. At school it was presented on a swirl of caramel and a dusting of cocoa powder with the small domes of the hazenut praline chantilly; but when presented to my cousins after Friday night dinner, I improvised a nice looking plate with a swoosh of dark chocolate beow a barrel of chocolate tuille filled with raspberry and grand marnier coulis and fresh raspberries which heightened the marriage of the summer fruits and chocolate nicely.
But by far the runaway favourite was a Farm-made yoghurt sorbet with fresh wild strawberries surrounded by strawberry juice – everyone quickly demolished their entire plates and then finished off the mounds of left-over strawberries. The yoghurt sorbet was smooth, cool and refreshing with a dinstict sourness and fresh dairy tang which made our mouths water and balanced the natural sweetness of the strawberries.
In fact, we each finished all the excess sorbet and there was a lot.
As an aside we had a little lesson in artful designs with meringue and chocolate and also how to make coloured sugars!
For those into design they were very free-form artistically, for those into my other profession, medicine, I like to think they are anatomically accurate despite being made with the side of my hand!
Next to tackle – the weekend!