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Harnessing the Hidden Potential in your Pastry Kitchen:

I have worked with a number of chefs who generally see the dessert menu as an afterthought. In fact, one of them wouldn’t even venture near the pastry counter because he had a crippling fear of getting his hands sticky. The truth is, though, that smart chefs and business owners take dessert as seriously as the main course. Here’s why: the primary ingredients required to create exquisite desserts: flour, butter and sugar, are relatively inexpensive. Therefore, we have the perfect opportunity to creatively boost profit margins.

Before we get there, though, we have a few more hurdles to jump.  I bashfully count myself amongst the group of diners who rarely, if ever, orders dessert. I assure you, however, that it’s not for lack of interest. It’s just so rare to see a dessert menu that genuinely surprises or peaks my curiosity. There are a few desserts that have been overplayed in recent years, including but not limited to: molten chocolate cake, “New York” cheesecake, bread pudding, and cupcakes. I’m not suggesting that any of these options is inherently bad: just a little boring.

Let’s evaluate some of the recent dessert trends. Maybe one or more of these thoughts will inspire levels of pastry-related ingenuity that you hardly knew you had:

Childhood classics: many pastry chefs are enjoying a walk down memory lane, elevating lowbrow favorites such as Moonpies and Twinkies. This is a great opportunity to creatively recreate a classic: minus the chemicals.

Clever combinations: How about milky coffee paired with freshly fried doughnuts? An Atlanta chef recently presented a deconstructed “PB&J,” complete with a shooter glass of muscadine soda. Creative chefs find ways to turn simple, mundane items into unique and sumptuous desserts.

Cocktail-Inspired: Infusing classic desserts with spirits is an innovative way to add interest. Bourbon is the perfect complement to pecans and nothing goes better with pears than a nip of cognac or burgundy port.

Herbal Infusion: A trend that has gained popularity recently is adding floral and herbal notes to sweet desserts.  I was recently presented with a trio of herbal ice creams including basil, thyme and lavender that absolutely blew my mind. Each was surprising and delightful in its own right, and I have no doubt that other options for herbal inclusion abound.

Salty/Sweet: Savory items, generally reserved for main course selections, have been making their way onto pastry menus across the country. Olive oil, bacon, salt, wasabi and soy may seem like odd additions to sweet items, but when well-executed are positively life-changing.

Your dessert menu doesn’t need to be extensive, but it should be artful and well composed. Consider suggesting wine pairings to go along with your selections. I think we can all agree that the oft-overlooked dessert course is one of unbridled potential. Everyone enjoys a little sweetness at the end of a fantastic meal. It’s an indulgence that creates feelings of warmth and satisfaction and has the ability to transport the consumer to any number of magical places, from the nostalgic to the exotic.

Take a look at your dessert menu. What is the percentage of guests who typically order dessert? Maybe we can increase that percentage by adding a little ingenuity. As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please feel free to leave a comment below!