Be size conscious
Years ago I worked in an American themed restaurant which had an authentic dessert list, particularly when it came to size. We’d serve up great wedges of Death by Chocolate and Mississippi Mud Pie or fill up a sundae glass with ice cream, cream and sauce for the Belly Buster, deliver them to the table and then get asked for extra spoons for the rest of the table.
The restaurant is no longer there, for reasons other than the fact it was underselling its desserts, but if it was, the owners may well have repackaged them as sharing desserts.
Just like sharing platters have become a common sight onto the menus of restaurants and pubs across the country over the last few years, the same is happening to desserts, says Horizons, producer of the bi-annual Menurama menu review.
Items it has noticed cropping up include slightly larger portions of a regular dessert, such as an apple crumble or banoffee pie, or a selection of scaled down desserts like the Chocolate Sharing Board at ASK, which includes profiteroles, a slice of chocolate and almond cake and two scoops of chocolate gelato.
Gordon Stott at The Sun Inn in Dummer, created his Taste of the Fairground dessert – a mix of candyfloss, toffee popcorn, warm cinnamon doughnuts, marshmallows and candied apples – for two people to share to not only tap into the sharing trend, but to appeal to customers of all ages.
“It’s very popular with adults as well as kids. It's just a fun dessert that gets everyone talking and enjoying the experience, which is what running a good pub or restaurant is all about,” he says.
There will be many times when not everyone in a party will want dessert however, so sharing desserts won’t always work. Enter the small dessert.
Pioneered by Pizza Express in 2009, the dolcetti – a mini dessert served with a coffee – has grown in popularity at Pizza Express as well as being introduced onto menus elsewhere.
“There were so many people wanting to try something and have something sweet at the end of a meal, but didn’t necessarily have room for a whole dessert,” says Pizza Express’ head of food Holly Davies. “Dolcetti was created to get over the hurdle of the fact that customers don’t always want a huge slab of chocolate cake at the end of the meal. This way they can have something small and sweet without having to commit.”
Dolcetti has become a huge hit, says Davies, who believes its inclusion on the menu has helped not only encourage its own sales, but those of desserts in general.
“When it started it was a lot simpler in terms of the range which was mainly Italian influenced because it was being served alongside a coffee, but once we educated people about what it was there was an opportunity to expand the range and flavours to ensure there was something for everyone,” she says.
Firm Italian-inspired favourites such as the Caffè Reale and Double Chocolate Torta have remained on the menu with new additions for spring including a Lemon Posset and Strawberry Fool Cheesecake.
Davies says: “The reason it has grown is that the trend has caught up and people like having something little and sweet that is big on flavour, but also it makes it easier for people to try something new. They might be nervous to move away from their favourite dessert, but having a little mouthful of something allows you to do that without the commitment. It’s important that you open a door to a category when people are eating out, particularly with the third course.”
Be allergy and intolerance friendly
Food allergies and intolerances are on the rise. Research by the University of Nottingham last year found that there was a fourfold increase in the rate of diagnosed cases of coeliac disease alone and with growing awareness of this disease which means sufferers can’t tolerate gluten, alongside a media spotlight on the popularity of diets eschewing sugar and dairy also, there has never been a better time to explore dessert ideas which exclude traditional ingredients.
The desserts menu at InSpiral Lounge in Camden sounds fairly traditional – a chocolate tart, tiramisu, carrot cake and a crumble of the day all feature – but the café only uses plant-based ingredients and is oven-free.
Owner Bella Willink, who has created a ‘sizeable business’ selling healthier food at her cafe and through retail over the last three years, says with a little creativity and an understanding of the qualities of certain ingredients, it can be easy to create popular sweet treats without the use of wheat, dairy and sugar.
She says: “We don’t bake here so all desserts have to be able to be set. We do a crepe which is made from flax and chia seeds, bananas, mangoes and courgettes all blended together and poured out onto a dehydrator to dry it out and make it pancake-like.”
One of InSpiral Lounge’s most popular desserts is the raw chocolate blackout tart. Its ‘biscuit’ base is a mix of nuts, seeds and dates which are blended together, pressed into a cake tin and set in the refrigerator. The topping – a chocolate cream - is made from blended avocado and raw chocolate.
“You have to think out of the box and what qualities you need to pull it off. We always look to natural plant foods rather than additives,” says Willink who says soaked cashew nuts can be turned into a cream when blended with water or vanilla and a natural sugar syrup such as agave.
Simon Jenkins, group executive pastry chef at Marcus Wareing Restaurants, works in a different environment to that of Willink, but believes including desserts that are suitable for diners who are gluten and lactose intolerant or looking to cut out sugar and fat for health reasons is a good idea for any restaurant.
“I like to have options on the menu that are suitable for someone who is allergic to gluten or lactose intolerant, rather than the waiter saying they’ll make them something special,” he says.
“I’ve been experimenting with different types of gluten-free flour, using rice flour for example, so that if someone comes in for afternoon tea, lunch or dinner, they can be catered for easily.”
One dish on the menu at Wareing’s West End restaurant Tredwell’s for example is a coconut mousse with pineapple, mint and lime.
“It’s gluten and dairy free and low in sugar,” he says. “Having it there means anyone can order it, but those who are intolerant to certain ingredients or are diabetic, feel that there’s something there for them and they don’t have to make an issue out of it.”
Inject your own personality
Chefs love to be creative, but as Pizza Express’s Davies says many diners are often too scared to move away from their favourite dessert, so removing popular staples like fruit crumble, sticky toffee pudding or cheesecake from the menu wouldn’t make good business sense.
Nevertheless, there are ways chefs can be creative and inject the personality of the restaurant or the brand into desserts without breaking too far away from tradition.
“The practice of personalisation within the food industry is very on-trend at the moment, particularly for those desserts which are usually regarded as more traditional by nature,” says Babette Schmidt, head of marketing at Erlenbacher.
“The purpose is to be experimental: to adapt a classic favourite and create an individual dessert, perfectly prepared to the consumer’s taste, which can be added to with tasty, decorative extras.”
At The Sun Inn at Dummer Stott decided to put his own twist on two popular desserts – a cheesecake and apple and blackberry crumble - to make them stand out.
“On my menu at the moment is a banana cheesecake mess, this is all the components of a cheesecake but put together in a different way, unlike a normal cheesecake with the biscuit base and the filling on top,” he says. “I've also had an apple and blackberry crumble dessert, but again this was deconstructed and created in a different way with poached apple, a blackberry puree and crumble served with clotted cream ice cream.”
At Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs' new restaurant venture Café Football desserts are certainly unique to the venue with head chef Brendan Fyldes and Michael Wignall using match day favourites as inspiration.
Four main desserts - Wignall's Half Time Orange, Chocolate Turf, Melting Chocolate Football and Jaffa Cake - either use orange in them or offer a visual nod to the football pitch. Diners can also choose from a list of ice-creams or buy a quarter of a pound of sweets from jars if they wish.
And Japanese casual dining restaurant Tombo has managed to inject its personality into its dessert offering without moving away from traditional options by simply adding Matcha into the mix.
All items on the dessert menu – from ice cream and tiramisu to macaroons and brownies are made using the Japanese green tea - and its unique twist on a classic desserts menu is paying off.
“They sold over 2,000 matcha based desserts last month and that doesn’t even include the matcha drinks,” says Louis Sloley, co-owner of Tombo.
“At Tombo 75 per cent of our customers order dessert and some come especially for the dessert. The majority of customers know what matcha is, although staff are always on hand to provide knowledge if need be.”
For restaurants buying-in desserts, rather than making them on-site there are numerous ways they can make them their own says Schmidt.
“At Erlenbacher we actively encourage consumers to personalise the desserts that we bake for them. For example, with our Tout au Chocolat, which recently received a three-star rating in the Superior Taste Awards, there are a lot of options to personalise the cake in such a way that it becomes even more eye-catching.”
Suggestions include writing on the gateau with melted white chocolate to dressing up the plate with ice cream, raspberries and sugared almonds and topping the dessert with raspberry puree, lime leaves and dried raspberries.
“Another option which saves time: add mangos, mint leaves and raspberries to complete the decoration in just a few moments,” she adds.
“No matter how it is personalised, however, the delicious taste of the creamy chocolate gateau will still form the base of the dessert. The sign of a good personalised dessert is that it should connect to the original dish no matter how you reconstruct it.”
This feature was written by BigHospitality and sponsored by Erlenbacher.
Erlenbacher was established over 40 years ago with a single apple cake. Since then, erlenbacher has grown to become the number one specialist for deep-frozen premium cakes and cream products.
World-renowned for its first-class baked goods, which taste home-made, erlenbacher combines skilled craftmanship with reliability, enjoyment and convenience.