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Chocolate Desserts: Sweet Talk – US Food Trends

10 July 2008
Chocolate Desserts: Sweet Talk – US Food Trends

Summer has diners craving chocolate desserts that won't weigh them down.

This article first appeared in the 1 June 2008 issue of Restaurants & Institutions (R&I).

R&I is the USA's leading source of food and business-trend information and exclusive research on operators and restaurant patrons. Editorial coverage spans the entire foodservice industry, including chains, independent restaurants, hotels and institutions. Visit the R&I website to find out more about the magazine or to search its recipe database.

By Allison Perlik, Senior Editor

No matter the season, diners can't resist the seductive call of chocolate. Yet as the days grow warm and sultry, even customers seeking a chocolate fix look for indulgences with a lighter touch.

"In the summer, people go more for seasonal tastes," says Pastry Chef Paul Zang of Beacon Hill Hotel & Bistro in Boston. "If I just put something on the menu that's chocolate with a heavy sauce, it's not as appetizing to them."

Instead, Zang uses subtle floral and herbal accents to breathe fresh air into recipes such as bittersweet chocolate tarts, draped with cool strawberry sorbet for a splash of color and sweetness. For the tart's filling, dried lavender is infused into heavy cream, which is mixed with sugar, melted chocolate and egg yolks. In another version, dried thyme and lemon zest perk up palates in a similar manner.

"It has the same effect as sprinkling fresh herbs on a bowl of pasta," Zang says. "It adds some freshness and kind of tricks your taste buds to make it feel lighter."

At XIX Nineteen at the Park Hyatt Philadelphia at the Bellevue, Pastry Chef Dan Pino downsizes chocolate layer cake to create a twist on Black Forest cake that is still rich but not as hefty.

The cake is blended in a mixer with chocolate ganache, and then 4-oz. scoops are vacuum-sealed in plastic and compressed into neat, brownie-size packages. Meanwhile, cherries are cooked in butter with brown sugar before being deglazed with bourbon and then chilled in order to provide a sweet-tart complement along with cherry purée and chocolate sorbet.

Recipe:Bittersweet Chocolate Soufflé >>

Bittersweet Chocolate Souffle
Bittersweet Chocolate Souffle

Recipe:Triple Chocolate Semifreddo >>

Triple Chocolate Semifreddo
Triple Chocolate Semifreddo

Take the Cake
Fortunately, cake desserts that make appealing warm-weather choices don't have to be quite so labor-intensive. For another recipe, Pino simply steams devil's-food cake rather than baking it.

- "You don't have that dark caramelization, that heaviness. It's light and fluffy," he says. "Unlike the regular oven, which dehydrates, this adds moisture, so you can't go wrong. Even if you leave it in a little too long, it's still fine."

Though devil's food cake tends to be especially rich, the extra moisture gained from adding buttermilk and using melted chocolate rather than cocoa powder makes the recipe a good choice for summer, Pino says. He livens up each slice with micro-lemon-verbena-and-berry salad, raspberry-chocolate sorbet and thick, vanilla-infused yogurt.

At Pacific Northwest-themed bistro Paley's Place in Portland, Ore., Pastry Chef Lauren Fortgang goes the opposite route, using a recipe akin to angel food cake to create chocolate shortcake. Egg whites are whipped to stiff peaks while sugar is gradually whisked in, and then the mixture is blended with a batter of cake flour, cocoa powder, more sugar and egg yolks. The airy cake is layered with whipped cream and assorted berries.

The layered approach also works for Pastry Chef Susan VandenBerg at Gracie's in Providence, R.I., where a summer trifle spotlights chocolate sabayon, sponge cake and strawberries.

For the sabayon, cocoa powder, sugar, salt, water, orange liqueur and egg yolks are whisked together over a bain-marie until thickened, at which point bittersweet chocolate is whisked in. While the chocolate blend cools, heavy cream is whipped to soft peaks and then folded into the sabayon.

The frothy custard alternates in layers in a wide, footed bowl with sponge cake that is spiked with orange zest, orange syrup and diced strawberries.

Leave Them Cold
Ice-cream desserts are an easy sell in summertime, and approaches that venture beyond the standards garner extra attention. Mint Chocolate CrÁªpes, a seasonal special last summer at Ormond Beach, Fla.-based dinnerhouse chain Stonewood Grill & Tavern, are one example of a cool dessert appropriate for a variety of foodservice segments.

The crÁªpes' preparation consists of just a few steps. Mint-chocolate-chip ice cream is folded into house-made crÁªpes (purchased products work, too); the crÁªpes are then decorated with fudge sauce, whipped cream and chocolate crisps.

VandenBerg's Triple Chocolate Semifreddo at Gracie's looks like a dressed-up version of old-fashioned Neapolitan ice cream. For the custard base, egg yolks are whisked with sugar and salt; scalded milk is mixed in gradually to temper. The mixture is whisked over a bain-marie until thickened, and then vanilla extract is added and the custard is chilled.

For each flavor, melted chocolate (dark, white or milk) is added to the base; whipped heavy cream is then folded in. One layer is chilled in a plastic-wrap-lined loaf pan (or individual ring molds) until firm, and then the next layer is added and the process is repeated. Once all three layers are firm, the semifreddo is frozen. To serve, the tricolor dessert is unmolded, sliced and garnished with fresh berries.

- "Adding fruit is a given," VandenBerg says. "By summer, I can't wait for strawberries, so I'll often add those to the mix."

Desserts don't get much more classic than milkshakes, but Executive Chef Todd Winer tailors the cool concoctions to adult tastes at The Met Bar & Grill in Natick, Mass. Any of the six shakes on the menu can be spiked with specialty spirits such as chocolate vodka, white-chocolate liqueur, banana-flavored rum and espresso-flavored vodka.

Even without the extra kick, top-shelf ingredients upgrade the diner favorite. The Met Shake, the best-selling selection, blends organic chocolate milk with house-made caramel ice cream (also made with organic milk) and ripples the combination with chocolate sauce. The North End, another nontraditional choice, calls for espresso, hazelnut-chocolate spread and house-made vanilla-bean ice cream.

The shakes already are a hot ticket after nine months on the menu-the restaurant sells 200 on busy weekends-and Winer expects even greater demand as the weather heats up.

"This is the first year our patio is open, so we're anticipating selling a lot," he says.

Lighten Up
Ubiquitous crème brÁ»lée is always a popular choice among customers looking for a less-filling finish to meals. At Louisville, Colo.-based Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery, a stand-out version features an unexpected ingredient: brewed-on-site beer.

- The creamy, chocolatey notes typical to many stout beers are a natural fit in the chain's Chocolate Stout Crème BrÁ»lée, which also has notes of vanilla.

At Café Formaggio in Carle Place, N.Y., the best-selling dessert year-round delivers fresh flavors that entice diners in warm weather. Executive Chef and co-owner Joe Licata's sweet, fruit-topped pizza starts with the same dough used for the Italian restaurant's savory pies. Hazelnut-chocolate spread, drizzled caramel and a sprinkling of confectioners sugar blanket the crisp crust, which is crowned with sliced strawberries, bananas and apples.

"Everyone loves chocolate, and with the freshly cut fruit, it's refreshing," says Licata, who also serves a s'mores-inspired version that features brownies, marshmallows and walnuts.

Even in southern California, where warm days are a year-round luxury, Pastry Chef Michelle Bracken adapts desserts for the summer season. Her white-chocolate mousse at Zov's Bistro, Cafe and Bakery in Tustin, Calif., is topped with fresh blackberries and raspberries and decorated with dark-chocolate squares. The petite confection rests atop a crunchy base of peanut butter mixed with cornflakes and melted white chocolate.

"It does well on the menu because it's so different compared to typical chocolate desserts, especially among people who like peanut butter-that always perks their interest," Bracken says.

Too Tempting
Even customers who shy away from dessert might have trouble resisting chocolate-laced cocktails such as these sinfully sweet concoctions.

  • Turtletini: Irish cream liqueur, butterscotch schnapps, chocolate liqueur and chocolate syrup The Melting Pot, multiple locations
  • Chocolate Truffle Martini: Black-cherry vodka with white- and dark-chocolate liqueurs Room 21, Chicago
  • White Chocolate Raspberry: Raspberry vodka, white chocolate liqueur, raspberry purée Darren's Restaurant, Manhattan Beach, Calif.
  • Chocomilk: Chocolate liqueur, vodka, raspberry liqueur and a splash of cream Alberta Street Oyster Bar and Grill, Portland, Ore.
  • Chocolate Covered Raspberries: Raspberry vodka and chocolate liqueur on the rocks XS Restaurant, Bar and Cafe, Baltimore

Light as Air
Soufflés can be temperamental, to be sure, but when executed correctly, the airy desserts are ideal for summer. At Le Titi de Paris in Arlington Heights, Ill., Chef-owner Michael Maddox offers an even lighter take, replacing egg yolks with pear purée. "The purée adds more stability, so the soufflé holds its shape and keeps its height longer," he says.

Maddox, who menus the classic recipe nightly at the upscale French restaurant, shares these tips for soufflé success:

  • Separate the eggs a day ahead;
  • Make sure the egg whites are room-temperature, not cold;
  • Never overwhip egg whites, or they will become dry and grainy;
  • Be sure to butter and sugar the rim and sides of ramekins so the soufflé won't stick as it rises.
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