Desserts are more than a sweet ending to a meal. In a way, the entree is just the warm up act and the dessert is the highlight featured star of the meal. Like any “star” that needs to put on some make-up before being presented on stage, a dessert needs to be well plated to make it dazzle! So how do we turn a dessert into a star?
First let’s consider the goal of plating. What do we want to achieve?
Our Goal: To enhance the experience of the eater with an affordable, delicious looking and tasting dessert
Let’s examine the parts of our goal.
First, the focus is on the eater experience. This depends on their expectations, preferences, their choice of entree, etc. If the meal has been an Asian dish, a pumpkin pie dessert is not likely the eater’s preference. Western decorations -like a sugar cowboy hat on the dessert, just wouldn’t fit.
Affordable? Well, we now that we can enhance the experience of the eater if we place diamonds and jewels on the plate. But that really won’t taste good. If we were running a restaurant we would consider the time and ingredients needed for plating in relation to the price of the dessert. At home, we would have similar limits.
Delicious looking? We see the singing star and the stage, before we hear her voice. We eat with our eyes before our mouth. A dessert that looks drab, is not an invitation to taste.
Good tasting? The plating of a dessert should enhance its taste not distract from the main item. The sauces and garnish must compliment the taste of dessert. Some chef’s place items on the plate that enhance looks, but which are not edible. I don’t subscribe to that approach. Everything on the plate should be taste worthy. You shouldn’t have to remove a small cocktail umbrella from your dessert or worry about whether to eat a flower.
So now that we have a clear goal, let’s get started. We will look at each of the four components of plating: 1)The Main item 2) The Sauces 3) Texture/Crunch and 4) Garnish This post, covers choosing the main item, choosing the plate and how they work together to enhance the theme of your meal. Future posts will focus on sauces, texture and garnish. But first let’s take a look at the vessel for the dessert.
The Plate. These days, desserts are sometimes served in glasses- a martini glass for example. or a tall parfait glass. The glass vessel shapes and molds the main dessert item to make it visually appealing. The plating considerations which we will examine still apply but we are going to focus on a more traditional dessert plate.
We have all seen the old Victorian plates with intricate blue patterns around the edge, or plates that have full designs on them that dress up the food placed on them. There is so much going on on these plates that adding more sauces and garnish tends to confuse the look of the main dessert item. With these types of plates, it is best to keep things simple and just choose a dessert that provides a good contrast to the plate otherwise the main item just gets lost in the design and the plate becomes the focus rather than the dessert. To really show off the dessert, choose a solid color plate. A chocolate cake on a chocolate plate with a chocolate sauce loses focus on the main item. It is no fluke that restaurant chefs prefer to start with a white plate as the canvas. Every color of dessert, except perhaps white, contrasts well on a blank canvas. When plating a white dessert, create a contrast with sauce then place the dessert. When using a dark plate, choose a light colored sauce for contrast.
The Main item. The main item of the dessert is your focal point. Everything that you do in plating should draw your attention to is visually. Don’t overwhelm it by placing too much garnish on it. The slice of cake is the star, not the berries you place on and around it.
The first decision, is to choose a main item that goes well with the main entree of the meal. What was your theme for the meal? Asian or Mexican? Then your apple or pumpkin pie choice would not enhance the theme. A spicy meal does not call for a spicy dessert, but would benefit from a sweet ending choice.
Next, think about where on the plate you will place the main item. Here, we can take a tip from photographers and artists. Consider the rule of thirds. Instead of placing the main item exactly in the center of the plate, mentally divide your plate into thirds. You will place the main item in the center of one of these lines that divides the display surface into thirds. This placement captures movement and draws the eye to around the plate. Once sauces are placed, this movement will be further enhanced.
So, we have done some preliminary steps in your planning. But we haven’t even put the main item on the plate. Before we do that, we need to consider the sauces. That, is the subject of our next blog post. Stay tuned.