Seasonal menus have been the rage for a while now, and for good reason. Not only do they allow you to make the most of seasonally available ingredients, but they also let you match your offerings to how diner’s tastes change over the course of the year. In the warmer months, many opt for lighter, brightly flavored plates while heartier dishes are appealing when it’s cold.
For many, the routine is well ingrained, and the menus roll out seamlessly. But are you overlooking one sweet part of your dining puzzle in the process?
All too often the dessert menu becomes static with the same three or four dishes year-round. While there’s nothing wrong with having a signature dessert or two, some dishes may not excite during the darker cold months the same way they do in warm weather. This might be the perfect time to add a little heat to your sweets.
Soufflés are an easily recognizable hot dessert that generate excitement when they come to the table piping hot and release a cloud of fragrant steam as the first spoon cracks the surface. Chocolate is a classic flavor, but the options are endless, from banana to blackberry or even a brightly creamy and citrusy lemon can work.
Alcohol-flavored soufflés are also a great way to grab your diners’ eyes. Grand Marnier is a popular choice but is by no means the only one. Nutty liqueurs like Frangelico can add a lovely hint of hazelnut while fruitier tipples like Chambord will bring an avalanche of raspberry to the party.
Those same liqueurs can also be employed to bring a little show to the dining room floor. Fresh crêpes are a simple dessert that can be quickly made to order or prepared in advance and then reheated table-side with a splash of liqueur and a well-placed match. The flash of the liqueur might just inspire a few claps in the dining room and cause a Boomerang or two to get posted to Instagram. The show can be even flashier if you have a properly stocked cart to do the whole show table-side, but a well-trained staff can often make do with a plate, an extension lighter and a shot of the liqueur.
Crêpes can also be utilized to combine hot and cold into one delicious dish. A bowl of ice cream might not be the first choice of many when there’s a dusting of snow outside but combined with a hot crêpe you get something a little magical.
The play of hot and cold also works well with warmed pies, although your basic pie can seem a little out of place when compared to your other well curated plates. If that’s the case, consider a tarte Tatin—basically an upside-down pastry topped with beautifully fanned out fruit that has been caramelized in butter and sugar. Most fruits work well, especially late season fruits like pears and apples that will still be readily available during the winter months.
Prepped in advance, tarte Tatins are best served fresh from the oven with the butter and sugar still bubbling from the heat as you arrive at the table. Just leave the tarte in the dish and try a small cast iron pan for a nicely rustic presentation.
When creating your seasonal dessert menu, there’s nothing wrong with looking to the current trend for inspiration. The latest dish that is creeping back into social media and onto plates is sticky toffee pudding. More of a moist cake than what Americans may consider a pudding, the sponge cake is pierced with toothpicks to allow the sauce, often made with black treacle, to permeate the cake. It’s best to add the sauce right before serving and it should be warmed for best results. Top it with a dollop of whipped cream or a scoop of ice cream to bring it all together.
In these times of tight margins and stiff competition, keeping your dessert menu relevant to the season can help keep check averages robust. Remember, when your guests linger for dessert it often means more than just the one or two plates. Often it turns into coffee and the opportunity to sell post- dinner drinks and cordials. It’s a small sale that can lead to a significant opportunity to drive up the night’s take.