Winter is here, and while you might have shifted your main menu to better utilize the tastes and ingredients of colder weather, you might have overlooked one part of your menu — dessert.
Most people agree sprucing up your menu with the changing seasons helps keep the excitement level high and keeps you on diner’s radar year-round. But too often the dessert menu remains static. That’s a missed opportunity because dessert closes out the meal and can be the memory that brings diners back for another visit or nixes you off their dining rotation.
While it might be most closely associated with Christmas, there’s really no need to limit this tasty root to just one part of the season. Beyond the obvious cookies, ginger can bring a little spice to everything from cakes to ice cream. And while it can be utilized as the dominant spice for a visually impressive Bundt cake, candied and preserved ginger can also make for the perfect winter garnish with many other dishes — pairing especially well with citrus flavors.
Nuts have been a bright spot in 2020. A record harvest and fewer exports have led to lower wholesale prices. Take advantage of the cheaper costs with nutty pies, cakes, and ice creams — maybe even a cookie or two. Appeal to the keto faithful by using ground-up nuts in place of flour or for a tart crust. For a nostalgic comfort food taste, grind the nuts with cocoa powder and create your own personalized Nutella.
The easy choices during the winter months are pears and apples. But while they are great options, don’t limit yourself to just those. Pomegranates are plentiful this time of year and often underutilized, meaning they are sure to catch people’s eyes on the menu and on the plate. Consider them in a beautifully red panna cotta or in a meringue cookie. For something more exotic, try using pomelos (an Asian fruit similar to a lime) or persimmons.
Mini Iron Skillets
They’re extremely Instagrammable and perfect for keeping a dessert hot and sizzling as it comes out to the table — even if that table happens to be out in the cold. You could try an individual apple crisp or cherry cobbler but also go for something a little more unusual like a piping hot cinnamon roll or, to jump on the nostalgia train, a s’more with graham crackers, molten chocolate, and a lightly caramelized marshmallow on top.
Not nearly as fussy or temperamental to make as a souffle, it’s easy to elevate these portable treats. With flavor possibilities ranging from snickerdoodle to chocolate chip, chefs can re-interpret mug cakes beyond simply checking the nostalgia box, and you can tailor them to just about any taste or menu. Plus, their unique presentation has become kind of a raging trend right now.
Years of being relegated to the frozen food section in discount grocery stores ended after repeat appearances on one of 2020’s great quarantine binge shows — The Great British Bake Off. Once the rolling technique is perfected, swiss rolls are not that hard to make but do leave a stunning impression on a plate. They’re also perfect for utilizing any fruit preserves you might have made during the summer as a thin layer between the rolled cake and cream, adding both a splash of color and flavor.
For something out of the ordinary, consider making a savory or sweet bread to close out the meal — something chock full of dried or fresh fruits or even chopped nuts. Try a banana cranberry bread or a blueberry walnut bread. Don’t be afraid to dress it up with a little homemade ice cream or pair with a hot glass of Scandinavian glogg.
Traditionally, affogato is basically a combination of dessert, coffee, and an after-dinner drink. It’s essentially a scoop of ice cream or gelato with a shot of hot espresso poured over it tableside, along with a shot of amaro or another after-dinner digestif added into the mix. That in itself is a great way to end a meal but, if you’ve got an eye on social media, the concept has morphed slightly with cocoa bombs becoming all the rage — think balls of milk or dark chocolate with hot milk or cream anglaise poured over them, causing the chocolate to collapse and flavor the hot milk. The bombs can also be filled with a shot, say Chambord or Grand Marnier. Or arrange so the alcohol comes out on the side with marshmallows inside the bomb. Either way, with booze or without, it’s sure to be memorable.
Even if a full or partial overhaul of your dessert menu isn’t in the cards this season, it doesn’t hurt to mix things up a bit and experiment. Add a new flavor or two to keep up with emerging trends and see how your customers respond.