Coffee Dessert Notes
from Amy Handler of Amycakes
I thought you might be interested in how these desserts came to be, and the thinking a pastry chef goes through, so I'm including this note from Amy to me for you.—Steve Holzinger
Having created a number of desserts with espresso as a key ingredient, I must now say that I think those are not the ones most appropriate as an accompaniment to the beverage. In most of the desserts I've designed, the espresso flavor is so strong as to make the beverage redundant, unless it be a contrast. with powerfully flavored, often rich desserts as these, nothing can be so welcome as a dessert wine—bring on the bubbly!
Let us for the moment consider the dessert course in general. Its great purpose is to convince us that we have been indulged. To some this can only mean chocolate. Fine chocolate desserts are abundant and entire books are devoted to them, so we need not address such issues here. Remember, the nutritional needs of the diner have been satisfied; we want him to leave the table delighted. Dessert, then, should be a pleasure to look at. And it should round out the meal.
Rounding out the meal, consists of filling in all the textures and flavors that have not previously been highlighted. A rich and creamy meal might be followed with a lean, but sweet and crisp finale. If the meal was relatively light, as grilled fish and crunchy vegetables, the voluptuous opulence of butter, cream and yolks may be in order. Once I have decided on this preliminary choice the beverage is easy: if the dessert is coffee flavored, seltzer or sparkling wine; if the dessert is not coffee flavored and is creamy, I serve espresso; if it is lean and not coffee flavored, I serve cappuccino. If the meal is immensely rich, I serve dry cookies, as biscotti, amoretti, and meringues with espresso ice and slices of fresh fruit. In this manner, one does not offer to oppress the palate with a surfeit of any one sensation, but rather to satisfy all its cravings.
Given my own rules, the hardest of the desserts to design is the coffee flavored one. It must include the correct balance of rich and lean that will complement the foregoing courses, as it will not be getting any help from the drink. It must also have the appropriate contrasts of texture, sweet and sour, and, of course, the color necessary to eye appeal.
I must tell you, now, that the Viennese Hazelnut Torte is not a coffee flavored dessert. The function of the espresso in it is to make the incredibly rich and otherwise cloying sweetness of the white chocolate palatable. The acidity and bitterness of the espresso seems to be lost, but actually works to hold the white chocolate in check. Even espresso would be nice with the iced cake version, and cappuccino would be fine with the individual cake and raspberry purée.
Finally, the time I am happiest to think of cappuccino or espresso is when I am dining at a restaurant, and nothing on the dessert menu looks necessary. I have eaten enough or more, the dessert menu is uninspired and I am somewhat jaded, and yet, I am not ready to leave the table. The illusory smoothness of the cappuccino foam or the strong finish of espresso laced with liqueur exactly answer the difficulty.
Notes From Amycakes
Steve's #18 Recipes:
© 1996, Steve K. Holzinger. All rights reserved.
This page originally published as part of the electronic Gourmet Guide between 1994 and 1998.
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Modified August 2007