Dessert, if it is made well, can be the crowning glory of any meal. Whether it is a Sticky Date Pudding, a Crème Brulee or a Croquembouche, it puts the final touch to a dining experience.
Good desserts should always leave you wanting just a little more, but feeling fully satisfied. So there is a real art to dessert making and many kitchens have chefs who specialize in this area of cuisine.
As we have said in previous units, the final dish you present will only ever be as good as the ingredients you use to prepare it. The selection of ingredients, then, must ensure the right quality and freshness.
Confirm food production requirements
The ingredients you use in the production of desserts are a little different to those in other forms of cookery; you are making dishes that will, for the most part, be sweet. Before we look at the ingredients themselves, however, we will take a brief look at culinary terms and trade names for a variety of common desserts.
These include (but are not limited to):
bavarois – also called a Bavarian Cream or a Crème Bavaroise, this is a dessert similar to pastry cream or mousse, but thickened with gelatin and, sometimes, flavoured with liqueur.
crème brulee – this is, in essence a dessert of rich custard topped with caramelized sugar. It is, normally, served at room temperature
crème caramel – crème caramel is a custard dessert with a layer of soft caramel on top (unlike the crème brulee where the sugar on top is caramelized to an almost burnt quality).
crêpes – this is a very thin, cooked, pancake usually made from wheat flour.
flans and tarts– these are, normally, baked dishes consisting of an open-topped pastry case with a filling (which could be sweet or savoury)
fritters – these are anything that is coated in batter and either pan or deep fried (for example banana fritters)
ice-cream – a semi frozen dessert made with sweetened and flavoured milk or cream. A variety of fruits, herbs and nuts can be added to introduce flavour and texture
meringues – created with a mixture of stiffly beaten egg whites and caster sugar then baked so that it is crisp on the outside and gooey and soft in the centre.
mousse – this is, typically, made with whipped egg whites into which whipped cream and flavourings (such as chocolate) are then folded – keeping the mixture light and fluffy.
parfait – parfait is the French term used to refer to desserts that are prepared by freezing the dish, which is usually an ice-cream or cream based dish. It is prepared in a tall glass and layered with ice-cream (or cream) fruit and nuts.
prepared fruit – when used in a dessert, fruits can be prepared in a number of different ways including;
sliced and diced for fruit salads
boiled, reduced down and strained into a sauce (or coulis)
sabayon – (zabaglione) is a light, mousse-like desert that is make by whisking eggs, sugar and white wine (or other flavourings) over gently boiling water until the eggs thicken but do not scramble.
sorbet – a frozen dessert made from sweetened water with flavourings such as fruit juice or puree, wine or liqueur.
soufflé – this is a baked egg-based dish where the egg whites are beaten then combined with the egg yolks and other flavourings. This mixture is then allowed to rise in an oven.
Ingredients commonly used to produce desserts
Ingredients used to make these and other dishes will vary greatly. The main ones that you will use, however, include;
Sugar is used in dessert production for a range of reasons including;
adding sweetness and flavour
creating tenderness and fineness of texture, partly by weakening the gluten structure Give crust colour
increasing keeping qualities by retaining moisture
acting as a creaming agents with fats and as foaming agents with eggs
providing food for yeast
Refined sugars are, generally, classified as follows;
Caster Sugar – is finer than normal granulated sugar. It supports higher quantities of fat and dissolves relatively quickly into doughs and batters, which makes it ideal to use in making quality desserts and pastries.
Granulated Sugar (also known as table sugar or A1) is the most commonly known and used sugar. It has a coarse grain which, when in production, can leave undissolved grains even after long mixing. After baking these show up as dark spots on crusts, irregular texture and syrupy spots. Coarse sugars are less refined but result in clearer syrup
Brown Sugar Brown sugar is regular cane sugar that has not been completely refined. It contains 85 – 92 % sucrose and varying amounts of caramel, molasses and other impurities; darker grades contain more of these impurities.
Demerara Sugar is also known as raw sugar. These straw coloured granules are produced from cane juice (90%sucrose) and they are used in some baked goods and hot beverages.
Icing Sugar (also known as confectioners) sugar is sugar ground to a fine powder. Soft Icing Mixture is icing sugar mixed with a small amount of starch (3 %) to prevent caking. It is also available in a pure form without this anti-caking starch.
Invert Sugar is a product of sugar refining. It is chemically processed heavy syrup where a sucrose solution is heated with an acid. Invert sugar is 30 % sweeter than sucrose. Invert sugar resists crystallisation, promoting smoothness in candies, icings and syrups. It also holds moisture especially well, retaining freshness and moisture in products.
Molasses is concentrated sugar cane juice. It contains large amounts of sucrose and other sugars including invert sugar. It also contains acids, moisture and other constituents that give it flavour and colour. Darker grades are stronger in flavour and contain less sugar than lighter grades. Molasses retains moisture in baked goods, prolonging their freshness.
Corn Syrup is a liquid sweetener consisting of water, a vegetable gum called dextrin and various sugars, primarily dextrose (also called glucose). Corn syrup aids in retaining moisture and is used in some icings, sweets, and sugar boiling. It keeps other sugars from recrystallizing, is added to marzipan to improve elasticity, has a mild flavour and is not as sweet as sucrose
Glucose Syrup is a viscous, colourless syrup. It has a stabilising effect to help prevent re-crystallisation when sugar is boiled to high temperatures; for example when it is cast, pulled and blown – making the boiled sugar more elastic. It is also used in cakes and biscuits. Glucose should not be stored at temperatures above 20oC because it will change in colour. Glucose can be replaced with light corn syrup.
Honey – is the nectar collected from bees and deposited in their honeycomb. Nectar contains about 80% water and 20% sugar together with essential oils and aromatic compounds that are responsible for the bouquet of honey and the flavour, varying from the flowers from which the nectar was gathered. The darker the colour of the honey the stronger its flavour; it is a natural sugar syrup consisting largely of glucose, fructose and other compounds that give it is flavours. Flavour is the main reason for using honey. Honey contains invert sugar which helps retain moisture in baked goods and gives a soft chewy texture to cakes and cookies, and is baked at a lower temperature so the invert sugars can caramelise. Honey contains acid which enables it to be used with baking soda as a leavening.