Two award-winning industry insiders give Meg Crawford their top tips for winning desserts.
Marcus Booth-Remmers knows a thing or two when it comes to dessert. A pastry chef by trade he’s the owner and operator of Adelaide’s Red Cacao—a boutique chocolatier and dessert bar, which was crowned the state’s best dessert bar in the 2015 South Australia Savour Australia™ Restaurant & Catering HOSTPLUS Awards for Excellence.
Deniz Karaca has represented Australia numerous times in the World Chocolate Masters and has been the executive pastry chef at Epicure (Spotless Catering’s fine dining arm) since 2010. Karaca’s own chocolatier boutique, Cuvée, supplies artisan chocolates specifically crafted as an accompaniment to fine wine.
It’s evident that both chefs are passionate about dessert and are happy to share some sweet insights about what makes for a good dessert. Unsurprisingly, both chefs agree on almost everything.
Karaca derives most of his inspiration from the internet and a thorough exploration of other restaurant’s cuisine. “I’m very visual,” he says. “I get a lot of inspiration from pictures and I make a point of going to as many different restaurants as possible. As much as I might find a place that I love, I try to avoid going back—I aim to mix it up.”
Seasonality and nature provide the inspiration for Booth-Remmers, who comes up with a completely new menu for the dessert bar each month. “In the 21st century, we’re a bit divorced from seasonality,” he says. “We’re so lucky in Australia though—each season offers something beautiful and fresh. We’re located in the Adelaide Hills, so we actually do feel each season—there’s a distinct spring and autumn, and we translate that onto the plates. Taking a walk and seeing what’s around me in nature and the abundance of produce gives me a lot of inspiration.”
Prepare to pre-plate
Karaca deals with almost unfathomable numbers when it comes to pumping out desserts—during footy finals, his team can produce up to 25,000 desserts in a month. “There’s immense pressure involved in this and it means that dessert often has to be quick,” Karaca says. “It’s the last course served and if it’s not served before the footy starts, people will get up and leave. We haven’t failed so far though, but it means we have to pre-plate a lot of components. You cannot plate 600 desserts on a line! It also has to be a stable dessert—something that can be carried out.” Booth-Remmers concurs—his desserts may have up to 15 components, but even so, at least half of the dishes he creates are pre-plated.
What about trends?
The consensus is be aware, but don’t be slavish. “I’m a bit classical in my approach,” Karaca says. “I don’t like to jump on any bandwagon. Trends come through all the time and they disappear just as quickly. The best example is the macaron—a few years ago, everyone had to do that.”
Karaca points out that popularity doesn’t necessarily equal flavour. “Recently, someone asked for a teardrop cake—they’re big in New York,” he says. “It looks like a giant drop of water. It’s basically a jelly made from water and served with molasses. It looks cool, but it’s horrible eating. I like to give everything a shot, so we tried it. It looked fantastic, but there was no way I was going to serve it.”
Booth-Remmers agrees “You have to have something on the menu that is going to satisfy the clientele who prefer to go with a safe option. I’ll have two dishes that are more out there, but also the classics for someone who’d prefer something more plain—you can still put a modern twist on it.”
Cater to your customers, not to fads
People asked Booth-Remmers for raw desserts, so he made them, but no one bought them—customers come to Red Cacao for a more decadent experience. In contrast, ading gluten-free options turned out to be a menu must. “It’s a huge thing for us and it’s only growing.” he says. “We’ve invested in and investigated products that we can do as gluten free and we design our dessert menu so that it’s adjustable. Our current menu has three desserts that can be requested as gluten free and one as gluten free and dairy free. When I design a menu now, it definitely has to be in there.”
What’s in a name?
This can make or break a dessert. “A menu has to read well and if you’re using an exotic ingredient, describe it in a way that people who are not necessarily gourmets or hobby chefs can understand,” Karaca says. “Most people will play it safe—if they don’t know what something is, they won’t order it.”
Every good dessert. . .
Booth-Remmers nominates using a variety of textures as critical—smooth with crisp and a couple of different temperatures is ideal, but all creamy or smooth is a no no.
Karaca concurs. “In all of my desserts I make sure that there are three to four, if not more textures—I like something crunchy, something moussey, something cakey, something soft. Ideally something frozen and in winter, something warm.”
Booth-Remmers notes the importance of analysing your market—90 per cent of his customers are women. “They don’t want to walk out feeling bloated,” he says. “The desserts can’t be too generous or overwhelmingly rich—it’s disappointing for people to have to leave half a dessert behind. I aim for things that are delicate and dainty, with a couple of more filling dishes for the boyfriends and husbands.”
Karaca emphasises the importance of the visual aspect of desserts. “It doesn’t have to be haute cuisine,” he says. “But it does have to look scrumptious.” Booth-Remmers heartily agrees. “You eat with your eyes.”