HomeRecipesFlavors of the Forest by Aaron Clouse

Flavors of the Forest by Aaron Clouse

(This recipe appeared in the Winter 2022 issue of Pastry Arts Magazine)

This dessert was inspired by the warmth of flavors that can be found even in the coldest of winters. I wanted this dessert to show the wide range of ingredients that can be foraged in the Midwest during the winter months – all the way from the trees to the roots – and to demonstrate the vibrancy of life in these elements. The playful balance of flavors enhanced with the whimsical plating style exemplify life beneath the snow.

Yield: 18 servings

Acorn and Ginger Sponge

  • 240 g buttermilk
  • 340 g honey
  • 120 g egg yolks
  • 6 g vanilla paste
  • 60 g fresh ginger, peeled and grated
  • 60 g acorn flour
  • 180 g cake flour
  • 5 g baking powder
  • 5 g baking soda
  • 12 g salt
  • 180 g egg whites
  • 100 g granulated sugar
  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the buttermilk, honey, egg yolks, vanilla and fresh ginger on medium speed until the mixture has turned pale yellow and is slightly fluffy.
  2. Combine the flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt and add to the egg mixture, mixing at low speed just until combined.
  1. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites on medium speed while gradually adding in the granulated sugar a little at a time. Once all the sugar has been added whisk on high speed until medium to stiff peaks have formed. Fold the meringue into the cake base in 3 additions, being careful not to deflate the meringue. Pour the cake batter into a 10ʺ (25 cm) circular cake pan that has been sprayed with cooking spray. Bake at 325˚F (163˚C) with low fan for about 22-24 minutes. The cake should be golden on top and a toothpick inserted in the center should come out cleanly. Cool upside down on a wire rack before removing from the pan.

Blue Spruce Ice Cream

  • 200 g egg yolks
  • 18 g salt
  • 325 g granulated sugar
  • 720 g heavy cream
  • 720 g whole milk
  • 120 g spruce needles
  • 10 g lime zest
  1. In a small bowl whisk together the egg yolks, salt, and sugar.
  1. In a small saucepan, begin to bring the heavy cream to a simmer. Once a light boil has been reached, pour a small amount of cream into the egg yolk mixture while whisking. Continue to temper the cream into the yolks then strain this mixture back into the pot and continue to cook until it has thickened slightly. Place this mixture in the cooler until chilled.
  1. In a high-powered blender, puree the whole milk and the spruce needles until smooth, then strain through a fine mesh strainer. (It will take some time to break down the needles!) Add the spruce milk to the custard and blend thoroughly, then add the lime zest last. Spin in the ice cream machine and then pipe the ice cream into circle molds. Freeze until set.

Fig Leaf Foam

  • 480 g water
  • 500 g granulated sugar
  • 5 large dehydrated or fresh* fig leaves
  • 6 g xanthan gum

*Note: If Using fresh fig leaves, roast them at 250˚F (121˚C) for about 15 minutes, until they are crisp but not brown. Fresh fig leaf sap contains a substance called ficin which can irritate the skin. Heating the leaves breaks down the ficin so it not an issue during cooking.

  1. In a small saucepan, combine the water and the sugar and bring it to a light boil. Add the dried fig leaves and let steep overnight in the cooler.
  1. The next day, pour the simple syrup and leaves into a blender and blend on high speed to break down the leaves. Add the xanthan gum and blend on high until thickened. Pour the mixture into an ISI canister loaded with 2 charges. Refrigerate until ready to plate.

Chestnut Mousse

  • 4 gelatin sheets (silver)
  • 285 g chestnuts, peeled and steamed
  • 240 g whole milk
  • 150 g granulated sugar
  • 12 g salt
  • 8 g vanilla paste
  • 300 g heavy cream
  1. First, soak the gelatin sheets in cold water to bloom.
  1. In a small saucepot bring the chestnuts, whole milk, sugar, salt and vanilla paste to a boil. Let this steep for 10 minutes then pour it all into a blender. Squeeze the excess water out of the gelatin and add to the blender and blend everything until smooth. (The mixture should resemble thick peanut butter.) Transfer the chestnut purée to a medium sized stainless-steel bowl.
  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the heavy cream until soft peaks have formed. Add some of the whipped cream to the chestnut puree and fold until just combined. Continue to add whipped cream to the purée in 3 additions. Once fully combined, pour the mousse into a piping bag and refrigerate until ready to plate.

Chestnut Streusel

  • 125 g chestnut flour
  • 275 g all-purpose flour
  • 375 g brown sugar
  • 8 g salt
  • 300 g unsalted butter, cold
  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the chestnut flour, all-purpose flour, brown sugar and salt. Cut the cold butter into cubes and add to the mixing bowl. Mix on medium-low speed until the mixture is crumbly.
  1. Pour the streusel out onto a half sheet pan lined with parchment paper and bake at 325˚F (163˚C) for 14 minutes. Cool and Store until ready to plate.

Sugared Cranberries

  • 100 g water
  • 100 g granulated sugar
  • 250 g fresh cranberries
  1. Bring the water and the sugar to a boil. Toss the cranberries in the simple syrup then strain and place them on a wire rack for 30 minutes until they dry slightly, but are still tacky.
  1. Roll in granulated sugar then place in an airtight container to store.

Meringue Mushrooms

  • 100 g egg whites
  • 125 g granulated sugar
  • 2 g cream of tartar
  • Brown powdered food coloring, as needed
  • 75 g dark chocolate, melted
  1. Bring a small pot of water to a simmer.
  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the egg whites, sugar and cream of tartar, then place the bowl over the pot of water and continuously whisk until the sugar crystals have dissolved and the mixture reaches 112˚F (44˚C). Transfer the bowl to the mixer stand and, using the whisk attachment, whip the whites at high speed until stiff peaks form.
  1. Place the meringue into a piping bag and line a half sheet pan with parchment paper. To make the caps of the mushrooms, hold your piping bag straight up and down and squeeze to form a half sphere the size of a quarter. To make the stems, hold the piping bag straight up and down and squeeze until the meringue touches the parchment then pull straight up and stop applying pressure. The base should be thicker than the top and be roughly 2ʺ (5 cm) tall. Bake at 200˚F (93˚C) for about 2 hours, or until they have dried out completely.
  1. Make a small hole in the base of the cap of the mushroom with a skewer, then dip the tip of the stem into the melted chocolate and attach to the cap. Allow to set.
  1. After the chocolate has set up, brush and dust the mushrooms with some of the powdered food color to add definition.


  • Candied ginger
  • Citrus lace

1. Using the ISI Canister, squeeze the Fig Leaf Foam onto the middle of the plate until its diameter is about 3ʺ (7.6 cm). Place the frozen Blue Spruce Ice Cream disc directly onto the Fig Leaf Foam and press down so the foam comes up and around the edges of the ice cream. Place a few small spoonfuls of the Chestnut Streusel around the edges of the ice cream. Leave plenty of space for the other elements.

2. Tear off a few pieces of the Acorn Cake (roughly 1ʺ/2.5 cm wide) and place them next to the streusel. (Tearing the cake keeps an organic feel to the dish.) Pipe 5 or 6 dots of the Chestnut Mousse in between the other elements where there are blank spaces. Place 4 of the Sugared Cranberries next to the dots of Chestnut Mousse. Garnish with a few small slivers of candied ginger followed by a few small pieces of citrus lace. Finish the plate with 2 Meringue Mushrooms placed on opposites sides of the ice cream.

About Aaron M Clouse

Aaron M. Clouse is the Executive Pastry Chef of A&R Creative Group, Columbus, OH. His signature style was ever-changing with a whimsical and playful flair, paired with a unique balance of sweet and savory elements.

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