Adding Traditionally Savory Ingredients to Sweets

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At L’Artusi we take pride in adding a salty element to our desserts. I have been taught many restaurants ago that you need to balance the sweet flavor of most desserts with a salty element. Just a sprinkle of salt over a sweet bite can bring balance and pull out desired flavors.

Given my culinary background, I enjoy upping the ante with ingredients that are traditionally used in savory applications. Recently I created a Strawberry Cucumber Mint Sorbet. I love taking a nostalgic flavor and turning it on its head. In this case, I took the traditional flavors of strawberry and mint and incorporated cucumber puree to boost the fresh flavor of this particular sorbet. It’s one that the L’Artusi staff and I enjoyed because you can taste each individual flavor while each component compliments the other so well. With strawberries beginning to phase out of being in season, we have changed that flavor to Cucumber Melon. Galia Melon specifically with the cucumber is a great flavor combination. It’s another delicious way to incorporate cucumbers into a refreshing treat.

I should start by saying it isn’t a secret in the dessert world that a pastry chef has to be careful about how “different” their dessert is perceived to dining guests. While most are receptive to unique flavor combinations with their appetizer and/or entrée, such endeavors aren’t always as well received come the dessert course. Unfortunately, many have very specific ideas as to what they perceive is a good dessert. Most without even realizing it are looking for comfort. The kind of comfort that brings them back to nostalgic memories of their childhood.

I like to push our restaurant guests out of their comfort zone a bit with a component or two in a dessert that may not be “normally” found in a typical dessert. For example: Instead of just a Lemon Sorbet maybe I’ll make a Lemon Thyme Sorbet. Most recently, I put a Strawberry Basil Crostata with Balsamic Reduction, toasted pistachio, and Foire di latte gelato on the menu. There are varying texture, temperature, and flavor combinations happening in this dessert that makes me thoroughly happy.

Let’s be honest. A crostata is in many ways a version of warm pie. By adding basil to the crostata, it gives the dessert a somewhat unique flavor profile without being overly offensive to the guest. Also, the balsamic reduction is made a little bit on the sweeter side as to not be too overpowering on the plate. The crostata itself is crisp and warm in contrast to the gelato that is soft and cold. The basil adds earthy, herbaceous, even floral notes, while the pistachio adds an element of crunch to this dish. I’m always appreciative and pleased whenever I witness a guest enjoying all the things that make this dessert a stand out from the rest.

A huge reason that I love using savory ingredients in desserts is that it’s a great way to set myself apart from most other pastry chefs. Plus it’s fun, special, and a little unusual. Just having plain chocolate and vanilla can get boring after a while. Especially when you’ve been working with them as long as I have.

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Jessica Craig
With over 12 years of pastry experience under her belt, Jessica Craig is the sweet secret behind the mouth-watering desserts at L’Artusi and dell’anima. A native New Yorker, Jessica has fine-tuned her craft while working for and overseeing the pasty program at several restaurants in the Hampton’s, working with the executive pastry chef of an international catering company in Queens, and most recently as pastry sous chef for Andrew Carmellini’s Tribeca hot spot, Locanda Verde. At L’Artusi, Jessica creates decadent desserts that bring together traditional Italian techniques with unique and seasonal flavors and ingredients.