Kira Smith loves desserts. The chef grew up with the aroma of her mother’s freshly baked, flaky-crusted apple pie, bursting with juicy cinnamon-apple slices, wafting through the house. It’s little wonder Kira turned those memories into a career that started at 14, working at the front counter of a bakery, progressed to stints in pastry kitchens in some of Toronto’s top hotels, and to her current role as Culinary Development & Insights Manager at The Meat Factory
By Chef Kira Smith
When I think fall desserts, a number of ingredients and dishes immediately come to mind – pumpkin, apple, pear, cranberry, warm spices (e.g. cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice, cloves, etc…), crumbles, crisps, pies, puddings and custards.
While these are not exclusively comfort desserts, there is a certain fit with comfort and fall. Classic fall ingredients lend themselves to the comfort desserts many of us grew up with, but that does not mean there needs to be a limitation there. If we define ‘comfort’ as ‘rustic’ and ‘rich/dense’, then let’s take a step back and see how some of these classic ingredients can be transformed into ‘elegant’, ‘lighter’ (e.g. texture) dishes…for instance, consider layering thin disks of bittersweet chocolate with an airy pumpkin mousse, then finishing the plate with cranberry coulis and a delicate cinnamon tuile.
The flavours are inspired by fall, but the execution is not confined to the connotations of ‘comfort’. That said, I think there is something incredibly inviting and satisfying in heavier, ‘homelier’ dishes when there is a chill in the air. Tucking in to a warm, rustic, Pear & Cranberry Galette with Brandied Crème Anglaise on a windy fall day just feels like pulling on a cozy, woolly sweater!
With the increased focus on eating locally and seasonally, chefs and operators need to give the same treatment to their dessert menu as they do to the rest of their menu. Making seasonal changes brings new news, and in an increasingly competitive foodservice environment, operators need to keep things fresh to grab attention. The sweet spot when making seasonal changes is finding a balance between new and tried and true in a fashion that fits your capabilities and clientele.
With all the talk of seasonal and local, we are seeing more and more restaurants changing up their dessert menus.
The top desserts year over year tend to be the same, but you can still introduce little tweaks to keep them exciting and different. Classic with a twist is a good place to be because you are still preparing something familiar with a little bit of innovation.
The essence of fall can be captured in garnishes and sauces so you do not necessarily have to make sweeping changes to all of your core offerings. For example, if you have a chocolate cheesecake that is a customer favourite that you serve with raspberry coulis and fresh berries in summer, try moving to a garnish of pumpkin seed brittle and cinnamon crème Anglaise in fall.
Consider all areas for a potential seasonal twist – the crust, the topping, the garnish. In terms of desserts mentioned on menus in Canada, both specialty and plain cheesecakes are in the top 10 dessert types, and, along with chocolate cheesecake, are all experiencing growth.
Some sort of pumpkin dessert and either an apple or pear dessert is a must for fall – they fit with the season. There could be more focus on pears – they seem to get forgotten with apples at the forefront when you think of fall fruit, and could serve as a twist – even if you just combine apple and pear in a classic dish.
Here are some seasonal twists that could add new news to your dessert menu:
• Chocolate cake with warm cinnamon-roasted pears and vanilla bean ice cream
• Pumpkin ice cream with chocolate chip cookie crumbles, cinnamon whipped cream & toasted hazelnuts
• Pear & apple crisp with cranberry-pecan streusel & toffee-chip ice cream
• Pumpkin spice cupcake with cappuccino buttercream & bittersweet chocolate drizzle
• Caramel apple sundae with vanilla ice cream, apple-pie spice roasted granny smith apples & caramel sauce served with a warm oatmeal cookie.