Sweet art: how to create an original dessert

Sweet art: how to create an original dessert

by Great British Chefs 27 April 2016

Expert pastry chef Daniel Fletcher talks us through the process of creating a dessert from scratch and explains how home cooks can start to move away from the recipe books.

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Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews.

Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews.

Generally, there are two types of home cook – those who follow a recipe to the letter, and those who are happy to just take a look in the fridge and make something up. Both schools of cooking have their benefits, but with desserts (especially baking and pastry), it’s key to learn the basics if you want consistently good results.

Once we start to rely on recipes, however, it can be hard to move away from them and start experimenting on our own. It’s even more tough to create an original dessert from scratch – something even professional chefs struggle with. As one of the UK’s top pastry chefs, Daniel Fletcher has made more than his fair share of new desserts – one of which helped Gordon Ramsay retain two Michelin stars in New York.

‘I was given the task to create a new dessert by Josh Emett, the executive chef for Gordon in New York, after just one month of working there,’ he tells us. ‘I spent a few of my days off at work testing and creating, and eventually came up with a dessert of rum, white chocolate, mango and basil. It was quite classical in presentation, layered in a martini glass, but it ate really well and the team were very impressed. It went onto the menu and when the Michelin guide came out we kept our two stars and my dessert was listed as one of the standout dishes on the menu.’

Find your muse

The first thing anyone needs to create their own dessert is inspiration. ‘I take my inspiration from all over the place – reading books, eating out, talking to other chefs and looking on social media,’ says Daniel. ‘But my main inspiration would be produce that is coming into season. When you have something fresh and new, it gets you thinking about what you can create. It’s a great stimulus for chefs.’ Every month, new ingredients become available – whether it’s blood oranges from Sicily or the British cherry season. Taking a look at what’s at its very best when you’re looking to create your own dessert is a great starting point for any home cook.

Once you know what the main focus of your dessert is going to be, it’s time to start thinking about flavour combinations. ‘Usually when planning a dish, I will write down as many different flavour profiles that complement the main element or star of the dish,’ explains Daniel. ‘Let’s say I want to use Gariguette strawberries; I’ll list white chocolate, basil, lemon, black pepper, clotted cream, etc. and build a list. This gets me thinking about different flavour combinations, textures and profiles that I could build into a dessert.

‘From there, I will start to create a mental picture of what I am trying to achieve, and begin to make the different elements,’ he continues. ‘I always make sure I have a couple of ideas for a dish, so as it develops some are used and others are discarded. Once I have the basis of a dish, I will taste everything to get the right balance between them and seek out other people’s opinions. I might have a picture in my head of how something should look or I may spend hours looking at different plating styles. In some cases, I leave it for a day and come back when my head is a little clearer. Once the dish is finalised, I will give it to the head or executive chef for tasting before it is all signed off.’

Something different

Of course, there are so many desserts already in existence that it pays to think out of the box a little, to give your creation that innovative twist to help it stand out. ‘There are always classic flavour combinations – rhubarb and custard, strawberries and cream – that are tried and tested, but it’s always nice to maybe throw something unusual in there to add a new flavour profile into the mix, like Szechuan pepper,’ says Daniel. ‘Most importantly for me, the combination has to work; it has to bring something to the dish and enhance the flavour. Testing and tasting is very important if you want to achieve this.’

The basic formula Daniel uses to create his award-winning desserts is relatively simple – find some inspiration, think about the flavour combinations, start putting together the different elements and achieve the perfect balance. But he still feels the basics are very important. ‘They are the foundations on which all desserts are built upon, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be experimented with,’ he says. ‘I think all home cooks should start with a simple recipe, like a crème brûlée, and try to add different flavours or textures into it. Everyone likes to have a certain level of freedom in the kitchen – feel free to experiment, but be prepared for a few failures along the way. As long as you are having fun, you might create something unique or delicious. If it doesn’t work the first time try again, but think about what went wrong or how you can improve things.’