If you are still unsure about what to make for dessert over Easter then fear not, Ann is here with some inspiration for us!
I think we’ve all been there, we are full up from a starter and main and then the waiter asks if we’d like to see the dessert menu. Most of us have a look and then get tempted by several desserts and then have the conundrum which/share/don’t have one. A good friend of ours Didier, who is French, always says that there is ‘toujours une petite espace’, meaning there’s always room!
In France they have a wonderful solution, Café Gourmand, which is now to be found in most restaurants and even cafes. The idea is to order a coffee (and nowadays even French establishments often offer tea or ‘infusion’) plus several mini versions of the desserts on offer. What a wonderful way to try all sorts of sweet treats, often just an ample mouthful and offer a contrast in flavours and textures. In coffee shops or even bakeries, this is a chance to try mini cakes, pastries or buns; imagine your morning coffee accompanied by a selection of tiny baked delights. There’s a French bakery/café chain Pat-a-Pain which offer tiny bakes and even without the Café Gourmand option produce a freshly baked mini choux on your saucer. In fact, staying at a Premier Inn in Cornwall recently with an attached Brewer’s Fayre, we noticed they were offering a Trio of Puddings comprising of mini portions of a Cherry Bakewell Slice; Dirty Mud Pie and Apple Crumble with Custard. There are undoubtedly others.
This photo is an example of what maybe offered by the French chain Courtpaille consisting of a Chocolate Mousse, Chocolate Fondant, Tarte Tatin, Macaron and a Canelle with some squirty cream (this is a chain!)
In a restaurant there is always an element of surprise as you’re never quite sure what combination of desserts are going to appear. Usually there are often chocolate, fruity and caramel based ones plus some contrasting textures with crisp biscuits, chewy macarons, light sponges and flaky pastries together with creamy confections. They are sometimes presented in individual small glasses or dishes, tiny tarts or slices from a larger dessert. There might be a theme, for example a combination of just caramel or chocolate desserts, a selection of different ice creams and sorbets but most offerings are just random in what arrives. The quality, of course, varies enormously and we have had the worst and best in France.
Inspired our experiences abroad, I was determined to attempt something myself and what better time than at Christmas.
Usually, in our house, there is the choice of Christmas Pudding (purely for traditional reasons) and often something fresher and lighter like lemon posset. So, for this year, I still wanted to include the traditional pud with flames ablaze, as with a 4-year-old granddaughter at the table, I wanted to start to introduce traditions that she would remember and build into her own memories. After much research and trying not only to evoke the spirit of Christmas but also to please everyone, I ended up with the following: (bottom clockwise on photo) Christmas pudding; chocolate dome which contained homemade raspberry ice cream; meringue with fresh berries and cream; chocolate mousse; lemon posset and a Mikado stick (chocolate covered biscuit) across the top.
I had gleaming, clean plates from all the family! Presentation wise, I managed to pick up some small glasses in a Vide Grenier (Car Boot) but shot glasses would do, or small sherry/liqueur glasses. You can usually find all sorts of things like this is charity shops etc or save them from any previous shop-bought desserts. We are lucky in that we have a wonderful Cook Shop www.thecrockltd.co.uk in Stow on the Wold which sell small ramekins and other little white pots.
Then at New Year I trundled out the idea again when my cousin was over and this time we had: (from the bottom clockwise) pumpkin cake; raspberry ice cream in a chocolate casing, lemon posset, Tiramisu; Mikado stick and a mince pie with brandy butter.
I am certainly inspired to attempt other combinations for guests throughout the year. I want to do the small crème brulees which seem to appear on a lot of French menus as well as tiny cheesecakes, either in a glass, tiny whole ones or slices. I fully intend to make lots of mini fruit tarts when my fruit patch begins to produce in the summer (see my other guest blog on summer fruits), meringues and mini summer puddings. For autumn and winter, perhaps sticky toffee puddings and crumbles, the ideas are endless and every time you make it, the combinations would be different. And why stick with desserts? This approach can be worked into anything, think of a new craze for afternoon teas – mini scones, cupcakes, cakes, tarts and real finger sandwiches.
So with Easter coming up and if you are feeling inspired by this idea, why not give it a try to really wow your guests. Just think of all your favourite Easter treats on one plate in mini form for dessert on Easter Sunday; I can envisage mini Simnel cakes, chocolate egg nests, mini hot cross buns and shaped and spiced Easter biscuits. Heaven!