Dessert Storm

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By From nalen gur tiramisus to mishti doi crème brûées, exotic fusion desserts are here to sweeten the gourmet's deal, say Anindita Mitra and Nandini Guha PHOTOGRAPHS BY SUBHENDU CHAKI
  • Published 1.05.10
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Would you like a chocolate or fruit sushi to nibble on? They’re light and easy on the calories, and very, very different. Alternatively, try some grilled fruit skewers or if you’d rather throw caution to the winds, dig into a delicious ‘nalen gur’ tiramisu.

Or hold on! Why not try some baked ricotta mango sandesh, or maybe some mishti doi crème brûée? And talking of crème brûées, spice up life with an avocado crème brûée with Serrano chilli ice-cream, roasted garlic mousseline and lemon candy.

The city’s top pastry chefs are clearly thinking out-of-the-box and whipping up a storm in their dessert menus. They’re staying ahead of the game and experimenting big time with what they’ve dubbed fusion desserts.

Chef Sujan Mukherjee of Taj Bengal says that there’s plenty of fusion and infusion happening in their pastry kitchens. And it’s no longer just a marriage of two distinctly different culinary traditions, but also of ingredients, diverse elements and cooking techniques. So, they are tossing up fruit fusions, spice and herb infusions, introducing floral flavours and even marrying hot and cold elements (think along the lines of hot soufflés).

And are these exotic desserts finding drooling takers? You bet your sugar cravings they do! While the standalone restaurants like Ivory Kitchen and Afraa get up to 50 orders a week, the 5-stars receive at least 10 or 15 orders a day.

And though these desserts are exotic as exotic can be, taking your taste buds on a new trip isn’t likely to be a wallet-busting experience. The restaurants are pegging them on the lower and middle end of the price spectrum with the desserts costing between Rs 200 and Rs 310 (plus taxes). And the 5-stars too are keeping prices between Rs 425 and Rs 1,100 (plus taxes).

Here’s looking at the hottest stuff on the city’s dessert menus this summer.

Asian delights

At ITC The Sonar, chef Harpawan Singh Kapoor has been experimenting with Southeast Asian flavours on his dessert menu for a while. Kapoor uses popular Southeast Asian fruit and herbs like chillies, galangal, wasabi, pomellos, rambutans and uses them liberally to flavour his mousses, brûées, chocolates and ice-cream. “This goes down well with the Indian palate since there are umpteen similarities between the herbs we grow here and those that are grown in the Southeast Asian countries. So, the fusion’s gone down well with our Indian as well as foreign guests,” says Kapoor.

Kapoor started out with his experimentation when the restaurant Pan Asian opened at ITC The Sonar. That’s when he started blending Oriental flavours in his French desserts.

Jasmine tea brûée and green tea ice cream were the first to make an entry and are still on the menu. The wasabi crème brûée — which will feature on the menu soon — is flavoured with coconut milk with a dash of wasabi that’s added just before baking. Sugar and roasted sesame seeds enhance the flavour.

The latest to do the rounds are trendy sushi desserts. Chef Vikas Kumar, executive chef of Flury’s and custodian of desserts and breads at The Park, says that sushi desserts are here to stay. “We use rice, fresh fruits, coconut cream and plastic chocolate (a sheet of chocolate and honey) for rolling the sushi. We serve it in very small portions, something which suits youngsters who are conscious of their weight,”he says.

Chocolate and fruit sushis are on the house when you check-in at ITC The Sonar, so you can tuck in when you have settled down in your room. Kapoor often adds thickened kheer in the sushi for a local flavour.

Continental calls

We’ve come a long way from the time we went gaga over vanilla ice cream doused with sizzling hot chocolate sauce and served with a piping hot gulab jamun on the side. But even today, recipes of classical Continental desserts that have been turned on their heads by using an Indian topping or an infusion of an Indian flavour are very popular. Such desserts find ready acceptance in most 5-star menus as foreign guests are willing to experiment with the added flavours.

Chef Pradip Rozario of KK’s Fusion has always been on top of the fusion game. “I’m experimenting with a lot of traditional Bengali pithey to give a twist to classical desserts,” he says. There’s chocolate pancake made with a cocoa powder batter and a patishapta filling with praline sauce. And then, there’s chef's favourite: instead of a rice pudding with syrup, he’s doing a take on his mother’s bhije pithey made with milk reduced with gur and with thin rice pancakes soaked in it, chilled and served cold.

Chef Sujan Mukherjee is making a statement with his Guacamole Deconstruction, which includes an avacado crème brûée, with Serrano chilli ice cream, roasted garlic mousseline and lemon confit.

Kapoor of ITC The Sonar, has already perfected the wasabi crème brûée. And then there’s Chef Chiranjib Chatterjee raring to go at Afraa with his mishti doi brûée. Tiramisus are another favourite with the city’s chefs, what with Chatterjee’s green tea tiramisu with rabri mascarpone, a wonderful polygamous marriage of Oriental, Italian and Indian flavours. And how about Rozario’s mishti doi tiramisu made with sponge cakes soaked in a coffee and rum mixture and beaten egg yolks folded in whipped mishti doi?

Even appetisers that are traditionally non-sweet are being roped in for some fusion mania. And case in point is Ivory Kitchen’s Chef Debajyoti Sarkar who’s serving up a dessert bruschetta of caramelised bananas with rasmalai pearls and toffee butterscotch. And no, this is not an appetiser — this is offered on the dessert menu for that fantastic sweet ending to your meal.

Going local

The Indian influence too is omnipresent in these experiments with fusion — either as ingredients or as the base dessert that is given a new form thanks to elements borrowed from other culinary traditions.

Kumar is vouching for local ingredients in his desserts. “I use mangoes and guavas, available plentifully in Bengal during summers, to flavour custards and mousses,” he says. Kumar also uses the kernel of daab (green coconut) to make soufflés at The Park.

Sarkar of Ivory Kitchen is also making liberal use of mangoes. His signature creation is the baked ricotta mango sandesh.

A lot of experiments are being done to dress up Indian desserts too. Rozario is dishing out a stuffed rasmalai — with a chocolate, khoya and pistachio filling — served with chocolate sauce. And Sarkar is doing a chocolate-stuffed gulab jamun, served with prunes and rose petals, apple jalebis with a compote of orange juice reduction, prunes, peeled orange bits and orange zest.

While Rozario has always been the flag-bearer of fusion cuisine and has unhesitatingly added the new forms to his menu, Sarkar was initially a bit apprehensive. He says: “It helps to mould tastes if you serve guests something familiar and yet introduce them to whole new world of flavours.”

Flowers, fruits and more

Mukherjee says that unusual methods and ingredients are very much a part of the fusion cuisine that he creates. And he’s pulling out all the stops when it comes to experimenting. From a herb-infused (read rosemary, fennel) biscotti with fruit toppings to grilled cheesecake and from grilled fruit skewers to hand-made orange blossom ice cream, he’s putting it all on the menus at the different restaurants at the Taj Bengal.

He’s gunning for greater experiments in the near future. His aim is to work on vegetable-based desserts using kanji carrots (black carrots), beet root and such veggies that have naturally high sugar content.

Kumar has gone a few steps further and used orchids to make some of his best fusion desserts. In one of his favourite creations, he blends smoked chocolate with passion fruit and garnishes the dessert with edible candied orchids. Kumar says: “I’ve used green peas, corn, candied marigold, jasmine and orange flowers to flavour my desserts, especially custards and ice-cream. But one has to practise a lot before perfecting this art.”

But the icing on this fusion pie is the local element that Kapoor has incorporated in his huge repertoire of fusion cuisine — nalen gur. Kapoor has created chocolates stuffed with the famous Bengali nalen gur (available in winters) instead of the predictable liqueurs. Heard of tiramisu or cheesecake flavoured with gooey nalen gur ka ras? Well, Kapoor recently organised a 50-dessert menu for a celebrity wedding on the nalen gur theme, featuring all these items!

Now eat that.

Wasabi Brûée

Chef Harpawan Singh Kapoor ITC The Sonar

Ingredients
15 egg yolks 100gm sugar 300ml coconut cream 300ml coconut milk 30gm wasabi powder 50gm toasted sesame seeds 100gm brown sugar

Method
Mix the egg yolks and sugar in a bowl along with the wasabi powder. Boil the coconut milk and coconut cream together. Remove from boil and then mix with the egg mixture and strain through a strainer. Pour into bowls and stand these in a tray filled with water and then bake at 180°C for 30 minutes. Remove and cool at room temperature. Sprinkle brown sugar on top and caramelise in the oven till done. Sprinkle toasted sesame seeds on top and serve.

Green Tea Tiramisu

Chef Chiranjib Chatterjee Afraa

Ingredients
3 egg yolks ½ cup white sugar 1.5 tsp vanilla extract 1¼ cup mascarpone cheese 24-26 ladies finger biscuits 1 tbs fine green tea (macha) powder, plus extra for dusting ½ cup water

Method
To make syrup, boil water in a small saucepan and dissolve ¼ cup sugar. Remove from heat and slowly whisk into a shallow dish containing the green tea powder. In a mixing bowl, beat the egg yolks with vanilla and the other ¼ cup of sugar until light yellow. Fold in the mascarpone cheese until smooth and evenly mixed. Arrange the biscuits in one single layer at the bottom of an 8x8 baking dish. Pour half of the green tea syrup over the biscuits to soak them completely. Spread half the mascarpone mixture over the biscuits. Dip the remaining biscuits in the syrup and arrange on top of the mascarpone mixture. Spread the remaining cheese on top. Lay a piece of cling foil directly on top of cheese to wrap tightly and chill overnight in fridge. Dust with generous amount of green tea powder right before serving.

Baked Ricotta Mango Sandesh

Chef Debajyoti Sarkar Ivory Kitchen

Ingredients
500gm Ricotta cheese 100ml condensed milk 200ml milk 50gm sugar 2 mangoes 50gm chopped pistachios

Method
Boil the milk with the sugar and reduce to half. Mix the Ricotta cheese and condensed milk until it is a smooth consistency. Slice the mangoes on the bed of a baking dish. Put the cheese and condensed milk mixture on top of the mango slices and bake for 45-50 minutes at 350°. The dish should pull away from the sides and the top should be caramelised and it should no longer be of a liquid consistency. Cool and turn up side down to remove from the baking dish, top with chopped pistachios and serve.