The sweet revolution

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By Tis the time to sin as chefs around the country whip up new and delectable desserts, says Susmita Saha Photographs: Gajanan Dudhalkar; Rupinder Sharma; Rashbehari Das
  • Published 4.07.09

How far would you go for your guilty pleasures? Step into Bagels & Brownies, the capital’s haunt for sugar addicts, for a bite of the photo cake — a confection adorned with snaps of your loved ones, printed with edible ink imported from the Philippines. And at Foodaholics, Delhi’s gourmet confectionery outlet, dainty flowers, hearts and stars in edible gold and silver embellish cake tops like no other.

Innovation is the watchword if you are doing the dessert rounds in Mumbai. Indigo, a fine dining facility in the city, has the velvety chocolate fondant (a gooey cream confection) doing a merry jig with über-spicy jalapeno peppers.

Sweet tooth indulgences have gone for a glamorous makeover and how. According to dessert diva Lovey Burman of Calcutta’s famed confectionery outlet Kookie Jar and the more recent Mangio, people are constantly in an experimental mode when it comes to sweet dishes. “So confectioners have to keep the innovative element going at the dessert counter to bring on the smiles,” she says.

That’s precisely why it’s almost a curtain call now for the oh-so-yesterday tiramisus, mousses and brownies at fine dining outlets. They are quietly being replaced at the table with a host of new age desserts with funky flavours and exotic toppings. And take note: The dessert-makers are roving the world in quest of inspiration.

Slurp your way through classic Continental confections or dig into exotic Oriental fare. And there are options galore in case you care to sample traditional Middle Eastern sweet dishes. Here’s taking a look at what confectioners are whipping up for you at tony dining addresses across the country.

Continental craze

When it comes to desserts it’s tough to match the Europeans for sheer class. At Four Seasons Hotel the confections are going French all the way, and the offerings range from the pistachio or raspberry macaroon (sandwich-like pastries with two slim cookies and a layer of sumptuous ganache between them) to the more decadent Opera Cake (read delicate almond biscuit or joconde, chocolate ganache which is a mixture of chocolate and heavy cream, coffee buttercream and chocolate glaze piled together in a sinful heap). Another house speciality is the crisp tart topped with scoops of caramelised mango. The prices are anything between Rs 300 and Rs 4,000.

“Indians love their sweets and they are slowly familiarising themselves with signature dishes worldwide,” says Giancarlo Francesco, executive chef, Four Seasons Hotel, Mumbai.

On a highly exotic note, Catalan cuisine is going strong at the recently opened Aman New Delhi. Go for the Catalan cream (a velvety smooth Spanish dessert with a crisp caramelised topping), roasted fig gratin or the vanilla bomba rice pudding with caramelised orange and pistachio croquant (a sugar and almond confection). The roasted fig gratin will leave you poorer by Rs 700.

Also, in the Continental confection cart at Foodaholics, there’s the extravagant chocolate torta cake. This comes with a layer of biscuit cake topped with single origin chocolate made from the Rio Caribe bean of Venezuela, a layer of blueberries, raspberries, logan berries, sour cherries, black and red currants — all accentuated with edible gold and silver. “People are eating their way across the globe these days. They’ve had fantastic dessert experiences abroad and they want to replicate the same here,” says Arora. The chocolate torta cake can cost upwards of Rs 5,000 per kilo depending on the amount of gold and silver used.

Arora’s experimental streak continues into sauces and condiments too, especially those which are international favourites. For instance, the maverick confectioner whips up a banoffee pie (a combination of banana and toffee flavours) with an extra zingy dulce de leche (a milk-based sauce that’s topping the dessert hot list) or the Crème Bavaroise (Tahitian Vanilla with semi-sweet chocolate).

The confectioners are also bringing the current hotsellers of the global hospitality industry to India. For instance, Bagels & Brownies has interesting flavours like Grand Marnier, Ferrero Rocher, Toblerone, Nutella, Oreo and Strawberry Sprinkles in its brownies section. “If it’s a Ferrero Rocher brownie we try to bake it with that particular chocolate brand, which melds all the flavours,” says Adnan Vahanvaty, managing director, Bagels & Brownies. These are easier on the pocket and can be picked up for Rs 60 per piece.

Mangio too is keeping a close tab on confectionery trends across the world. “Berries are really hot right now in the global dessert scene. And we try and import everything from blueberries and raspberries to the more exotic wild berries,” says Burman.

Burman uses the imported fruits in indulgent creations like white chocolate mille feuille with berry compote, cheese cake in shot glasses topped with blueberries, raspberries and more. Her list of imported ingredients is long with pink peppercorns (exorbitantly priced dried berries) sharing space with macadamia nuts, mascarpone cheese, single origin chocolates, candied kiwi, orange, pineapples and much else. The white chocolate mille feuille comes for Rs 225 while the cheese cakes in shot glasses are priced at Rs 200 each.

Seafood speciality dining outfit Charcoal Grill too is giving a sophisticated sugar fix to Calcutta’s foodies with a melt-in-the mouth delicacy called Irish ecstasy — a gloriously fluffy rum and whipped cream affair that’s a take on international alcoholic desserts.

It is impossible to deny the global gastronomic influences in desserts any more. “It is essential to constantly experiment and create new desserts to satisfy the cravings of our clientele,” says Suresh Kumar, pastry chef, Indigo.

So, at Indigo there’s a mouthwatering bevy of Continental extravaganzas with a twist like rhubarb cheese cakes with white chocolate and red wine sauce, Granny Smith apples with candied celery, chocolate plum fudge with Baileys chocolate mousse and Baileys cream and raspberry mascarpone tart with vanilla bean sabayon (an egg based foamy mixture).

Also, the ingredients are as premium as they get. “We use Barry Callebaut chocolate from Belgium, rhubarb, hazelnuts and various berries. There’s also a whole range of high-end spirits in many of our desserts like Campari, Dubonnet (aperitif), Baileys Irish cream, just to name a few,” points out Kumar.

An ode to Japan

With Japanese cuisine rocking the global culinary scene, it’s perhaps inevitable that desserts from the Land of the Rising Sun are finding favour with dessert junkies. Oriental fine dining joint Ai in Delhi has a sugar cart laden with the choicest of Japanese offerings. “Diners are aware of the evolved gastronomic scene. So, experimentation with new age cuisine is always appreciated. I have had patrons asking me about the ingredients and their origins,” says chef Saby of Ai.

At Ai, you can dig into the tea crème pot, a luxury dessert where varieties of premium tea are showcased both in liquid and solid form. So, piping hot black currant ginseng tea will be poured into a dainty tea cup with the accompaniment of mugi cha (roasted barley tea popular in Japan) or Earl grey tea custard, Japanese tea cake and gari (Japanese ginger) biscuit. To add a personal touch, the gari is toasted and the tea cake is baked in house.

The final flourish at Ai is the Beggar’s Pouch that’s shaped like a money bag and is made of wafer thin filo pastry. The pouch holds a selection of plums, prunes and nuts and has midori (Japanese green melon) sauce poured over it. A seasonal fruit compote adds a quirky element to it. Other than this there’s a wide array of sorbets on offer with flavours like Yamamomo (Japanese bayberry), Yuzu (Japanese citrus fruit), wasabi and midori. Both the Beggar’s Pouch and the tea crème pot will be yours for Rs 299 each.

On a slightly different note, at the Aman’s Naoki counter which serves French Kaiseki cuisine (French food with a Japanese spin), there’s the Grand finale of petite desserts including sesame mille feuille and green tea mill crêpe.

Japanese infusion in Western desserts is a hot trend in Mangio too. The outlet plays around with the Japanese black sesame topping for a mousse or even an ice cream as a surprise ingredient.

Middle-eastern magic

Continental and Japanese delicacies are not the only ones staking a claim to the Indian diner’s plate. There are also Middle Eastern sweet surprises jostling for space. At Souk, Taj Bengal’s East Mediterranean speciality restaurant, desserts from Beirut, Turkey, Iran and Morocco are making their presence felt on the extensive menu. “These sweet dishes make for a refreshing change. Subtle flavourings like rose water, pistachio and almonds work their wonders on a jaded palate,” says Sujan Mukherjee, executive chef, Taj Bengal.

A must try here is the Ataif Mahshie (Tripoli home-style pancakes soaked in rose syrup and stuffed with mixed nuts and cream). Or opt for the Muhalabia, a traditional rice flour pudding from Beirut that’s flavoured with rose water. The desserts at Souk are priced between Rs 350 and Rs 550.

You can also take your taste buds on a Middle Eastern tour at Fez in Delhi where a confection called Sweet Aubergine Magic (aubergine slices rolled up with a stuffing of nuts and rose petals) is a hit with diners.

On the plate

Dessert presentation too has come of age. “The interactive element of New Age desserts makes them all the more interesting,” says chef Saby, who serves the sushi rice crème brûèe at Ai in a mud pot placed on an authentic Japanese cast iron stand. “The stand has been handpicked by me from Kappabashi, a district in the Tokyo suburbs that’s famed for kitchen knick-knacks,” he says.

The tea crème pot too is served with a biscuit shaped like a Japanese fan and placed on a plate resembling a sunflower which was originally designed by the legendary Spanish molecular gastronomy speciality El Bulli.

Mangio too pushes the envelope when it comes to confection creativity. It involves the diner with the food placed before him and one can put together his own order making way for sophisticated customisation. In their Elegant desserts category, there’s the Elegant Sundae, where the patron is served freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, vanilla ice cream, chocolate and Kahlua sauce, froth of berries as well as caramelised pop corn. Foodie tip from Burman: Do it your own way.

The drama is further heightened with another house special Financier. During sweltering summers, the Financier or warm almond cake and grilled pear is served in a soup plate with chilled strawberry soup poured over it. In winters though, a chilled almond cake and grilled pear is served with hot strawberry soup.

It is obvious that the flavours of the season are changing. And for foodies, that’s a sweet ending.