The Importance of the Quenelle
It may sound silly, but I cannot overemphasize the importance of the quenelle.
In the dessert world , a quenelle is an elegant, football-shaped (can those 2 adjectives even go together?!) scoop of, well anything–ice cream, sorbet, whipped cream, crème fraiche, mousse.
You name it, and as long as whatever you want to quenelle is about the consistency of soft-serve ice cream, you can form it into a quenelle.
So, why quenelle, you ask? Well, because it looks better. A “scoop” of ice cream is great and works fine for an ice cream shop, but a quenelle is a more refined shape and more suitable for the fine dining setting, either in a swanky restaurant or at home for a swanky dinner party.
Traditionally, quenelles have been made using two spoons, so you end up with a kind of three-sided oval scoop. This looks okay, but the one spoon quenelle is really lovely. You must learn to make them. It takes a bit of practice, so practice with something tasty! Here’s how to do it, courtesy of Thomas Keller from his iconic The French Laundry Cookbook.
“To make a one-spoon quenelle, you need a cup of very hot water, a spoon (whose bowl will determine the size of the quenelle), and whatever you’re ‘quenelling.’ Dip the spoon in the water so it’s hot. Hold the spoon with the rounded bottom up, place the far edge of the spoon into the mixture, with the near edge close to the surface but not touching, and drag the spoon toward you. The mixture you’re scraping should curl with the shape of the spoon. As you drag, twist your wrist up until the quenelle folds over itself into an egg shape. For the best shape, drag only once through the mixture; dip and clean your spoon for each new quenelle. It takes some practice.” p. 274
To which I add, make sure the spoon is hot and wet. Don’t dip it in the hot water and then dry it off. The water will act as a lubricant and will help your spoon slide through smoothly.
For you visual folks out there, here’s a short little video featuring the pastry chef from Blackbird in Chicago making a gorgeous quenelle. Dude has some skills!