So, here is my thought. I think a lot of people want to make a Fancy Dessert, so they go to a cookbook and find a recipe for a big old dessert with five, six, seven or eight components. They make each component and then build the Fancy Dessert. Then, the next time a Special Occasion comes along, they go find a different recipe for a different big old dessert and start over from square one.
You know how people say, “Work smarter, not harder?” Well, that rule applies in desserts, too. If you can master say five basic components, you can mix and match them in any number of ways to create all sorts of widely varied desserts. People will think you are gifted, and you won’t have to kill yourself to come up with a new Big Idea for every party. No, it’s not cheating–you’ll still be making almost everything from scratch and from the best ingredients you can find. It’s just that, instead of channeling your energy into creating something from whole cloth, you’re channeling it into coming up with new ways to combine your building blocks. You don’t go buy a whole new set of Legos every time you want to build something, so the same should apply to desserts.
Components: sponge cake, pastry cream, berry coulis, dacquoise (crisp, nutty meringue discs), Italian buttercream
- The Big Cake: layer sponge, coulis, pastry cream, dacquoise, coulis, pastry cream, sponge, coulis. Ice the whole thing with the buttercream.
- The Trifle: chunk up your cake and layer it with the coulis and pastry cream. Garnish with crumbled dacquoise. Trade in the buttercream for whipped cream.
- The Short cake: layer disc of dacquoise, fresh berries, coulis, pastry cream, sponge, berries, coulis. Top with some buttercream or whipped cream
- The Bite: Small square of sponge, cut in half. Sandwich with a tiny bit of coulis and pastry cream. Ice smoothly with buttercream
- The French Wonder: Fold together the Italian meringue (leave out butter) and the pastry cream to make a chiboust. Layer dacquoise with coulis and chiboust. Top with sponge. Spread on a bit more Italian meringue and torch it to brown.
Components: chocolate lady fingers (you don’t have to make them in finger shapes if you dont’ want to, if that shape won’t work for what you have planned), mascarpone cream, coffee simple syrup, cocoa nib brittle (made like peanut brittle), vanilla poached orange segments
- Tiramisu: layer syrup soaked lady fingers with mascarpone cream. Garnish with orange segments and cocoa nib brittle
- The Cake: 2 large discs of syrup soaked lady fingers. Top one with some mascarpone cream and orange segments. Top with the other disc. Frost with more mascarpone cream. Garnish with the brittle.
- The Cake, 2: Fold crushed brittle into some mascarpone cream. Fill and frost syrup soaked layers with the cream. Garnish with the orange segments.
- The Individual Cake: Make individual serving sizes of idea 2 or 3.
- The Surprise: In a coffee cup, layer orange segments, and soaked lady fingers. Top with mascarpone cream and garnish with the brittle.
By the way, the mascarpone cream is crazy good. This is how I make mine:
- 12 oz. mascarpone cheese, softened
- 4 oz. cream cheese, softened
- 4.6 oz. sugar
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 3/4 tsp vanilla
- 1 TBSP sweet dessert wine
- 1 TBSP Grand Marnier
- 2 cups whipping cream, whipped to medium peaks.
In a stand mixer on low speed, combine cheeses and mix until smooth.
Add the sugar, and mix another minute or so more.
Add the salt, vanilla, wine and liqueur. Mix on medium speed until fluffy, but be careful, the mascarpone can break if you whip it too long. Scrape the bowl frequently.
Fold the cream together with the whipped cream. You can use this immediately or refrigerate it for a couple of days. It is Very Tasty.
And that’s it–learn to make a few components and combine them however you want. You probably already have some ideas, so just go for it.