Today I’ll explain what a quenelle is, how to quenelle, talk about the different ingredients and components you can quenelle, and tell you the difference between a quenelle and a rocher.

an ice cream quenelle on a slice of galette on a white plate
I admittedly need some practice in making quenelles, but practice does make perfect. Watch the how to videos, read the instructions from Thomas Keller, and then sit with a tub of whipped cream or slightly softened ice cream and practice making them over and over while you binge on Netflix.
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It may sound silly, but I cannot overemphasize the importance of the quenelle.

What Is a Quenelle?

In the dessert world, a quenelle is an elegant, three-sided scoop of, well anything–ice cream, sorbet, whipped cream, crème fraiche, mousse. The classic shape is made by using two spoons to shape a mound into the three-sided quenelle.

What is a Rocher?

While most people call a “rocher” a quenelle, a rocher is a bit more refined than a quenelle. Where a quenelle has three sides, a rocher is made with just one spoon and is a smooth, sleek oval. The videos I am sharing that show you how to quenelle are actually showing you how to rocher.

What Is the Difference Between a Rocher and a Quenelle?

It can be a bit confusing because the terms are interchangeable these days even though they are not exactly the same thing. A rocher is made with one spoon in one swooping motion. (See videos below). A quenelle is shaped with two spoons, passing the mound of soft (ice cream, whipped cream, whatever) between the bowls of the two spoons until you have a three sided “oval.”

Why Oval? Why Can’t I Just Use a Round Scoop?

What’s wrong with round scoops? Nothing really. But, oval scoops are just elegant. 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 fancy dinner party.

What Can I Make Quenelles Out Of?

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 that iconic shape. That doesn’t mean you can’t make ice cream quenelles with “regular” ice cream. You just have to let it soften up some before making them. Other components that lend themselves to the quenelle shape are:
  • Whipped creme fraiche. You might be able to quenelle creme fraiche straight from the fridge, but it will have to be very thick and well-set. If your creme fraiche is at all runny, whip it first before quenelling.
  • Whipped cream
  • mousse–savory or sweet
  • sorbet, sherbet, or sorbetto. Again, make sure you temper it by either setting it on the counter until soft enough to quenelle or putting the container in the refrigerator for an hour or two
  • smooth paté

Can I Buy Quenelle Spoons or Scoops?

Yes. Yes you can. Here are my recommendations for products that you will find helpful. (Affiliate links) As Chef Haas says in the video below, you want to get spoons that have nice rounded bowls like this one. (The scoop part of a spoon is called the bowl.) If you’re serious about plating, you might want to pick up a plating set like this Mercer Culinary 8-piece plating set. If you’re not a culinary professional and want to get a nice oval scoop of ice cream or whipped cream with a minimum of fuss or practice, give an oval scoop a try. And while this silicone mold is really designed for soap-making, it is food safe, so you could always pour softened ice cream (or no-churn ice cream mix) into these molds, freeze, and then unmold to serve.

How to Get the Classic Rocher Shape

As I said before, you make quenelles with two spoons, so you end up with a kind of three-sided oval scoop. This looks okay, but the one spoon method, technically called a “rocher,” 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.

Quenelles As Part of Plating

Most of the time, the quenelles (okay, rochers) you’ll make will be for garnishing–a quenelle of whipped cream or ice cream on top of or next to your main component, such as a slice of a tart, an individual cake, or even a rich brownie. Here are some other tools that can help you with your plating in general: tools for applying sauces and placing garnishes always come in handy. If you need some ideas on how to plate, I made a plating video using the same components and plating them in several different ways. You might find it helpful.

How To Make a Rocher Videos

For you visual folks out there, here’s a short little video featuring the pastry chef Lauren V. Haas. She forms hers a bit differently than Thomas Keller but achieve just as elegant a finished shape.
Here is another helpful how-to video from the folks at ChefSteps.
And there you have it. I hope you’ve found this post helpful. Thanks for stopping in, and have a lovely day.

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