Having been a pastry chef (I like to multi-task), I can’t help but look at many desserts as flavor combinations and the plate-up as compositions or edible architecture. It’s just how I’m wired, I guess.
Once pastry chefs have determined the flavors they’re looking to create, many go through another mental exercise—deciding on textures, shapes, and finally, the finished outcome.
Granted, some desserts are absolute classics, and there’s almost nothing you can do, or should do, to improve them, but there are also times when you can have some fun and (possibly) create some memorable sweets, just by thinking outside the box.
To illustrate this idea, I decided to create for you three different desserts, and for a theme, I’m going to choose Italian. I’ve also chosen to use Savoiardi cookies in all three.
Italian desserts, at least the most popular ones, have many common ingredient groups and flavors. Some of the most common are coffee, lemon, nuts, vanillas, cinnamon, soft cheeses, and citrus and tree fruits. Wines also factor in prominently.
The first dessert will be the easiest to make.
Nutella® “Fluff’ with Savoyard: Serves about 4
This dessert, depending on how you want to plate it, can either be enjoyed as a casual snack or made into an elaborate plate presentation.
If you’re not familiar with Savoiardi, they are the classic, crisp, ladyfinger-shaped cookies/biscuits traditionally used to make Tiramisu. Of course, we have them at Nino’s.
½ Cup Nutella®
½ Cup Mascarpone Cheese
1 Cup Heavy Whipping Cream
½ Cup Powdered Sugar
1 tsp Pure Vanilla Extract
1 Package Savoiardi (Lady Finger Biscuits)
- Stir together Nutella® and mascarpone cheese until smooth.
- Whip together heavy cream, powdered sugar and vanilla to a firm peak.
- Fold the whipped cream into the Nutella® mixture.
You can either serve this dessert fondue-style by placing the Nutella® fluff in a small bowl with the Savoiardi cookies surrounding them as dipping sticks, or you can place 2 or 3 cookies on a nice serving plate, pipe the Nutella® fluff across them, and add another row of Savoiardi on top. A dusting of cocoa and chocolate shavings is an elegant way to garnish this plate presentation.
Fruit is another popular theme in Italian desserts. Among the most popular tree fruits used are pears.
We have many pear varieties at Nino’s. One of my favorites, and one many pastry chefs use in their desserts, is the Bosc pear. Pick up a couple at Nino’s, let them ripen and try this recipe.
Prosecco Poached Bosc Pears with Fresh Raspberries: Makes 4 Portions
Prosecco is (generally) a sparkling wine produced primarily from the prosecco or glera grape, which is native to the Veneto region of Italy. Like French Champagne, Prosecco is enjoyed as an aperitif with main course entrees and used in sauces and desserts.
2 Cups Granulated Sugar
1 Bottle (750 ml) Prosecco
1 ½ Cups Water
1 Vanilla Bean, Split Lengthwise & Seeds Scraped
4 – 1-Inch Strips Lemon Peel (Be sure there is NO white pith, or it will be bitter.)
½ Cinnamon Stick
2 Whole Cloves
4 Lg. Bartlett pears—Peeled, Halved and Cored (Leave stem on if possible.)
1 Pint Fresh Raspberries (optional)
1 Dozen Savoiardi Cookies (Optional)
- Lay each pear half flat on a cutting board, and carefully slice in ¼” slices, beginning ½” down from the stem and toward the bottom. Take care to leave the pear half intact, with all slices still connected together.
- In a large saucepan, combine the sugar, Prosecco, water, vanilla bean and seeds, lemon zest, cinnamon stick and cloves, and bring to a boil.
- Add the pears (flat side down), and keep them JUST barely submerged by covering them with a small lid.
- Reduce the heat to moderate, and simmer until the pears are tender but not mushy—about 20 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pears to a shallow plate, and let cool. Once cooked, they will slightly flatten and fan out. This is good.
- Strain poaching liquid and reduce by 25%.
- (Optional) Arrange 3 Savoiardi cookies side by side, and carefully position 2 halves of poached Bosc pear on top (or pears alone).
- Nap the pear halves with ½ cup of the poaching liquid, and garnish with a half-dozen fresh raspberries.
Espresso Panna Cotta with Chocolate Serves 4 to 6 Servings:
3 Cups Heavy Cream
1 Cup Milk
½ Vanilla Bean (Split)
¼ Cup Instant Espresso Powder
½ Cup Granulated Sugar
1 TBSP Unflavored Gelatin
¼ Cup Semi-Sweet Chocolate Curls or Shavings
1 Dozen Savoiardi Cookies
Optional: Sweetened Whipped Cream
- Sprinkle gelatin over the milk, and stir in. Let stand for 5 minutes.
- Place cream, espresso powder, granulated sugar and split vanilla bean in a medium-size saucepan.
- Cook mixture on medium heat, stirring constantly, until sugar is fully dissolved and the liquid begins to simmer.
- Stir in the milk/gelatin mixture, and allow it to stand 5 minutes.
- Strain the liquid through a fine sieve and pour mixture into 4 to 6 small serving dishes/ramekins.
- Lightly cover the dishes with plastic film, and refrigerate approximately 4 to 6 hours or until fully firm.
- You can serve this dessert right in the ramekins, or unmold onto a serving plate by dipping the ramekin in hot water just long enough to allow the Panna Cotta to release from the side of the dish and then turning it over onto the serving plate.
- Serve with Savoiardi cookies.
- Garnish each serving with a heaping tablespoon of chocolate curls/shavings or optional whipped cream.