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Sweet art: how to plate desserts like a pro

Sweet art: how to plate desserts like a pro

by Great British Chefs 23 March 2016

Daniel Fletcher, one of the UK's top pastry chefs, shares his top presentation tips for sweet dishes and talks about how new technology is changing the way desserts are served.

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Unless you’re treating your guests to a cheeseboard, dessert is going to be the last course of any dinner party. This means it’s also probably the one most people are going to remember, so putting just a little extra effort in can make all the difference. Obviously it has to taste good, but even the most amazing dessert in the world isn’t going to excite the senses if it’s just thrown together on a plate.

That’s why presentation is of the utmost importance – something Daniel Fletcher knows all too well. He has worked in Michelin-starred kitchens across London, New York and Melbourne, creating desserts that look like works of art. However, he’s keen to stress flavour should always be a priority. ‘Presentation is key in all aspects of cooking,’ he says. ‘But I think there is a lot more freedom when it comes to pastry and desserts as there are so many different techniques that allow you to showcase the food in a variety of ways. They say you eat with your eyes, which I agree with to a certain extent, but for me the taste is more important. I like to think that guests will remember the amazing flavour of a dessert rather than how it looks.

‘One thing I always ensure when presenting a dish is to let the star ingredients shine,’ continues Daniel. ‘Don’t add too many other components, or you’ll mask the flavours you’re trying to create. I also think it’s important to try a few different plating styles and then to get the input of the chefs around you. Sometimes another point of view can give you a different perspective on the dish.’

New tricks

Classical dessert presentation used to be quite simple, dainty and inspired by traditional French patisserie. But as the fine dining scene has rapidly grown in the UK, so too have the appearance of sweet dishes. ‘There are so many ways to present desserts today, especially with the invention of all the silicone moulds that can make any ingredient into any shape you want,’ explains Daniel. ‘Fifteen years ago when I started out, there was nothing like the amount of choice we have now; pastry was a lot more classical and a chocolate mousse could either be set in a ring or cut into a bar shape. These days you can have it in the shape of a rose, for example. Social media is also a huge help, as it allows chefs to share new techniques and styles with each other. The possibilities are endless.’

The gadgetry Daniel has access to in a professional kitchen also helps him remain consistent. ‘A Kitchenaid is always handy for mousses, meringues and anything that needs a good mix,’ he says. ‘Pacojets are also incredibly useful, as they allow you to churn ice creams and sorbets to order for the very best texture and freshness. Different moulds allow lots of creativity, and squeeze bottles are good for when you want to dress plates with precision.’ While some of the bigger pieces of equipment are more of an investment, picking up a few squeeze bottles or some specially-shaped moulds could make all the difference to your plating.

There are a few other tips Daniel has for the home cook looking to wow friends with their presentation technique. ‘Make sure you choose a suitable plate – not too large or small. Try to make the presentation as clean as possible, and use an ice cream scoop or good spoon to shape ice cream or sorbet. And don’t be afraid to take risks; be adventurous in your plating, let your creative side out and have fun with what you’re doing. A happy chef equals happy food!’

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