Downsizing – The Incredible Shrinking Dessert

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I never thought I’d be writing an article on the “downsizing” of desserts. When it comes to my love affair with all things sweet, my motto has always been “the bigger the better”. I also try to live by Ernestine Ulmer’s famous motto: “Life is Uncertain, Eat Dessert First”. Unfortunately it doesn’t always work out that way, and like most people, I was taught that dessert first was not the proper order of things. I’m sure those of you who share my passion for sweet endings can relate to the anticipation and excitement that builds after dinner, eagerly waiting for the server to return to dazzle us with the dessert offerings, even if we’re full and we know we can’t possibly finish it and even if we know we shouldn’t for various health reasons. But what’s a meal without dessert? So we try to talk whomever we’re with into sharing, but if we can’t, we either feel guilty ordering one for ourselves or deprived if we go without. Long ago, it was considered inappropriate dining etiquette to order food to share, but in this day and age, it’s an accepted norm.

Size does matter, especially in the world of desserts, and small is big these days. According to the National Restaurant Association, “bite-size desserts ranked number one on their list of hot food trends for 2007”, and there are several factors driving this trend; the most important being consumer-demand. “Desserts are the last chance to make a good impression”, said Executive Pastry Chef Randy Sebastian of the Rio Hotel. “Diners want a variety of smaller sweets these days and it’s hip to make pastry look like an appetizer; the size is perfect for sharing or ideal for one”. Chefs and restaurateurs want their guests to leave on a sweet note but they don’t want them skimping on dinner to save room. The new philosophy is to entice guests into ordering petite portions rather than have them refuse dessert all together. Tiny plates equal big profits which supports the theory that a few bites are better than none. This way of “desserting” gives the diner an opportunity to experience more of the last course on the menu while increasing the restaurant’s bottom line.

As the trend moves away from the “super-size me” mentality toward better eating, the demand for “healthy” desserts has increased, and while this may sound like an oxymoron, with much of the population concerned about their diets, scaled-back sweets are the wave of the future. Today’s diners have worldlier palettes, and in spite of the incredible shrinking dessert, the health-conscious crowd does not want to compromise on taste. Desserts made with chocolate are still the most popular, and dark chocolate, with its myriad health benefits, reigns supreme. Restaurants are menuing mini mouth-watering morsels made of premium-rich dark chocolate infused with fresh seasonal fruits and natural and authentic ingredients. For those who feel the urge to splurge, itty-bitty healthful bites allow for more indulgence with less guilt.

Executive Chef and Co-Owner, Matthew Silverman of Vintner Grill, the trendy American Bistro located in the upscale neighborhood of Summerlin, is BIG on little desserts. “Vintner Grill has partnered with Vosges Haut-Chocolat to provide a dessert offering that is small, yet provides a truly unique experience for your taste buds”, said Silverman. “Vintner Grill is the only restaurant in the world to offer Vosges’ exotic chocolate truffles, as is, or paired with cheese and wine. The reason I like the Vosges’ pairing is that even if you have had enough to eat, you can still get your “sweets” without over indulging. I also think that featuring this type of dessert plays into the current trend of healthy food proportions. It’s the perception of size because ‘how bad could something that small really be for me?’ “

Comfort desserts are popping up on menus across the country and have become an important part to the downsizing trend. Old favorites such as cupcakes, biscotti, bread pudding and brownies appeal to people of all ages not only because of their size but because they are familiar and fun and the smell and taste can evoke fond memories of the past. Chefs are adding flair to the familiar by taking these traditional and somewhat ordinary desserts and making them into extraordinary creations with frosting, fillings, creams and sauces or fresh fruit combinations. It’s a new twist on the old classics.

For those who prefer to end their culinary sojourn with a taste of the exotic and eclectic, eating ethnic is in. Since diners are savvier, more sophisticated and adventurous, they are willing to try foods with good mouth-feel and unexpected flavor combinations such as Olive Oil Ice Cream, Cheesecake Tempura, Habanero Sorbet and Green Tea Tiramisu. These innovative concepts are fusions of culture and cuisine, the “neologism” of desserts; combining one or two ingredients, spices or liqueurs into an existing dessert to create a new and unusual treat such as the Chili and Wasabi Chocolate Cake. One of the most interesting and appealing ways to experience culinary ethnicity is through the foods indigenous to that culture and tiny temptations of ethnic-infused desserts are influencing restaurant menus across the country.

Sorbets, ice creams and gelatos are as popular as ever. Little scoops of these menu mainstays have big taste and add diversity when used in combination with sweets such as cookies, cakes, and pies. Executive Chef-Owners Georg and Eva Paulussen, from Wild Truffles Gourmet Café, a 5-star, 5-diamond operation in Summerlin’s Boca Park, have miniaturized some of their dessert offerings. “Portion control and sharing started with appetizers, then entrees and now the trend has moved into desserts”, said Chef Georg. “People have gone away from the large desserts because they are too heavy and one big piece can be overbearing. A lot of little desserts have more eye appeal and make a beautiful presentation. We still serve the traditional desserts, but our most requested is the Gelato Bar. Even if you’re full, there’s always room for Gelato. We feature a “taster” of five to eight small espresso size cups of different light and fluffy Gelatos with accompanying garnishes such as fresh berries and whipped cream. We find that our guests want an assortment with distinct tastes and textures they can share, or they can create an individual plate of little desserts from our selection of pralines, truffles and chocolate covered strawberries. Versatility and flexibility and simplicity and creativity are wonderful ways to keep the menu fresh and your customers coming back for more”.

Dining out has become a global obsession and it can add an enjoyable facet to any lifestyle. In a world filled with excitingly diverse eateries, diners have unlimited choices where to spend their time and money. Instead of an ordinary meal, they can find a sensory-pleasing dining experience. What separates a restaurant from its competition is the menu, and nowadays, it’s often the dessert menu. When it comes to desserts, big is not necessarily better, and with the variety of pint-size portions being dished up across the nation, there is no need for anyone to suffer from dessert deprivation. It’s the guiltless pleasure phenomenon…not only can you have your cake but now you can eat it too!

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Source by Kate Mazzarella-Minshall