Extravagant dessert
May 12, 2014 5:39 AM   Subscribe

Seeking ideas for stunning desserts. Please share with me your tried and tested recipes that impress!

A big birthday is coming up and I am looking for dessert ideas. So far I'm thinking of a dessert trio consisting of black sesame ice cream, a black sesame macaron and a black sesame and coconut gelatine. But maybe you have a better idea? What is your favorite decadent dessert recipe?

I'll have to make a gluten free version, but feel free to post your regular recipe. Thanks!
posted by travelwithcats to Food & Drink (26 answers total) 65 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: My go-to favorite - Chocolate oblivion truffle torte served with raspberry purée and whipped cream. Gluten free, dead easy and utterly decadent. Also scales up and down well depending on how many you need to feed. You can make it really pretty with shaved chocolate and raspberries...
posted by leslies at 5:44 AM on May 12, 2014 [4 favorites]

This is a very impressive looking cake, and you can just fill in the layers with whatever cake you prefer. (Icing, too.)
posted by jeather at 5:51 AM on May 12, 2014

Reading the gluten free part I'm not sure this would work so well, but when I think "birthday" I usually think "fancy layer cake" rather than "plated dessert". Something with lots of layers and a homemade filling and garnishes on top. Smitten Kitchen has a bunch of recipes under the "celebration cakes" heading that look good, although I've only personally made a couple.
posted by quaking fajita at 5:54 AM on May 12, 2014

My go-to dessert recipe when I want to wow people is Bavarian Apple Torte. It's far easier to make than it seems, which is always a good thing in my book.
posted by DrGail at 6:03 AM on May 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah, no idea how you would de-gluten this, but the classic "HOLY SHIT YOU MADE THAT?!" dessert has got to be a Croquembouche. Especially if you go the extra mile with spun sugar decorations.
posted by fontophilic at 6:05 AM on May 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

I've made this Caramel Banana Bread Pudding a couple of times recently, and everyone who's had it has raved about. Definitely make your own caramel sauce though if you've got the time.
posted by saladin at 6:15 AM on May 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you want to stick with a cake for your birthday baking, I'd say you should try this German chocolate cake. It is the most impressive-looking thing I have ever made (it's very tall, and depending on how much effort you want to put into piping out your ganache, it can look spectacular), and unlike many cakes that look badass, it tastes every bit as good as it looks.

The recipe calls for regular flour, but you end up dividing the cake into thin layers that are each soaked with a flavored simple syrup, so if you were to swap in gluten-free flour, you would have lots of wiggle room if the moisture content were to drop a bit or if there were slight textural abnormalities.
posted by Mayor West at 6:26 AM on May 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You could either go saladin's way with presenting something spectacular (put sparkles on the croquembouche!) or you could make something that appears completely unassuming and that will blow them away after their first bite. A perfect creme citron pie is all you need for that. Making it can be a bit of a challenge, but from the original ideas you came up with, I see that you do not lack the ambition to create the perfection of simplicity.
posted by ouke at 6:53 AM on May 12, 2014

This is my favorite cheesecake recipe: Marscapone Cheesecake with Candied Pecans and Dulce de Leche Sauce. It's easy to make gluten free as well, instead of flour I will use a smaller amount of cornstarch or a GF flour blend.

For the crust, I will often use gluten free ginger snaps and pecans, or just do an all nut crust. You could use a gluten free shortbread cookie as well. I also use a vanilla bean instead of vanilla extract.

You can buy canned dulce de leche, but I've never found it as good as the homemade stuff, even using a cheater recipe like this one.
posted by inertia at 7:07 AM on May 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I like your black sesame trio - I recently had a black sesame creme brulee and it was amazing. It went right to the top of my 'I must make this at home, at once!' list. Also, conveniently, gluten free and an opportunity to get out the kitchen blow-torch!
posted by halcyonday at 7:24 AM on May 12, 2014

I think pavlovas are beautiful and delicious -- plus, they're gluten free! A version with lemon curd (or raspberry curd!) would be especially luxurious.
posted by katie at 7:31 AM on May 12, 2014 [5 favorites]

Best answer: My favorite fancy desserts are always the ones served in individual cups with beautiful garnishes!

Zabaglione + fresh seasonal fruit is one of my go-to desserts -- it looks amazing, tastes fantastically decadent, and is EXTREMELY simple to make. It's so good with springtime strawberries! Here's the basic zabaglione recipe. Some people like to fold in whipped cream to lighten it; I like it better without the whipped cream, but it's just a matter of taste.

Other great desserts-in-cups: tiramisu and pots de creme (this Mexican Chocolate dairy-free version is my current favorite).
posted by ourobouros at 7:58 AM on May 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Pavlova is a weird looking dessert with familia components in an odd combination: merengue, whipped cream and fresh fruit.
posted by munchingzombie at 8:39 AM on May 12, 2014

Best answer: It's not so much to look at, but Orangette's Winning-Hearts-and-Minds Cake is pretty awe-inspiring taste-wise. Whipped cream is a must, and some carefully placed raspberries could dress it up a little, but the cake by itself is good enough that people remember it for months.

You can make it gluten-free by substituting cocoa powder for the 1Tbs flour; I've tried it both ways, and it's always delicious.
posted by snorkmaiden at 8:42 AM on May 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Chocolate-espresso dacquoise

Note: I have not made this, but ATK recipes are solid.
posted by O9scar at 9:29 AM on May 12, 2014

The dobos torte is a stunner, and not too difficult (though the batter is very, very thick before you add the egg whites. If you have a sentimental attachment to your grandmother's hand mixer, do not use it to make this cake. Ask me how I know this.)
posted by coppermoss at 9:56 AM on May 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Chef Emeril Lagasse's flourless chocolate cake is totally amazing. It's so rich you only serve a tiny sliver. It looks gorgeous and is not too hard to make. A raspberry reduction sauce is a nice touch to drizzle over this cake to finish it off.
My other go to dessert is a New York cheesecake, no crust needed.
posted by IpsoFacto at 12:03 PM on May 12, 2014

Best answer: You can easily stick with the sesame theme and dress it up a little with some sesame brittle on the side. Roll it as thin as you can and use a couple tablespoons worth of black sesame seeds to dress it up more.
posted by maryr at 12:58 PM on May 12, 2014

I made a gluten free chocolate cake involving sweet potato for a pair of friends for a dinner party, and gilded the lily by using Nutella between the layers and a bittersweet chocolate icing on top. It was good enough that the two non-gluten-free people also liked it, and I also happily ate all the leftovers. It stayed moist a good long time and was quite easy. Plus anything involving Nutella is gonna be good.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:41 PM on May 12, 2014

It depends on the weight of the meal. After a heavy meal I like a fresh/tart dessert. If I'm going for a fresh taste dessert I do a standard white cake, then use a cake layer cutter to make very thin layers. I use excellent quality lemon curd between the layers. Lemon cake would be too one note and too one color.

I top it with a glaze and the most beautiful berries in season. Plan the pattern of the berries so you have easy cut lines.
posted by 26.2 at 2:12 PM on May 12, 2014

On the pavlova theme, this winter pavlova with poached pears and salted caramel is pretty damn fabulous, as is this gin and lime mousse. Both are gluten free.
posted by girlgenius at 3:58 PM on May 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Another vote for flourless chocolate cake with some real made-from-scratch whipped cream. Many versions of this (some adding espresso or rum) - all good.
posted by belau at 4:47 PM on May 12, 2014

Best answer: I think your trio sounds fantastic, but you may want to be careful with garnishes for the ice cream and the macaron, since they're going to taste extremely similar. Since you're already going with coconut for the jelly, I'd probably go with a little mango gelee on the ice cream, and perhaps incorporate a little Thai basil into the macarons.

From memory, here's a dessert I used to make. First time I made it for a new chef, he gobbled it down and just said "MOAR."

Like I said, this is from memory, I can't find the notebook it's in. It's a two day process.

yogourt, lemongrass, blackberry, tarragon

For the yogourt: blend 250mL of yogourt with a hand blender until nice and smooth. Add two stems' worth or so of picked tarragon; stir in, and leave in the fridge overnight to infuse the flavour. (You could also blend the tarragon right in, which I tried, but didn't like the colour combination on the plate.)

The next day, push the yogourt through a very fine sieve to catch the tarragon. Add about 50mL of whipping cream--that's the 35% stuff--stir well to mix, and pour into an ISI whip. About 1/2 hour before you need to serve, charge the ISI with two canisters of nitro. Put this in the fridge.


I will admit that I had to look up a recipe for this, because the ratio of sugar to liquid will matter a lot in the end. This is also a day-before recipe.

- approximately 160mL of lemongrass stalks, peeled and rough chopped. Use only the inner stalks, they're more tender and flavourful. (The outer leaves can be kept and used as part of a stock for like a coconut soup or something).
- 2 tbsp fresh citrus juice (I recommend Meyer lemon)
- 750 mL water
- 130 g granulated sugar (you could use brown or raw sugars if you like, but they'll add a jarring flavour note

Place all the above ingredients into a small pot, bring to a simmer. Many recipes advocate boiling, but I feel that compromises the delicacy of the lemongrass. Simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally to ensure all the sugar is dissolved. After 15 minutes, remove the pot from the heat, cover, and let steep for 1/2 hour.

Then pour into an appropriately-sized pan or large bowl (you don't want the depth of the liquid to be more than an inch or so), and pop into the freezer.

If you want traditional granita: Every 1/2 hour or so, scrape down any ice forming with a fork. Do this every 30 minutes for about 3 hours, until you have reached a nice, almost Sno-Cone consistency.

If you want to do it the way I do it, just freeze the hell out of the liquid. The next day when you're ready to serve, scrape over and over and over with a fork to create what is essentially lemongrass-flavoured snow.

You're going to need about 250mL of pure blackberry juice. The easiest way to do this is just buy a punnet or two of blackberries and juice 'em yourself. If you use a commercial juicer, use one that removes the pulp. Otherwise strain through a sieve lined with a coffee filter; you need this juice to be as solids-free as possible.

The day before dessert, dissolve 0.5% by weight of sodium alginate into water. You'll probably want at least a litre or two. Use a hand blender to dissolve all the alginate in about 400mL of water first, then blend that into the rest of your water, then let sit uncovered in the fridge overnight to allow all bubbles to work their way out (trust me, if you don't get rid of the bubbles you will have a terrible time). NB: you need to use distilled water (or any other water with an actual 0% of calcium in it).

Now using roughly the same technique, blend 1/3 of the blackberry juice with 2% calcium gluconolactate (2% for the total weight of the juice), then blend into the rest.

At this point you need to make a choice about consistency: do you want your spheres to burst like juice in the mouth (that's my preferred method for this specific recipe), or do you want a thicker/creamier texture. You may want to experiment, but to thicken the juice you'll want to use xanthan gum as a thickener; between 0.2% and 0.5% will give you a pleasant mouthfeel without starting to feel like it's gelled on the inside.

Now, again, you have to go with the whole 'get rid of the bubbles' routine, so the juice goes in the fridge to settle.

The next day, about ten minutes before you're ready to serve, make your blackberry caviar. This is most easily done with a syringe or a squeeze bottle so they have a nice pop in the mouth--I usually aim for about the size of salmon caviar, but I've done really big ones which you sort of pop on the plate and turn into kind of a dessert soup almost.

Drip the juice drop by drop into the sodium alginate bath. They will immediately form spheres, and if you drop them too close together they'll try to stick together. 'Cook' in the alginate for 2-3 minutes, then remove with a slotted spoon and rinse with distilled water.

To plate

This can be plated as dramatically or as simply as you like. here's how I like to do it:

Slightly off-centre of whatever plate you are using (I advise white or plain black, no patterns), use your ISI whip to foam out some of the tarragon foam into basically a comma shape. You may want to practice this a little if you're not used to using ISI canisters.

In the space where the tail of the comma is, place your snow.

Scatter your blackberry caviar around the plate however you like, but make sure at least a few make it into the foam and the snow.

Garnish the snow with a few individual tarragon leaves, like new shoots growing out of real snow. Tiny edible flowers--violets, say, but not candied--can also be beautiful on this plate.

~ fin ~

It seems like a lot of work, but everything is pretty much done the day before. NB don't do the caviar the day before; the chemical reactions will continue and they will gel fully, which won't give you pleasant pops of sweet blackberry juice as you eat the rest.

It's quick to plate, a lot of effort goes into it (which = extravagant to me), and the total cost of your ingredients shouldn't be more than about $10-12.

And the dessert as plated looks like a million dollars, and tastes like a Creamsicle made for grownups. Seconds are likely to be demanded.

posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:19 PM on May 12, 2014 [6 favorites]

This with raspberry puree is decadent and causes insulin comas: Triple chocolate mousse cake. Variations on this have been an oreo cookie crust bottom and only one dark and white chocolate layer. Thinking about it, you could make a coconut mousse and pair it with the chocolate and then finish the top with toasted coconut instead of raspberry puree.
posted by jadepearl at 5:35 PM on May 14, 2014

Response by poster: Wow, really interesting! Thank you all for your recipes and ideas!
This time it really was not an occasion for a traditional cake, so I decided to go ahead with a three part dessert.

feckless fecal fear mongering gave the absolute best answer because their suggestion was along the lines of what I needed. The blackberry caviar sounds awesome, I know what I'll make next time for a special occasion! The technique would also work for savory dishes, I'm thinking beetroot juice but the tartness of blackberry goes well with meats as well.
I marked a few other answers as best as well, because the recipes can be scaled down and would work as part of a pleated dessert.

So, I stuck with the black sesame theme but added a splash of color (pink) to break the gray and add a bit of variety in taste and texture. I made:

black sesame and coconut ice cream
raspberry tuile dentelles
black sesame macrons with a white chocolate and beetroot ganache
two tone black sesame and coconut gelatine
and a beetroot and raspberry sauce

This is how it looked. Everyone's taste buds were happy. Thanks again for your ideas!
posted by travelwithcats at 8:30 AM on May 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Wow, thanks! Just in case, with the alginate/calcium spherification method you have to be aware of the pH of whatever liquid you're using. High acid liquids (pH less than 3.6 if memory serves), and you have to add... I can't remember what but it's easy to google, otherwise the outer shell of gel won't happen.

You can also reverse the spherification method by using alginate in the liquid and a calcium bath. I've never done it that way so can't remember the proportions needed. And the book they're in is all the way in the kitchen and I'm lazy :P Again, easily Googleable.

If you want to make milk/cream/yogourt spheres, no need for calcium gluconolactate, there's enough calcium for the alginate to react with.

If you want solid spheres, mix your liquid with more gelatine than you'd use to make a jelly (or use agar or carrageenan), and drip drops into very cold vegetable oil--not olive, as it goes solid when chilled. Canola or grapeseed.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:19 AM on May 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

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