Salt, Acid, Spice, and Texture Dominate The Desserts at the 2019 StarChefs ICC

Desserts are traditionally the sweet treat that we allow ourselves at the end of a meal; but, these days, just sweet doesn’t cut it. At the 2019 StarChefs International Chefs Congress (ICC), the “New Foundations” theme showed itself in the way that desserts — for quite some time now — no longer rely solely on the single flavor profile of sugary sweetness. When it comes to 2020 dessert trends, a new standard has been set, and though people love the familiar taste of classics, they are now looking for the complexity and balance added by salt, acid, spice, and texture.

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“I think a lot of people are starting to lean toward more exciting things. People are starting to understand that savory components in desserts are almost a must when it comes to adding different flavor profiles,” said Chef Carlo Lamagna of Magna in Portland. The Filipino chef prepared a sticky rice dessert topped with coconut milk, crumbled brown butter polvoron, and a little dab of soy sauce. “People are starting to use lime leaf or soy sauce, for example. There are extreme desserts incorporating things like fish sauce or ingredients like that, which when done right, can be very delicious.”

Daniel Kleinhandler, Executive Pastry Chef at Aureole New York, said, “If you just have sweet, it just tastes like cotton candy after a while. It doesn’t have that excitement. So we like to balance on some salt or sour, depending on what flavor. Apple, I tend to go sour. Chocolate, we tend to go salty.” And though Kleinhandler acknowledges that combinations like chocolate and sea salt have been done many times, he uses texture to make his desserts more interesting and to give them a twist. At the 2019 ICC, he prepared a five-layer mocha dessert with a dark chocolate olive oil cremeux base (just as last year’s ICC had shown, olive oil is currently big in the dessert world), a layer of chocolate-covered cocoa nibs, a layer of devil’s food cake, a layer of mocha mousse made of whipped espresso with a hint of lemon, and a cocoa nib meringue on top.

PART 1: Top Trends From the 2019 StarChefs International Chefs Congress

For Temple Court’s Executive Pastry Chef Abby Swain, the trinity present in everything she creates is sugar, salt, and acid. “I’m always looking for texture and balance, and I think a way to get balance is seasoning with salt and adding some acid for the brightness,” Swain said. At the ICC she prepared a buttery frozen olive oil parfait which has a saline element from the olive brine. Lemon juice lifts the dish with its acidity, and the sweetness comes from the concord grape sorbet.

Chef Shaun Velez said that at Cafe Boulud, they’re experimenting with a Ras El Hanout spice blend ice cream, and using other elements such as “a toasted almond cream or orange blossom” to add the subtle sweet flavor. He said, “There’s so many different flavors and so many different elements and textures that play off each pastry so that it still comes out very balanced and clean.”

Balance of varying flavors and textures now take center stage as saccharine components take the backseat in the dessert world. “I think the larger trend is desserts becoming less sweet,” Chef Jason Bond of Bondir said as he plated his olive oil-infused petits fours. “The percentage of sugar in desserts is going way down. People are kind of learning that you get better flavor with less sweetness.”

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