How to Prepare Plated Desserts

Week 18 of Chef School


This is the last week of learning for my Pro Chef Level 1 course and appropriately enough, like finishing a fine meal, we made desserts of all kinds.

Dessert sauces can take a basic cake to a higher level. We learned all the main types of sauces that are used. They’re considered the “mother” sauces of the dessert world.

Crème Anglaise is a custard sauce that’s made on the stovetop. It’s a combination of milk, egg yolk, sugar and vanilla. Not vanilla extract—a real vanilla bean. The most popular bean used for this is the Bourbon Madagascar. Other types used are Tahitian and Mexican vanilla bean. One cuts the bean open and scrapes the seeds out - this is called the “caviar” of the bean. Both parts of the bean are used, however.
Adding sugar to egg yolks before cooking prevents the eggs from scrambling when combined with hot milk or crème. This type of sauce should never get over 180 degrees or it will curdle. A vanilla sauce like this goes very well with a flourless chocolate cake (one of the desserts made tonight).

A Coulis is a fruit puree. Basically, the fruit is blended with sugar, then cooked and strained. You can even freeze this for a sorbet! I love multitasking recipes.

Chocolate Ganache is made with bittersweet chocolate and cream. As you can imagine, it’s one of the richer sauces. It’s important to use very good quality chocolate here. It needs to be smooth and a small piece should melt in your mouth right away and not be gritty.  Bittersweet chocolate has less sugar than semi-sweet. I love chocolate and I didn’t even know that! This is actually another multitasking sauce as you can make truffles from cooled Ganache as well as use it as a glaze, AND if you whisk it to fluff it up, it makes a great frosting. 

Caramel sauce is melted sugar with some crème or milk. Sometimes vanilla is added, but it’s the browned sugar that makes it what it is. This is a delicate sauce and you have to be very careful when cooking it. If any sugar granules on the side of the pot touch the melting sauce, it messes up the whole pot by causing a chain reaction that will stop the sauce from, well…saucing. Instead, it will all become crystalized again. Your best defense against this is to use a pastry brush dipped in warm water and brush all the sugar off the sides of the pot as it starts to heat up.

A Curd sauce is citrus based. It’s made up of citrus juice, egg yolks, sugar and the zest of the fruit. You can make this into a mousse by adding whipped cream and egg whites. Curd sauce is also used for the filling of dessert tarts and pies. This was the dessert assigned to Cathy and me. Cathy is actually the baker of the two of us, so she gave me a lot of guidance during this. Thanks, Cath!

Pastry Cream is similar to custard with some added starch. It’s used for cream puffs, some éclairs, cake layers and the like.

That leads us into Custard. Though not a sauce, this is the basis for lots of desserts. There are a few different types of custards. Puddings are a type of custard that is made on top of the stove. It’s similar to pastry cream. Baked custards tend to be a little firmer. This includes crème brulee, pot au crème, flan and crème caramel (basically a French Flan). When baking, custards should be in a water bath. This stops them from browning. They are cooked in a low oven at 300-325 degrees until just set. Then they are chilled completely.

There are a lot more types of desserts that are considered custard. Did you know Bread Pudding is considered custard? It’s made with eggs, milk and sugar. So are pumpkin pie and rice pudding. Why don’t they call it rice custard, then?

I can honestly say that I probably won’t be making any of the recipes I got from this class, no matter how delicious they are (and they ALL are!!). I love a good dessert as a splurge once every few weeks. If I made it at home, I’d eat it! Who’d want a personal trainer with a muffin top?! Cathy shares a Gateau du Chocolate on her blog. It rocks. Check it out!

Oh! Wish me luck. The next two weeks are for our tests. This should be interesting!!

Here’s my Lemon Tart recipe: It makes one 9” tart.

Pastry Ingredients:
1 1/4 C flour
Pinch Salt
1/2 C sugar
4 oz. butter, slightly soft, cut into ½ inch dice.
1 egg yolk
2 t heavy cream
1/4 t vanilla extract

Combine the flour, salt and sugar. Cut the butter into flour mix until it looks like coarse meal. Combine the egg and vanilla. Add to flour butter mixture. Stir and then briefly knead to form a dough. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for half an hour. Roll to fill tart pan. Blind bake (I have instructions how to do this in last week’s article).

Lemon Curd:
4 whole eggs
4 egg yolks
1 C sugar
Zest from 2 lemons
6 oz. lemon juice
8 oz. butter, cut into small dice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine the eggs, yolks, sugar, juice and zest over a Bain Marie (that’s a double boiler, or you can use a metal bowl fit over a deep pot with a couple of inches of water in it). Add butter and cook, whisking occasionally until thick. Never let it boil. When done, it should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Strain into the tart shell. Bake until set, about 10 minutes. Cool completely.

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