Serious Eats: Sweets
From The Pastry Dungeon: Black Olive Biscotti
I'm going to be honest with you. Straight up blunt, no-holds-barred, the-truth-hurts honest. We, the pastry chefs of the world, think you're boring. Well, most of us do. Those of us who do this because of our uninhibited creativity and our interest in pushing the boundaries of what you can eat for dessert hate nothing more than to be stuck endlessly making the same tired, outdated desserts. Yes, I'm talking to you, girl who always orders the molten chocolate cake, and dude who can't resist apple pie à la mode, and friends who ooh and ah over every soufflé with chocolate sauce.
It's frustrating when your savory coworkers get all the creative glory. Astounding diners with their sous vide prowess, their feats of flesh manipulation, their usage of fried chicken skin. But when it comes to the last course, diners want to be coddled and comforted. The death-by-chocolate dessert will always be your best seller. People won't order desserts with ingredients they don't recognize, so those of us who want to play hard in the pastry kitchen end up frustrated, with our personal favorites lagging in the dust behind the cheesecakes, the chocolate monstrosities, the layer cakes.
There are ways to get around this. I chose to make my entire menu completely unique, with nothing for people to fall back on as a comfort dessert. I explored several different kinds of cheesecakes over a few months, seeing how crazy I could possibly make them before sales were affected. I used unusual fruit like persimmons and quince as focal points for desserts. I employed everything from Ovaltine to sweetcorn in my panna cottas. I even had chocolate zucchini cake on my menu one summer.
Still, this wasn't quite enough. I had all kinds of flavor combinations knocking about my head. I wanted to use smoky Scotch and tobacco, spicy Szechuan peppercorns and fruity grains of paradise. I wanted massive amounts of every kind of salt and crunchy bacon and briny olives.
Olives are, in fact, becoming fairly common in the pastry world. Olive oil is a perfectly acceptable base for a cake or even an ice cream these days, and olives, especially black kalamata, are sweet in their own way. Paired with another sweet flavor like orange and joined by pungent rosemary, I thought I was on to something pretty killer. But I knew I had to sit on the idea for a while. You can't just bust out things like that. You'll scare the squares.
So after a little over a month of my current job as the pastry chef of a new Italian restaurant, where I am encouraged daily to toe the savory line, I quietly gathered my ingredients and patted them into a log of golden dough. The next day, both the chefs and several cooks had their minds blown by something they'd never even considered: black olive biscotti.
I've shared these with people who claim to not like biscotti and they raved as they savored them. One of the chefs insisted outright that I work them into my menu. They are absolute perfection smeared with a creamy goat cheese, so I'm pairing them with a soft tangy goat cheesecake.
Fight the boring dessert template and try making a batch yourself.