Preparing Nashi pears
Laura chose Nashi, also known as Asian pears, for its crispness and ability to stand up to the cooking process. She first braised the pears in a mixture of white and rice vinegars that she infused with ginger, galangal, and lemongrass. When almost tender, she seared the pears in sweet soy until caramelized. She also sliced up fresh Nashi pears in preparation for plating.
Kabocha squash ganache
Kabocha squashes are roasted until tender, then blended with butter, heavy cream, white chocolate, ground ginger, and cinnamon to create a thick ganache. Laura spread the ganache over a chilled plate as the base.
Piping chocolate mousse
Next, she piped chocolate mousse onto the plate, made from dark, 70% chocolate. The chocolate mousse acts as the accent here, not the star.
Sprinkle on brown butter streusel
Using fragrant roasted soy powder as a base, Laura added her secret nine spice powder, brown sugar, and brown butter to create a crunchy and crumbly streusel. The complex spices are evident, as is the nuttiness from the roasted soy powder.
Soy Milk sorbet and pears
After filling in the spaces with roasted pear and pear spices, she topped the dessert off with the soy milk sorbet. She discovered that a store-bought, organic soy milk worked better in this application texturally than a housemade soy milk. For additional body, she also added coconut cream to the sorbet, which she made by hanging coconut milk to separate the coconut water out.
As the final touch, she squeezed on a thin line of sweet soy for earthiness and umami. While designing this dessert, Laura was so "obsessed" with sweet soy that she added it to everything she ate, such as rice. It only made sense that it would make an appearance in her latest creation.
The components are meant to taste great on their own but also to play seamlessly against each other on the plate. Together, the diversely textural components make up a highly savory dessert with touches of sweetness. While the kabocha and brown butter evoke wintery comfort, the overall lightness of this dessert works just as well for springtime too.
Laura Sawicki, 2013 James Beard Foundation Awards semifinalist for outstanding pastry chef
So how does being nominated for a James Beard Foundation Awards change a person's life? For Laura, she feels "life has not changed. There are lots of media events that I get to go to but on day to day, things are the same. I'm still a perfectionist." She thinks in silence for a moment and continues, "I'm also holding out on the fact that that it may be different if we make do make the finals. I'm very grateful."