Making desserts can be a little intimidating. Desserts are somewhat technical and if you don’t have previous baking knowledge you might be less inclined to create your own sweet treats at home. At the Shaw Centre, we’ve recently embarked on a program to make all our desserts in-house, rather than buying from external suppliers, so I’ve been thinking a lot about how what we are doing could be similarly achieved at home. Here are a few tips to help you put a sweet finishing touch on your next dinner party.
First things first. You will need a selection of equipment and staple ingredients if you plan on making desserts at home. Here are my suggestions for a core inventory:
- Various sized stainless steel bowls
- Rubber spatulas
- A good quality digital scale
- High quality (Stainless steel) measuring cups and spoons
- A few stainless steel whisks
- Wooden spoons
- Electric stand mixer with a whisk, dough and beating attachments
- Silicone baking mat
- Assorted sized baking pans
- Piping bag
- Bamboo skewers (for testing the doneness of cakes and batters)
- Parchment paper
- Corn syrup
- White sugar, brown sugar
-Baking powder, baking soda, instant yeast
- High quality Semi-sweet chocolate chips
Now that you have outfitted yourself here are a few hints I commonly suggest to people to make the most of their baking:
- Test your recipe as baking and pastry can be a bit fussy. Recipes from the internet may have been developed far from where you live. Ambient humidity, elevation, ingredients, equipment all vary from location to location. Consequently, something as simple as elevation can have an impact on how, for example, your cake will rise. My suggestion is try out your chosen new recipe before the big day so that you don’t have any disasters.
- Give yourself lots of time. Many preparations will require a significant prep time. Doughs need to rest, batters need to rise, mousses need to cool and set, sauces need to cool, etc. So I recommend starting your dessert preparation well before your event. On the flip side, many preparations allow you to prepare items well in advance allowing you time to focus on other details as your party draws nearer. Many desserts, including cheesecake, can be baked days or even weeks ahead and frozen. Others, such as pies, can be prepared and frozen in an unbaked state, ready to go straight from freezer to oven at a moment’s notice.
- Sauces. If you really want to impress give some thought to a few extra touches like a fresh berry garnish and a warm chocolate sauce. Sauces are a great way to add flavour, texture and depth. When we plate our desserts at the Shaw Centre, you’ll notice that quite often there is a little sauce on, beside, or under our sweet treats. Not only are sauces a great way to add another flavour element to the dish, they also dress up the plate and make it look professional. There are lots of great combinations like a raspberry or orange sauce with chocolate, a dark chocolate sauce with cheesecake, or caramel sauce with fruit.
- Garnishes are a perfect way to elevate your dessert. Much like sauce dresses up the plate, a garnish provides the finishing touch that will impress your guests as soon as you bring dessert to the table. We often see mint leaves used as a garnish but consider other flavour combinations as well. Basil, for example, is really delicious served with strawberry or lemon flavoured creations.
Here is a great Sticky Toffee Spice Cake recipe we use at the Shaw Centre. This recipe can quickly be prepared the day you want to serve it. Alternatively, can make it the day before and reheat it at serving time, or it can be frozen for up to a month then thawed and reheated.
Makes 6 portions
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup milk
1 egg PLUS 1 egg yolk, beaten
2 tablespoons butter
4.5 tablespoons brown sugar
5.5 tablespoons molasses
5.5 tablespoons corn syrup
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon baking soda
- Preheat oven to 350F.
- Combine cinnamon and flour and set aside.
- Combine milk and eggs in a separate bowl and set aside.
- In a large saucepan, bring sugar, butter, corn syrup, molasses and ginger to a simmer. Remove from heat and add the baking soda. Note that the mixture will foam up as the soda reacts with the liquid so I always recommend using a larger sauce pan so you don’t have a sticky mess to clean up.
- Stir the egg and milk mixture into the saucepan.
- Whisk the flour and cinnamon mixture into the saucepan.
- Pour the mix into equally sized individual oven-safe dishes which have been lightly greased with butter. I use a medium sized coffee cup or ramekin.
- Bake 20-30 minutes until the mixture has set and a wooden skewer poked into the centre comes out clean.
- Serve warm, drizzled with caramel or chocolate sauce.