It’s not every day your dessert comes from the vegetable garden.
Last month when Haagen-Dazs Ice Cream announced plans to release “Spoon Vege,” a set of Tomato-Cherry and Carrot-Orange ice cream flavors in Japan, the internet responded with a resounding “Ew.” But vegetable-infused desserts are actually much more common than one might think, and we’re not just talking about typical treats like carrot cake. For pastry chefs in many of Boston’s most popular restaurants, experimenting with vegetables in desserts has consistently been indicative of creativity and risk.
Though vegetable desserts didn’t just pop up yesterday, we’ve come a long way from the World War II-era, when children were given carrots on a stick as a “dessert” due to sugar rationing.
“I would say the idea for pastry chefs using vegetables in desserts has been a trend that’s been flowing for the last 5 to 10 years,” says Jake Novick-Finder, pastry chef at Ribelle and Strip-T’s. “In the last 5 years especially, there has been a blurring of lines between savory and sweet. In doing so pastry chefs get to utilize a much wider variety of ingredients.”
Novick-Finder cites Ribelle’s Avocado Mousse as an example of those blurred lines. “I want to showcase that an avocado is not just for guacamole, but that it is a sweet item used often as a dessert item in its home country,” he says. “I think the way we divide fruits and vegetables in the US is not the same internationally. Many countries decide an ingredient is sweet or savory and then decide how they might cook or serve it. In other countries, they utilize fruits and vegetables in a rawer way.”
At Clio, pastry chef Monica Glass is known for her originality with vegetable experimentation. A recent sorbet creation intrigued diners, even though some were tentative at first given the ingredients: purple carrot “chocolate,” parsnip, maca, sarsaparilla, black cocoa, coconut milk jam, and carrot.
“It’s not as normal as a dessert that you would expect, so it puts people off,” says Glass, who cites carrots, beets, parsnips, cucumbers, and tomatoes as some of her favorites to work with, “because they have the most natural sweetness, it’s easier to manipulate into a dessert without being too far a stretch.”
Mushrooms may not seem like something that would please your sweet tooth, but even they have made their way onto the dessert tray. Deuxave’s pastry chef Jaime Davis serves up her own version of the traditional Opera Cake, deconstructed and served with milk chocolate-candy cap mushroom ice cream.
“The mushrooms have an earthy maple undertone that plays well against the dessert’s coffee and chocolate flavors, and we add spherified pearls of maple syrup to accent the maple notes in the mushrooms,” says Davis, adding that the mushrooms present a scent similar to the herb Fenugreek.
But no matter the ingredient, the consensus among pastry chefs is that they should constantly be pushing the limits of traditional desserts. Novick-Finder says risk is a vital component, because “in order for pastry chefs to show that dessert is more than just ice cream and cookies, there should be an influx of creativity.”Megan Johnson is a writer in the Boston area. Follow her on Twitter at @megansarahj.