Desserts: sweet advice

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Related tags: Ice cream, Desserts, Pudding

The considerations that go into setting a puddings menu can sometimes outnumber the hundreds and thousands decorating your ice cream cones. Antony...

The considerations that go into setting a puddings menu can sometimes outnumber the hundreds and thousands decorating your ice cream cones. Antony Bennett, RHM Foodservice development chef; Mike Godwin, Scholler managing director; Claire Sullivan, Askeys brand manager; and Simon Muschamp, Pritchitts head of marketing were only too happy to provide it.

Publicans are a busy lot, in many cases lacking the time to prepare elaborate puddings from scratch. Is the only option to buy in ready-to-serve desserts, especially given the fact that many customers only order a starter and a main?

Many pubs see desserts as the least important course in a meal and the last thing on their kitchen's list of priorities. Food service companies warn of the dangers of overlooking sweets, however. Research by Scholler Ice Cream earlier this year found 58 per cent of pubs surveyed said that up to 75 per cent of customers opted for a dessert.

Bought-in desserts are by far the most simple solution. But it's not the way forward, according to Antony Bennett. These products "involve no preparation, are ready on demand and can be kept if they do not sell," he explains. "However, I see most of these as disadvantages rather than advantages. Caterers are limited in the way they present the food, for a start. Most of the desserts are cut into triangular portions, which doesn't leave much room for creativity. And secondly, if strawberry cheesecake isn't selling and caterers have bought a dozen then they are stuck with them."

There is, however, a happy medium. There are products out there that occupy a middle ground between using bought-in desserts and fresh ingredients. Antony cites cake mixtures, and dairy cream alternatives - which can be used as dessert ingredients as well as accompaniments - which provide more flexibility than fresh ingredients.

Products:

McDougalls Cheesecake Mixes​. They can adapt to demand and give chefs freedom to be adventurous. Varieties can be combined to offer, say, strawberry and chocolate-layered cheesecakes.

Pritchitts Millac Gold and Roselle Supreme.​ They have a long ambient shelf-life, eliminating the need for chilled storage.

Desserts, possibly more than any other course, are an opportunity to catch the customer's eye. What straightforward ways are there of doing this?

Achieving a good look doesn't need to be through elaborate preparation. Bought-in baskets, fans, curls, cones, wafers and toppings represent a way to give puddings an upmarket look with minimum hassle.

Claire Sullivan says Askeys' products should appeal to customers across the age range. "One of the key drivers to getting people to purchase desserts is to ensure that they are attractive and exciting, whether that's for kids or for adults."

She says that a cup or sugar cone filled with vanilla ice cream and topped with strawberry or chocolate sauce can appeal to children while brandy snap baskets are an attractive option for adults.

Mike Godwin recommends paying attention to the presentation of menus, signage, and serving ware, as well as to the actual food. Serving on unusual plates can really set you apart from other outlets, he says.

Antony picks out yet another aspect of presentation as important. "Get the desserts front of house by asking the chef to come out and present them," he suggests. "Show them off."

Products:

Askeys' new Brandy Snap Discs​ give pubs flexibility over presentation. When gently heated, the 6cm discs become pliable so can be bent or rolled into a desired shape.

Healthy eating is all the rage at the moment. Is this compatible with desserts?

Don't go overboard with a healthy approach seems to be the message - and not just from Conservative MP Boris Johnson, endorsing mothers shoving snacks through the school fence.

Antony suggests moderation when it comes to designing desserts. "Eating out is still very much about indulgence so don't worry about completely overhauling your menu.

"Simply offer a balanced menu including plenty of fresh fruit and be willing to be flexible for the customer - give them the option to swap ingredients around and leave some out. If you're offering waffles, for example, accompany it with fruit instead of ice cream."

He also suggests flagging up healthy options on the puddings menu.

Products:

McDougalls pastry, crumble and fudge brownies. ​McDougalls pastry mix delivers 22 per cent reduced fat, while the crumble mix has a 10 per cent reduction in salt," Antony says.

How seasonal are pudding sales?

The cold weather usually sees an increase in sales of puddings - perhaps customers are less concerned about putting weight on as they pack away their swimsuits and cover themselves up with winter coats.

Simon Muschamp says: "In the winter months, sales of cream soar as customers seek comfort food during the colder weather - even more so as Christmas gets nearer as people are more willing to treat and indulge themselves. So make sure you have cream-filled desserts such as cheesecakes, chocolate roulades and pavlovas."

He continues: "Pubs should also think about what's in season. October brings an abundance of berries including blackberries and elderberries as well as apples, plums, damsons, which make delicious steaming hot pies, tarts and crumbles."

Antony also gives some examples of desserts that are suitable for this time of year. "Stilton is perfect for the winter months but not for summer. And, of course, a good menu always includes popular comfort food such as jam roly-poly."

Products:

Treacle Roly Poly.​ This winter warming pud can be made with McDougalls Suet Mix, Golden Syrup Milk to brush, water, and caster sugar.

Are there any types of dessert that are proving particularly popular?

Such is the uprising of old school favourites, you can insert your own jokes about spotted dick here.

Antony says: "Traditional desserts are making a comeback and comfort food is very much the buzz-word - things such as apple pie and rhubarb crumble." He adds that the key is to cook them in a certain way for a homemade taste, such as avoiding stewing the rhubarb by starting it in a pan with a little butter, then roasting it slowly with a touch of sugar.

Mike agrees that traditional puddings are maintaining their popularity, and chocolate is continuing to dominate. The company's research supported this, with chocolate coming out as comfortably the most popular flavour for a dessert. It was favoured by 48 per cent of respondents, followed by fruit flavours, with 31 per cent.

He adds, though, that more exotic flavours cannot be ignored. "Ice-cream no longer means just being happy with chocolate, vanilla and strawberry."

Products:

The Mövenpick range​ features Caffé Macchiato, Nougat de Monetlimar and Passion Fruit and Mango, as well as the obligatory chocolate and vanilla.

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